October 29, 2018
What is a Hybrid CMS?

Digital content has long moved beyond simple web pages. Today’s digital marketers and web managers need to support their web users on multiple channels - with websites, portals, apps, print, search and more.

While all of this is well known, problems continue to arise because most content management systems are only designed for a single channel. This leads to organizations having to purchase multiple systems to deliver content to every channel. Or, worse, picking and choosing which channels to prioritize.

This problem can be mitigated with a hybrid CMS.

A hybrid CMS is a platform that supports multiple content deployment options through a single application. For many organizations, hybrid capabilities may be the difference between a successful content management program and a failed or limited program.  In this blog, I'm going to take a closer look at hybrid CMS and explore how it is different from other CMS solutions, and why it's changing the content management and delivery game. 

Traditional, Decouple, and Headless

Before we dive into what a hybrid CMS is, let’s look at the other three main types of web content management systems available today:

  • Traditional: Tightly coupled front-end content delivery and back-end content management are how most define the traditional CMS. With everything tied into one platform, a traditional CMS supports your websites but not much else.
  • Decoupled: A decoupled CMS provides both front-end and back-end capabilities, but they aren’t tightly integrated so that you can create different types of front-ends supported by one backend. With decoupled, content is pushed to the delivery tier when it is published or updated.
  • Headless: Headless is purely a content management backend with an API that you use to pull content from the content management system to display in whatever front-end you create. A pure headless CMS offers no front-end capabilities at all, giving you full control of your customer experience. However, it also doesn’t provide things such as personalization, content targeting, analytics and other capabilities critical to delivering good customer experiences.

There are advantages and drawbacks to each of these types of content management systems, and each supports a different set of use cases.

It’s not unusual to find a company that uses more than one type: one CMS for the website(s), one for managing content for custom applications or highly customized websites, and one for internal use, such as an intranet or portal. Normally, this would be fine, except when you consider the user experience.

A Sealess User Experience Requires a Hybrid CMS

Let me start first by further defining what a hybrid CMS is. A hybrid CMS is a content management system that supports more than one type of content delivery model. It provides full back-end content management capabilities and both a decoupled and a headless content delivery tier.

With a hybrid CMS, your organization can create and manage all your content in one place and deliver it to different channels - the website, a native mobile application, a business application, or somewhere else. It gives you flexibility in how you deliver content while keeping the management of that content under one roof.

Why is this a good thing? It's good because customers want a seamless, frictionless experience. Regardless of where they engage with you on your digital properties, they want the same experience. And your content is a huge part of that experience.

If you are storing the same content in different CMSs to deliver it to different channels, the management of that content and the ability to deliver a consistent content experience across those channels is nothing short of challenging.

A hybrid CMS allows you to maintain one version of your content and publish it to different channels (delivery tiers) in different formats. 

But... Beware the Hybrid CMS

A lot of CMS vendors are quickly realizing they need to provide more than one way for organizations to deliver content. So, they are adding a REST API to allow developers to pull content from the CMS repository. But it’s not as simple as slapping on an API and calling yourself a hybrid CMS.

To truly enable content re-use across different channels, you need to manage your content in an intelligent, structured manner and many (formerly) traditional CMS vendors do not support a structured content model. While you may be able to pull content out for delivery to a separate application or website, you may be limited in how that content is retrieved and how you can then display it.

One Additional Piece to the Hybrid CMS Puzzle

The best hybrid CMS solutions provide full content management capabilities, a structured content model and the ability to deliver content to multiple delivery tiers via decoupled delivery or headless (API). But there’s one more thing a good hybrid CMS can do.

Most organizations create and manage content in many locations and repositories. Much of that content is helpful in providing good customer experiences. So, you need a way to bring all that content together, then mix and match it to deliver to your digital experience channels. The problem is that content is often in different formats making it difficult to integrate. 

A good hybrid CMS understands that not only should it help you manage content, but it should provide a mechanism to import or aggregate content from other repositories and apply some structure to it, so you can then make it available to your customer channels.  

Even if most organizations will have more than one content management system or content repository, a hybrid CMS is a good core foundation to start building that consistent, seamless customer experience.

Posted by David Hillis
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