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Ease the Pains of Legacy Tech One Step at a Time

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May 27, 2020 | Sonja Kotrotsos

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Legacy technology, systems, and tools that require outdated methods are nearly impossible to avoid. Digital business is evolving so quickly that a technology purchased just a few years ago might already be considered “legacy.” It’s no surprise that 64% of IT leaders say a top factor in their budget is a need to upgrade outdated infrastructure.

Legacy tools are not just frustrating to work with, they slow business down. In a 2019 survey, two-thirds of developers said that maintenance of a legacy system and technical debt hinder improved productivity. The catch-22 is that removing these legacy systems, and detangling the spider web of dependencies and customizations that have been built around them, can feel like even more effort than maintaining them.

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Of course, the custom workarounds needed to keep legacy tools running also add up, making the barrier to change larger. As Tom Morgan, Director of Digital at The Spectator, put it, “In terms of ability to innovate, everything had a cost associated with it, which put us off doing anything risky. That meant our technology was stagnating — as was our ability to serve customers.”

Morgan and his team at The Spectator tackled this problem head-on by completely modernizing their architecture (full story in the newly published enterprise architecture ebook). Still, many enterprise companies need a way to embrace new tools without a significant infrastructure project.

Businesses need a way to modernize their digital experience, safely step off legacy technologies over time, and create a framework that doesn’t require a “rip-and-replace” process to evolve in the future.

The Emperor Has No APIs (but MACH Tools Do)

Luckily, businesses looking for new solutions have a good pool to choose from because enterprise software is having a hot moment right now. The rise of customer expectations, the expectations of employees familiar with modern consumer technologies, and the rapid advancements in programming and cloud computing have led to advanced software designed for the speed, scale, and flexibility needed by today’s digital business.

The need for software to help businesses grow quickly, exponentially, and in multiple ways — also known as being “future-proof” — has found its way into the messaging of many vendors. They know that if they aren’t omnichannel and integration friendly, their tool is obsolete. For some vendors, the solution was to “modernize” their existing software by wrapping it in APIs.

But merely having an API doesn’t make a solution ready for modern business. If the software still requires manual updates, only integrates with a limited selection of other tools, or has a monolithic structure behind those APIs — there’s a good chance it’s a legacy tool in disguise.

Enter MACH tools, a growing trend of software designed with the principles of microservices, API-first, cloud-native, and headless. These tools are API-first, not API-added. From the ground up, MACH technologies are built to be modular, pluggable, scalable, and support continuous development.

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Thanks to their modularity, MACH tools are a solution for enterprises that need to quickly alleviate the pains of an outdated experience while gradually stepping off legacy tools.

Stop Vendor Lock-In

It makes business sense for software vendors to have their customers (you) use their product for the majority of the digital experience. The more you rely on their software, the less likely you are to replace it. Back when “digital business” meant merely having a website, this also made sense for the enterprise - one vendor and one contract to cover all your digital needs.

But as digital needs expanded and became unique to individual businesses, the “all-in-one” platform became more of a burden than a benefit.

For example, say there is a platform that is top of the line in commerce, but the content and search capabilities are subpar. If their goal is to be your “core” platform, chances are they aren’t going to make it easy to integrate with other content and search tools. Choosing the platform for its best feature means being locked into its not so great ones.

Designed with the understanding that an enterprise’s digital needs are too complex for a singular “all-in-one” platform, MACH tools support a composable enterprise, where businesses have the freedom to select, integrate, and replace any tool down to the level of individual functionality.

For instance, while Contentstack’s full-text query search can work for smaller sites, it wouldn’t be the best option for sites with thousands of content items that need dynamic search. So Contentstack recommends integrating with leading search platforms and provides guides on how to do so. We focus on delivering the best-in-class headless CMS and integrating easily with everything else.

This focus on integration helps alleviate a second way that businesses get locked in by software, when it’s not just features they are stuck with but the broader solution ecosystem.

With their more monolithic architecture, legacy tools require custom code, plug-ins, or workarounds to support new initiatives. Over time this becomes a hairball architecture, with dependencies, created one at a time, sometimes by people who don’t work at the company anymore. Trying something new feels like it might trigger a domino effect of errors across these dependencies, and untangling the ball would take too much time. Your experience is locked into what is already there because innovation feels like too much time and risk.

