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Forget the CMS. Building an End-to-End DXP

Published on by Karim Marucchi, CEO

Feature Rich DXP's are Already Live

The world of the web has changed. Websites are no longer based on a single database but are now fully-integrated digital experiences built on many moving parts and applications. Digital Experience Platforms (DXPs) act as centers of gravity in a complex, extensive, and interconnected technology landscape.

Here, Crowd Favorite CEO Karim Marucci speaks about specific case studies that demonstrate how you can build WordPress digital experiences that rival the best Adobe and Sitecore can provide, all at a more compelling total cost of ownership (TCO).

Forget the CMS Building an End-to-End DXP
Video Transcript

Lisa Box: Welcome back everyone. For those of you who are new, I'm Lisa Box, Vice President of Strategic Alliances and Partnerships here at WP Engine. We've talked a lot about breakthrough experiences, and a lot about our mission to help agencies grow their business. And we've done that through thought leadership, our point of view, our products, our personal stories that help you grow your business as well as our partners. We've done a lot of announcements about our partners, HubSpot, you heard about BigCommerce from Jason. We have Google, AWS Cloudflare, everybody else, but we also have very strategic agency partners.
And personally when I started with WP Engine four and a half years ago, this was new to me. And so I had reached out to one of our most strategic partners who's remained most of our strategic partners, and he was able to really educate me on what the WordPress ecosystem was like, what it needed in terms of helping agencies. And so he is going to talk about sort of that transformation from WordPress to digital experience in WordPress. He's been in the WordPress industry for seven years. He's CEO of Crowd Favorite, one of the largest agencies in WordPress. And I'd like to bring Karim on stage. Come on up. My dear friend.
Karim: Hi, thank you for coming. My name is Karim Marucchi. For those of you who don't know me, last month I celebrated my 25th year making websites. In 1994, my first website that I worked on in an agency was actually for Nissan Motors. And over that time period, always worked with the enterprise, always tried to find the hardest thing that we could do, and get into that space for enterprise clients. I had the pleasure and the honor in 2007 to start looking at open-source.
And then by 2010 I met Alex King. For those of you who don't know, Alex King was one of the first people to work on the WordPress project after Matt and Mike. And his contributions to the WordPress ecosystem were incredible. But another thing that he did incredibly well was, he expanded the bounds of what WordPress was doing, back in the day when everybody said WordPress is just a blog, it can't scale. He said, "Yes it can, and I'm going to do that." So I'm very proud today to be at the head of the organization that he founded, in bringing some of the best WordPress integrations to the enterprise.
Now, for context of what we're going to be talking about, this is a very niche vertical. We heard a lot of incredible things today that work for 85 to 90% of the market. We work in a very small portion of the market, but what we were doing literally seven years ago, today has become sort of standard in the WordPress community. So we think this is a portents to what's coming, and what's interesting about where a content management systems are going.
So in January of 2018 Gartner redefined there's something new. It's called a DXP, and there's been a lot of problems and people going, "I don't understand what that means, is this a buzz word? Is this a term?" And there's that ancient Chinese proverb, may you live in exciting times. Is that supposed to be a good thing, or is that supposed to be a curse? Well, we like diving into these things, but I want to call your attention to one word in this. It says integrated software framework.
The use of the word framework is very interesting, as you're going to see in a minute. Over the last 18 months, there's been a lot of movement, both on the CMS quadrant and the DXP quadrant, according to Gartner. And we are very far from having this defined. We don't have enough time for me to explain every single thing on the quadrants and why they moved, but take my word for it, and I'll be happy to have a conversation later about it.
If you take a look at any one of these companies out there, they're moving all over the quadrant. Things are changing. It's very active. And if you look at the CMS quadrant, you have some of the same players and some of the different players. You'll notice that one of the players that's up here is an open-source platform, Acquia. And they use Drupal a lot. So they're on here, but wait a minute, we don't see WordPress. Well, WordPress shows up on the CMS quadrant as either Auttomatic or WP Engine. So WP Engine has grown into that space of saying it is a complete system for content management. And I believe WP Engine is the platform in the future for where we're going with DXPs.
And this is how we're delivering it today. So if you notice, you have Acquia back there, and the reason why Acquia is back there in our opinion, is because they've been talking a lot about integrating marketing, but they're a little bit behind. It's all very bespoke and all very sort of, "We'll have to build that custom for you." The reason why we feel we've been delivering already in this other quadrant here, is because today we are competing against Sitecore and AEM, with things that you wouldn't think would be on the radar. People have all sorts of arguments of why not to use WordPress, but those are really rooted in the past because of where it's been as a product and a platform.
