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The benefits of an integrated platform: An integrated stack

Determine the right foundational solution for your martech stack

CHAPTER 1

Why integrations top marketers’ wish lists

According to the CDP Institute’s latest report, the most important criteria when considering marketing technology is integration. Whether answers came from “leaders” or “others,” 66% of marketers surveyed agreed that seamless integration between internal systems was essential. The next highest priority for “leaders”? Integration with external systems, such as a third-party applications, (53%), followed by ease of use and learning (51%).

Let that sink in for a moment — marketers are more concerned with integration than anything else, including cost.

If you’re a marketer (or an IT professional working in marketing), this likely doesn’t surprise you. It’s one thing to piece together best-of-breed solutions for everything from email automation to social media to your web CMS, even if you do need to jump from interface to interface while using multiple logins. But if these systems don’t speak to each other, it will be tedious, labor intensive, and time consuming to connect the siloed data points needed to understand the individual journeys of your customers, let alone to determine the best way to meet them at each critical point.

In a market saturated with over 8,000 solutions, most martech stacks today are hybrid — a mixture of various solutions, from data collection and analysis to marketing automation to sales and customer-success software. And they run on diverse delivery models, from on-premises services to private or public clouds to hybrid models.

In addition, marketing doesn’t and shouldn’t operate in silos. Sales needs access to marketing information to understand customer journeys, and vise versa, to say nothing about customer success, and all the other teams that are essential for ensuring memorable customer journeys.

Ideally you can accomplish most tasks without logging in and out of systems and connecting the disparate data from each yourself, let alone gleaning insight from it. But as most marketers and IT personnel know all too well, there’s often a large gap between the ideal setup and reality.

For marketers, an integrated solution is just the beginning; we need an integrated stack. This, however, requires an integrated foundation — or, as we’ll see, possibly more than one. After exploring several of the foundational solutions — IPaaS, CDP, and DXP — we consider some of the top challenges to an integrated martech stack along with the foundational solutions and some of the best practices for integrating yours.

CHAPTER 2

Top solutions for integrating your stack: IPaaS, CDP, DXP

There are several solution types that claim to support integrating your martech stack. By defining each of the top three in relation to each other, we can determine which ones are actually necessary.

IPaaS: Integration Platform as a Service

If you’re looking to integrate your martech stack, you’re likely familiar with the Integration Platform as a Service (IPaaS) solution. As subscription-based, cloud-deployed platforms, IPaaS solutions connect data from disparate systems, whether internal platforms or external applications. IPaaS providers essentially package a bunch of (often flexible) APIs together to offer a data switchboard, which usually includes a dashboard with a visual interface that removes the need to actually look at, let alone manipulate, code.

With thousands of apps available today, and thousands more sure to come, the promise of IPaaS is that organizations can find one solution to address all of their integration needs.

CDP: Customer Data Platform

There’s another platform option you’ve likely run into on your integration journey: customer data platforms (CDPs). What differentiates a CDP from IPaaS? The simple answer is that a CDP focuses on integrating all of your customer data, while an IPaaS is the one-stop shop for all of your data. The more complex answer, and the one that actually aligns with the complex world of martech, is that the difference is fluid, at best.

In fact, many organizations use a CDP as an IPaaS, while some IPaaS tools evolve into CDPs. This isn’t to say that the names are functionally equivalent. It is to say that there are likely solutions running under both names that can solve your data problems by cleansing, deduplicating, resolving, and aggregating your data; the specific solution that’s right for your organization will depend on your unique goals. We will explore this further below, but as with any marketing technology solution, your approach should be:

      (1) Determine your goal(s)
      (2) Define your use case
      (3) Explore specific solutions (not just solution types)

DXP: Digital Experience Platform

We’ll begin our examination of digital experience platforms (DXPs) by returning briefly to IPaaS. Both a DXP and an IPaaS solution are tools to help organizations streamline operations and consolidate technologies.

One way to break down the difference is by saying that DXPs facilitate external communication while an IPaaS facilitates internal integrations. But just like the differences between a CDP and an IPaaS, this distinction oversimplifies reality — not least because some DXPs can facilitate integrations just as well, if not better than some IPaaS solutions.

CDP and DXP solutions are arguably more distinct than CDP and IPaaS ones, but depending on the specific solutions, there can be overlap in functionality. According to Lisa Loflitts at CMS Wire, while some offerings of both solutions can carry out essential functions, those needing to create and manage multiple sites, offer e-commerce functionality, or integrate an existing martech stack, will likely want a DXP.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it comes back to goals and strategy. Are you looking to enable personalized and connected customer journeys? Do you need a central storage for data, including a way to make it actionable? Is your main priority connecting internal systems to break down business silos and facilitate cross-departmental understanding?

Given the complexity of modern marketing, let alone the modern martech space, it’s entirely understandable that marketers are looking for an integration magic bullet. But the truth is there is no plug-and-play solution that will enable marketing teams to flip a switch to integrate their stack.