MACH technologies are relatively standardized. Every functionality is accessible through an API — so there are no plug-ins or workarounds needed. Additionally, their microservice design keeps functionalities tightly coupled to one another, so if there is an issue in one functionality, there is no risk of a cascade of errors. Another powerful functionality is using an event model that includes webhooks that enable intercepting events and taking custom actions. Adding new functionality, or trying new initiatives, can be done quickly with minimal risk.

Overall, this makes MACH solutions less “sticky.” Meaning you keep them in your ecosystem as long as they are still the best fit, not because they are too hard to remove.

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End the Replatforming Cycle

The modularity of MACH tools means that reorganizing your solution ecosystem is less “ripping” and more “clicking.” Simply put, these tools benefit from being designed after APIs and microservices became a widespread design practice instead of having to retrofit a monolithic codebase into a modular world. MACH technologies are API-first, not API-added.

Because they are created from a foundation of microservices and exist natively in the cloud, these tools can be offered as Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). This means that you subscribe to only the resource you use and you can autoscale these resources up and down. Upgrades to the services happen automatically and continuously — no manual versioning is required. While upgrading to a new version may not be the same as replatforming, if the latest version of a software loses backward compatibility, it can require nearly as much effort.

A services model also means that you can modularly implement MACH tools. Because MACH tools are composed of individual services, you can start on any corner of the experience with any MACH tool (even with specific functionalities) and be sure that as you expand the experience those services will be compatible with future additions and changes. As-a-service products let you break away from the “stop-rebuild-restart” pattern of monolithic tools.

Step Off Gradually

While the ease of upgrading architecture once MACH tools are in place is excellent, the first replatforming pain to tackle is how to remove the current legacy system without disrupting business.

Because MACH solutions can be added service by service, businesses can start decoupling their architecture without entirely ripping out their legacy tools. Key functionalities can be up and running quickly, so teams can go ahead and start making improvements to the experience, and businesses can gradually untangle legacy dependencies one functionality at a time.

In our latest ebook, we interviewed enterprise technology directors and solution consultants who moved from monolith to MACH. They shared advice on first steps, evaluating vendors, and what they learned about transitioning to a modern architecture. If you’re curious to learn more, we recommend reading: Break the Replatform Cycle with MACH Enterprise Architecture.