So let's look into that a little bit. DXP. This is up until now how the top enterprise clients have been working, and have been dealing with a lot of their data. You'll notice there is content management, there's SAS marketing, automated services, there's legacy enterprise. And the enterprise user is sitting in the center there and it's like, "I got to touch this over here. I've got to go over there. I've got to there." A lot of shops here that work with us and some of the other strategic partners, spend a lot of time doing API calls and merging this stuff.
But really it's just separated. It's separated but trying to integrate. So when we said over the last three years, what's been the progression of trying to tie these things together? If you actually try to tie these things together, you end up with starting to merge them. So it's no longer going out and calling out information in a separate system, but let's bring those systems together. One thing that's really elevated it and sort of pushed it forward is everything from the European GDPR to some of the worries about data ownership and security. And other things, the more places you have the data, the more points of open risk you have. So this has really been sort of where we're going with the DXP, is how to bring these things together.
So why use open-source? How come, when there's so many systems out there? And they're changing. Some of this is going to seem sort of 101 to you guys, but seriously, yes, proprietary software. There's lots of systems out there where you just pay a license and they try to be all things to all people. And those licenses can get very expensive. There's other systems out there that are purely SAS, and those things are all only online, and you're stuck with the level of innovation and the level of progress that they're doing. Something spoken about a little bit less is, for the last 20 years there's been lots of smaller projects by bespoke agencies or product teams. And the problem there is even if they're open-source, the level of support you're going to get is really tied by whomever is using it. And usually that's a very small community.
And something we've been seeing more and more, and is very concerning, open-source projects are starting to find ways to protect features. I call that the SAS-ification of open-source., And it's very dishonest and you don't find it until you get past the marketing materials. So we're keeping our eye out on a lot of open-source projects that are doing that. And in conversations way back from when I first met Jason Cohen until now, it's one of the tenent here at WP Engine of how they do not want to be everything. They do not want to expand past that. They want to support open-source. And that's one of the main reasons why we continue to develop on this platform.
We see the opportunity in creating an open-source DXP. And we see that as a framework, not just the framework in the last definition, but the true framework of being able to have options and choices. And we're going to dig into some of those choices and how to look at them. Because as you scale, and as you get past being able to say, "I want to use plugin X or plugin Y," those things sort of have effects on each other that get exponentially more complicated as you get more complex in what you're trying to deliver.
Everybody asks, "Let's talk about cost." So WordPress has grown up being the cheap alternative. You have marketing agencies, you have Madison Avenue that said, "Oh my gosh, I can actually spin up a very quick marketing site on WordPress and get it out there quickly." That is true. That is absolutely the case. And when you saw Jason earlier on stage and he was showing you the atomic blocks that they're bringing into Genesis, and the way they're going, that is the future of those marketing sites. So it's true. That is sort of the basis. But when you get up towards more complex systems, then a giant reason to use open-source is the licensing fees, where the standard installation cost of AEM or Sitecore going through the roof, you don't have those controls because the total cost of ownership will grow and grow and grow as you go down that path.
You don't have the modular ecosystems with a lot of these platforms where you can say, "I want to use this plugin and test something out." Even in other open-source projects, they don't have the culture of modules or plugins, so everybody tends to do their own. The other thing that's very important to understand is, one thing you can do is innovate in a very different way than in the past. It used to be in software development, we would do small tests and minimum viable products, and we'd spend months doing that. And then figuring out while we're doing it, how's it going to scale? Well, even in some of these very large Fortune 50 projects that we do, we will test things out using a plugin, an off the shelf plugin.
Even if we know it won't scale, we will show our clients, "Is this what you were thinking about?" You don't have that vast ecosystem anywhere else. Then you can actually start deciding, "How am I going to scale that? How am I going to get there? What's that going to look like?" And depending on the engineering level of your team or your partners, that's a very different conversation.
So you take all this, and you realize you have a massive set of developers out there, one of the largest communities out there, as we seen in the past conversations, and they're at all varying levels. And you have people, I was speaking to someone out here today, you have people who have been in very complex programming languages for years who are saying, "I need to come to WordPress to see what's going on because it's just taking over the internet. And I thought it was just simple PHP." But those more complex concepts can come down and we can actually benefit from it. And those of us like Crowd Favorite and 10up and Modern Tribe are trying to bring those standards to the WordPress community, to sort of bring not only the scale of being able to get traffic out there, but also the scale of good code, and code that's executable across many systems.