CHAPTER 3

How to approach integration

Assuming you know your business goals and have created a sound strategy to reach them, the next step is determining what systems need to be integrated: a CRM? ESP? CMS? Marketing and email automation tools? etc.

Takeaway: You need to know what you’re aiming for. More automation, better customer journeys, deeper data-driven insight — these are some of the most common reasons we see across industries when it comes to integrating solutions.

Next, consider what you have already and how it can be put to use. Most marketing teams are not using their technology to its fullest extent. And even if you’re one of the few who are, there may be connectors, or other types of APIs out there you’re unaware of.

If, for example, you already have an API-driven CMS, such as Sitecore Experience Manager (XM), there’s likely a large ecosystem of open APIs that connect to numerous systems. Of course, you’ll still need someone to do the work of actually connecting these APIs, but there is no solution out there that won’t require some implementation work.

Many organizations are currently in the midst of a pandemic-accelerated digital transformation. For these organizations, it’s essential to determine which platform should serve as their foundation. For marketing teams, an integrated and robust DXP is a necessity, which means one that includes the complementary solution: CDP.

Admittedly, we’re not an unbiased source. But that doesn’t mean we’re not correct. As Gartner notes in their definition, “DXPs provide an architecture for companies to digitize business operations, deliver connected customer experiences and gather actionable customer insight” (emphasis ours). And our customers have proven their ability to pivot using our platform.

CHAPTER 4

The right DXP for integrating your martech stack

However, to function as a solid foundation, your DXP needs to be interoperable and extensible — it must be built on an API-first architecture.

Sitecore began as a hybrid headless, API-first CMS. Along with this, we’ve made other choices that have driven a system optimized for integrations, a large part of why we’ve been able to build a fluidly integrated DXP.

What an open and extensible DXP enables
•    Entering the Chinese market, the Swedish natural beauty company Oriflame used Sitecore to integrate two popular Chinese apps, Alipay and WeChat, to gather customer data and provide personalized content.
•    The energy firm Innogy used Sitecore to connect to their custom-built IoT sensors on customers’ gas meters. By pushing and pulling data from these meters, Innogy provided their customers with real-time gas meter readings and personalized tips on reducing energy consumption.

 

One way to better grasp why a well-architected DXP is essential for integrations is by considering the opposite approach: Adobe’s. While every DXP is built from integrations, the Adobe Experience Cloud contains a truly dizzying array of programming languages, data management systems, and delivery models.

After years of working in AEM, this is how one frustrated developer put it, “You’ll see in the AEM documentation an alphabet soup of libraries, architectures, APIs, etc. … thrown on top of each other with virtually no concern with how an ordinary developer might navigate them without expert-level skills.” And AEM is just Adobe’s CMS — the DXP functionality of Experience Cloud vastly increases this complexity.

Contrasting this, all aspects of Sitecore’s solutions are founded on the same programming language (.NET). We use a single data management platform, Sitecore Experience Database (xDB), and a single API framework, Sitecore xConnect.

All of the major DXP players have built their solutions in part through acquisitions. But there are acquisitions that increase functionality while drastically increasing complexity, and there are acquisitions that increase functionality while integrating fluidly.

For all the non-developers out there, a well-integrated DXP translates to cheaper implementations, faster time to market, easier integrations with other platforms, happier IT teams — and actually getting what you pay for.

CHAPTER 5

Ask the right questions, get the answers you need to decide

When it comes to integrating a specific DXP solution with other solutions, begin by asking some basic questions, such as:

  • How flexible is the platform?
    • Is it relatively simple to connect with best-of-breed solutions? Or will you be stuck with a vendor’s ecosystem?
  • How easy or hard is it to find talent to support the solution?
    • Does the solution run on well-known and integrated codebase? Is there a broad ecosystem of experts, including both individual programmers and outside consultancies? (Pro tip: ensure partners and consultancies are available in your area.)
  • What’s your budget for implementation and integrations?
    • Does it align with the vendor’s estimates? (Pro tip: cross reference estimates by reaching out to customers who use the solution.)

You’ll also want to know what pre-built integrations, aka connectors, it has. And you’ll want to follow that up with a string of other questions, such as:

  • How do we set up the integrations?
    • Will this require developers?
  • Is the integration real-time or batch?
  • What does the integration actually enable?
  • Do you have APIs?
    • If so, what do they support?
    • Is detailed and actionable documentation available?
    • Can the APIs be customized?
  • How do you support integrations not included out-of-the-box?

As alluded to in the pro tip above, when considering support, you’ll want to look at the broad ecosystem of the solution — including implementation partners, where they’re located, when they’re available, how much they cost, etc. Having the support you need when you need it can mean the difference between hitting your target launch date on time and on budget and never actually arriving at all of the cool functionality you’ve been promised.

In addition to being open and extensible, the Sitecore suite includes pre-built connectors and a large ecosystem of best-of-breed solutions easily integrated with Sitecore’s solutions. Reach out for a demo to explore our solution and talk with an expert about your unique needs.

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