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Headless is a core principle of MACH, which is making major waves with its revolutionary approach on a microservices-based, API-first, cloud-native and headless architecture. As a result, agile CMSes offer several benefits over traditional CMSes.User-centered content hubBuilt-in planning and real-time collaboration toolsEase of use for marketers and developers alikeTime savings on projects Content delivery flexibilityIntegration to existing development stack via APIWhat Industries Are Best Suited to Agile?In the world of software development, agile methodology has become widely adopted as the preferred approach for designing and building new applications. Agile CMS is a relatively new approach that combines the benefits of agile methodology with the flexibility of a headless content management system. 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As more companies pursue the best approach to create better digital experiences, content experience platforms are on the rise. Today’s consumer expects the research and purchasing journey to be seamless between devices, channels and content. They expect to be recognized and have their loyalty rewarded. Using artificial intelligence, content experience platforms (CXPs) deliver an omnichannel experience, taking customers to next-level interaction. A CXP focuses on the individual user, tracking the unique journey through web, mobile and other forms of customer experience. So now we have a new acronym to add to the multiple-choice as listed by CMSWire: WCM, WEM, CMS, DXP, agile CMS and CSPs. CXP replaces older approaches such as traditional CMS and connects audience interaction across devices and rich content. Businesses can’t afford to stand still. They need a CXP that rises to the challenge and recognizes that no two customers are the same. What is a Content Experience Platform?The CXP is the latest in content management technology: a CMS, but taken to the next level. A content experience platform has speed at its heart and allows companies to create personalized experiences that are designed to retain and engage customers — across multiple channels. In its listing of Top 20 Most Compelling Examples of Personalization Forbes cites Grammarly in the number one position: Grammarly, an app that helps catch grammar mistakes and improve writing, sends weekly reports to users on how their writing has improved. The reports include how many words the user wrote that week, how many mistakes they made and mistakes they made frequently. The report also highlights potential areas for improvement, which helps customers better use the product and improve their communication. A CXP is a centralized tool that organizes assets based on tagging, segmenting, categorizing, individuals, audiences or use cases. When content is organized effectively, personalization can provide custom experiences for audiences. Content can be created and distributed with the aim of capturing leads and driving users to a defined call to action. What Types of Content Can Be Managed With a CXP?VideoAudioImagesArticlesE-books & white papersInfographicsNews feedsInteractive content (e.g., quizzes, surveys, polls, calculators)ChatbotsE-commerce product recommendationsWebsites or blogsHow Is a CXP Different From a CMS? To answer this question we need to take a look at the various types of content management systems that exist today. First, we have the traditional CMS, a low-barrier solution for simple websites. These monoliths deliver editorial content, reporting, customer data, security and administration. The basic CMS provides the software that is the foundation for digital identity, strategy and engagement. However, setting up a traditional in-house CMS, such as Adobe Experience Manager, OpenText TeamSite, Drupal or SDL Tridion, is time-consuming and costly, and these systems can limit creativity by being restrictive and slow. Headless CMS is a different approach using microservices — single-service applications — that you can add, remove or rearrange in a composable ecosystem. This frees you to choose best-of-breed applications that suit your business instead of being limited to solutions prepackaged by a vendor. The headless CMS uses application programming interfaces (APIs) to distribute content to anywhere and everywhere you need it, such as your website, mobile app, email marketing or customer relationship management system. Headless CMSes are easy to use for both IT and business users and streamline content operations to enforce consistency while remaining agile — hence the coining of the term agile CMS or agile headless CMS. This allows companies to connect with customers at scale and respond quickly to market opportunities. The latest technology in the evolution of content management systems is the content experience platform (CXP), not to be confused with a digital experience platform (DXP) — which, according to Gartner, is “an integrated set of core technologies that support the composition, management, delivery and optimization of contextualized digital experiences.” Aragon Research defines the content experience platform as the “next-generation offering to address the age-old enterprise need to create and deliver dynamic experiences to users on any device” — including content experiences — in a multichannel world.” The key difference with other CMSes lies in the “content experience,” and this is where it widens the scope and introduces new possibilities. A CXP must by nature be omnichannel and must be quick, flexible and able to adapt to new channels quickly. It must sync with touchless, voice-driven and extended reality experiences. It must be possible to integrate it with any tools and technologies to empower analytics, personalization and localization. And it must be easy to use for both content creators and end users so the process of creating content is seamless right from the first idea, through testing and on to publishing. In summary, it offers much more to make composable much easier. What Can a CXP Do? With any kind of technological development it pays to be at the forefront — always surprising the customer and inviting them to engage, convert and remain loyal. Getting ahead of the competition is vital and with a CXP the world is limitless. Anything can be built, published, delivered and distributed. Based on the principles of MACH (Microservices-based, API-first, Cloud-native SaaS, Headless), the CXP is a diverse and ever-changing ecosystem that allows innovation and integration. Creativity can flourish without limits. Take the example of Gatorade: Gatorade Tracks Users’ Sweat Gatorade’s Gx platform tests and analyzes how high-level athletes sweat to deliver personalized sports fuel recommendations. Users apply the Gx Sweat Patch before a workout, then scan it afterward to get their unique sweat profile, including how much fluid and sodium was lost and how quickly compared to other athletes. That information creates personalized recommendations for sports refueling to reach their optimal performance and nutrition. A CXP enables you to:Self publish within minutesBuild personalized experiences fastIntegrate with third-party content platforms, such as RSS, YouTube and morePersonalize content into campaign destinationsDeliver real-time, dynamic personalization Leverage the power of AI to predict content recommendationsDrive and capture leads seamlesslyIntegrate with marketing automation platforms such as Eloqua, Marketo, Pardot and HubspotConnect customer behavior with content performanceGet insights that show what content drives the most salesHow to Choose a CXP Now we know a CXP is vital to the success of creating content and retaining customer engagement and loyalty — but how to go about choosing the right one? The important elements to consider are: Integration with legacy software: Does the CXP integrate well with all the marketing, sales or design software your business is using? And can it push content out to your social media channels? Scalability: How much content does your business produce and can the CXP meet the needs of your content creators, marketing and sales departments? Customer support: Does the CXP have a good rating on review websites such as Trust Radius and G2? Is there good collaborative support during integration and continued support for your admins? (i.e., solution-focused vs. vendor finger-pointing) Cost comparison: Does the CXP charge on a monthly or yearly basis, and are the number of licenses restricted? Costs can vary enormously so it is worth researching and comparing vendors.Take the Next Step Today Ready to level up your omnichannel marketing? Schedule a free, two-week trial of Contentstack platform and see why top brands are choosing our content experience platform.

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