Here's a quick example. So for Janus Henderson, who is actually sitting on a WP Engine server, they came to us and they said, "We have massive entries of data from many, many places. This is big data, and there is no way to actually get all this information in one spot that's off the shelf. We've looked all over the place. People told us it is going to be seven figures worth of creating our own application." So our team went out there and spent almost three months working with their team, and really understanding the problem. And they created a series of small tests and little bespoke trials, and over the course of those three months we were able to find a way to do that. And today the Janus Henderson site is powered by WordPress. And yes, it's bringing live information together, not just through APIs, it's doing calculations, it's doing disclosures, it's doing all sorts of complex things with big data that you wouldn't think is possible with Janus Henderson. And that's on a massive scale.
On a smaller scale, we have a client we're very proud of who I think is here, Victaulic. And Victaulic is the cornerstone of the plumbing industry in the United States. And they said, "Look, we don't have a massive budget, but we want to do this,, and we want to do this and we've been told that that's going to be difficult." Our team worked with them and found a way to actually get that done for the budgets that they had. You don't have that possibility with a AEM or a Sitecore, something out of the box. They say, "This is what you can do, one period." Or you have to do it completely bespoke and custom.
So let's take a look at actually building one. When you look at the feature lists in the marketing materials for DXP, this is what everybody thinks out there in the marketing world who don't know any better. The reality is if you look at these lists, even on a small-scale site, you can get most of these things today by coming to WP Engine and getting a midsize plan and putting in some very well-integrated plugins out there. But if you're the enterprise, and you have some very bespoke needs, really it's about finding the right platform and the right partner. In this case, we've been able to check off every single one of these boxes to get things out there and delivered to clients at that scale. We have websites today that are hosted, that migrated off of Sitecore, migrated off of Adobe Experience Manager to WordPress. So besides DXP you also have the traditional automated marketing features.
Now again, the same thing, WordPress on its own does this. Some of these features you can go to HubSpot, and HubSpot will be happy to integrate. They're doing some very interesting things where, for their clients, they'll integrate their information into WordPress. For some of our clients, they can't use HubSpot, or their data needs or their data store is so massive that they need something that won't be really scalable with that solution. So they say, "Hey, what can we do?" And the answer is whether it's bespoke, off the shelf, you have the options to actually get these things done. And that's different.
Karim: This is what it sort of looks like if you were going to extrapolate by features rather than by product names. You can have WordPress as a core of a new concept of an open-source DXP. All these features are features that you can get today, that if you go piece by piece on Sitecore, AEM or any one of those other large systems, they say, "Hey, we're the only ones who can do this." But it's about getting the right support and the right partnership.
So looking at this, you say, "How do you do that?" For ABC television as an example, they came to us and they said, "We have 14 websites. Those 14 websites need to have a central store, a digital asset management system, that has 7.5 million images. Those of you who have ever played with WordPress and tried to put in a ton of images into the image library, not going to work. Then on top of that, they said two other little details, not important. Number one, each image will have different permissions on all 14 websites. Different sunrise, different sunset, different levels of login. Some press people from can log in and get that high-res one, but blogger X can log in and get the low-res one.
They also said, "There's one other little tiny detail. That little tiny detail is we don't want pages and posts. We don't want articles and fixed content. We have a team of dozens of content editors, and during special events like the Oscars, during special events like the Emmys, we'll bring in hundreds of temporary workers. So they need to understand the interface." And everybody out there understands the WordPress interface If you've done anything in content management, "but we need it in a workflow that's very bespoke."
So when you talk about integrating all those plugins that we saw earlier, that's only one aspect of having choice. The other aspect of having choice is you can actually spend with your agency, with your technical partner, to actually adapt to your workflow in a much more iterative, quick and budget conscious way than you can with some of these systems out there, or bespoke systems.
So if you look way over on the right, you'll see a very tall sliver of a page that you can barely see any details. That page represents quite literally an episode of a TV show with all of its associated content, because they needed to be able to manage their digital asset management system that isn't WordPress, but it feels like WordPress, it's still open-source. They needed to be able to have a workflow that worked for bringing in these specific people. How do you do that? So we were able to be able to do that. We were able to make this for them and we're very proud that it's been live now for four years and it's still going strong.
