January 2, 2019
Webinar Recap: Future Proofing Your Digital Experience Stack

What is the difference between traditional, headless and hybrid content management system? Why would you choose one over the other?

We addressed these questions in a recent webinar with the help of Tony White, founder of Ars Logica, a consulting and advisory firm in Boston. In the webinar, our Vice President of Product Development, Nathan Eggen also provided a few examples of headless and hybrid CMS to help you understand how each works.

Read on for a full recap of the webinar, then watch the recording for yourself!

Examining the CMS Market: Traditional, Headless, Hybrid

A conventional (or traditional) content management system (CMS) is straightforward. There’s a backend content management capability and a front-end content delivery capability. The backend manages the entire lifecycle of your content and controls layout with templates and CSS. The front-end is typically rendered as static HTML (although it can be dynamic).

One of the biggest challenges with the traditional model is the tight integration between the front-end and backend, limiting the flexibility to easily add delivery channels and touchpoints.

Headless is completely different. A headless CMS provides the backend management of content along with an API that is used to deliver content to channels and touchpoints. Control over delivery moves away from the backend to the API, with the front-end able to be technology agnostic.

Then you have hybrid, which is a combination of both approaches. With hybrid, you can choose the approach to use depending on your requirements.

Is one approach better than another?

There are benefits to all three, as well as challenges. With a headless CMS, you are future-proofing your digital stack by offering a flexible content management approach. You aren’t tied to any channel and can add channels as needed. By freeing up your front-end, you can speed the delivery of content. White also mentions that with a headless CMS, you can easily integrate a universe of third-party APIs and web services to improve the way your web applications and websites work.

But keep in mind that headless is not always a good fit. If you are dealing with mobile apps or web applications that have a level of security requirements or are tightly regulated, you will need to think about how you deliver content. You should also think carefully about headless when delivering your web experiences. Frequent updates from marketing on content, personalization and optimization programs may render headless inappropriate.  

With hybrid, as we said, you can mix and match the way you deliver content giving you the best of all worlds. A hybrid CMS also gives you a common set of technology, training and developer skills, along with unified pricing. 

Three Examples of Headless and Hybrid at Work 

Eggen showed a few examples of headless and hybrid content management in the real world and explained how they worked.

In a financial services example, he described a transactional application (a single page application (SPA) built using Angular) that consumed headless content from the Ingeniux CMS to update images, colors, text, CTA, and so on. The same company also managed their entire global marketing presence – multi-site and multilingual using the same CMS. Each site provided a different experience, some as simple as a brochure-ware (static HTML) experience.

In another example, Eggen showed how a travel technology company created a service for airlines and hotels that offered a number of tools for viewing and booking services. This service had no internet connectivity. An airline or hotel would connect to the CMS and manage their content in the application. They would then deploy that content, generating a physical file (JSON or XML) for static delivery to the application.

The final example was a financial services company that provides student loan servicing to multiple institutions. The application was retro-fitted to add content management capabilities. Each licensee can change things like logo, contact information, and other content. A different JSON content-set is delivered to the application for each licensee. This is a great example of supporting the ability to co-brand across customers – something many headless vendors don’t enable.

Why Go Hybrid or Headless?

How do you know if you should go the headless or hybrid CMS route? White offered several things to consider.

Here are a few ways to know if you should choose a headless or hybrid CMS solution:

  • You want to extend the longevity of your CMS or digital experience applications
  • You want to integrate third parties' capabilities
  • You want to break the dependence between content management and delivery (however, White says to think carefully about the implications here)
  • You want to reduce vendor lock-in
  • You want to free developers from presentation considerations

There’s a whole lot more to learn on this topic in the recording of this popular webinar on future-proofing your digital experience stack with a hybrid CMS.

Check out the replay to learn everything you need to know about headless and hybrid content management.

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