So we've learned one thing over the last three to four years that we've been really integrating these systems, not just for scale of traffic, not just for scale of usage, but also how to really specialize in going from customizing a WordPress site that's complex, to integrating marketing and content management into what's becoming known as a DXP.
So you're going to see some of these bullet points and are going to say, "Yeah, I see them on the marketing materials of WP Engine. I see them on the marketing materials of other hosts." There's a difference. The difference is they have taken what usually you'd say enterprise performance, and they've really tuned it. We have four years of experience specifically with WP Engine in making sure that our clients, when they have a problem, are really taken care of. There's a joke in Crowd Favorite that somewhere in WP Engine there's a dartboard with my face on it. And we don't know if it's the engineers or the sales team, because we're always bringing them the hardest problems. And they've been able to say, "You know what? We're going to give you some engineers. We're going to figure it out. Let's see what we can do." And we've been pushing them forward.
And at the end of the day, maybe it's not sales or engineers, maybe it's a support desk. Tina, if you're in the room, I'm sorry. What ends up happening is we seem to be pushing what's available out there, and what would be practically impossible four years ago, today WP Engine is delivering. Why? Because they listened to us. Why? Because they listened to the clients. The clients raised their hand and said, "I need this type of thing." So when I talk about ecosystem integration, they're proving it. What they've done with Genesis framework, that might not work for my clients today, but those concepts plus what we're doing, is forging a road of how we're bringing together what is a digital experience platform.
So you take what's going on with all these things, you bring it together, and if you have the right partner of engineering expertise, you have WP Engine, and you understand the power and the ecosystem of open-source, you really do have something special.
I put this up here not so everybody could try and squint and read, but to give you a concept. In thinking about doing a more complex WordPress project or coming into a DXP, one of the ways you can provide true value to your clients is by understanding the open-source products that are out there, understanding which ones scale well, which ones have the best code out there. Because when we talk about DXP core in this slide, and this table is taken directly from how we explain to our clients when we're doing a requirements definition, when we take plugin X and we say, "This is a really good plugin." For us, it's a really good plugin not only if it scales, but also if it's adaptable without a lot of work.
So to really understand that, and really be able to bring your clients some expertise on how to really expand that core without having to do everything bespoke, that's where they get the value of the DXP core. And I can't wait to see over the next year or two what's going on with WP Engine and partners like myself and 10up and Modern Tribe, to see what they're actually doing to expand that. And then at the top of what we do, specialized customizations. That's again that part that keeps certain people at WP Engine going. Karim, please give us a minute.
Last thing, I beg you all, open-source will only progress at the rate that we can provide excellent customer service. At Crowd Favorite, we say that our clients don't hire us for the code they write, they hire us for the experience they have. This is one of the slides that we use to illustrate that if you come to us with WP Engine, rather than go to one of those one system fits all, you still have one path to success. We have integrated our teams so well that we can do that.
So for all of you out there, you don't have to be a strategic partner to do this. Get to know WP Engine. Get to know everything about what they can do. Understand what's happening out there in the open-source world. Get involved, because the better you can be of consultation, no matter what the size of your project, to your client, the more they will say, "I can stick with open-source and receive those benefits without going to one of those one shop fits all. Thank you very much and I'll be available if anybody has any questions.
Lisa: Just real quick, does anyone have any questions for Karim? He's worked on some of the most advanced WordPress projects over the past couple of years.
Karim: Yeah. So it's a great question by John, which is, where is the line between open-source, customized open-source that's a customization but still compatible, and something so bespoke that you might as well write it from scratch? There is no good true answer. But where we try to fall is, in that table I showed, we always try to stay with basing it on an open-source library that's there. And if we have to do a customization, the customization we do basically hooks. Where we're saying we're going to use A and B, but not C and D. So that the bespoke part is something that as later on a product comes out, we can actually then integrate.
So we're constantly doing that research, as I'm sure your team is too, to see where that lies. Because one last thing, the most important thing about open-source is, if you architect it correctly, as things change, and you want to move from a page builder to Gutenberg to Atomic Blocks, if it's done right in the first place, you don't have to rebuild the entire thing. These are all very modular.
Lisa: Other questions? Okay. Well thank you so much, Karim. I'm going to give everybody just a few minutes to come in from the other breakout sessions, and then I'll introduce our next speakers.
Karim: Thank you.
Lisa: So thank you, let's give a round of applause.
Karim: Thank you.