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What is cloud content management?

What cloud-based content management is, what it offers, and how to determine the total cost of ownership for your unique needs.

Chapter 1

Why organizations are expanding their use of the cloud

From blockchain to AI to DevOps, cloud technology powers some of the greatest innovations today. As its use-cases increase alongside its adoption, a virtuous feedback loop decreases costs while increasing security, innovations, and capabilities. This past year alone, enterprises have increased their public and private cloud spending by 34.4 percent from the year prior, along with an 8% decrease in non-cloud IT spending. Given the simplicity of use and trustworthy nature of today’s cloud services, it’s no wonder businesses are increasingly looking to the cloud to cover not only their infrastructure needs, but, increasingly, to run their Software as a Service (SaaS).

In this context, marketers, business owners, and strategists all need clarity around the various services, definitions, and offerings available on today’s cloud.

In this article, we consider cloud-based content management. By situating it in the context of today’s expanding cloud, we define this exciting new technology, outline its benefits, and highlight important questions for determining the total cost of ownership (TCO) of cloud technology, specifically in the context of marketing technology.

In this article, we'll explore understanding cloud content management, including its history, benefits, and how to determine when it’s right for your organization.

Chapter 2

The history of cloud services: From IaaS to PaaS to SaaS

IaaS

Let’s begin with the most basic form of cloud computing: Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). In an IaaS model, providers offer IT infrastructure — such as processing, storage, networking, and other hardware — as a subscription service. Users can then deploy and run operating systems, applications, and other software on this cloud infrastructure and access them remotely.

The cost of IaaS subscriptions varies depending on the allocation and consumption of resources. The biggest benefit? No need to invest in, maintain, and secure physical infrastructure.

PaaS

The next step in cloud computing is Platform as a Service (PaaS). While IaaS provides servers, storage systems, and networks, PaaS provides all of these along with operating systems and databases.

In short, PaaS vendors provide a framework — which developers can use to create and deploy applications. In a PaaS model, a third-party cloud provider manages all infrastructure aspects, while the organization’s developers manage the applications.

SaaS

Software as a Service (SaaS) is the next level of cloud computing: software that exists in the cloud and is accessed remotely, usually via the Internet, but sometimes through virtual private networks (VPNs).

SaaS vendors maintain the software, handle the hosting, and deal with support queries, all for a monthly or yearly fee. One of the original innovators of the SaaS model is our partner Salesforce, but even if you’re unfamiliar with Salesforce, chances are you know what SaaS is.

Consider your subscription to Spotify. You pay a fee, Spotify provides access to whatever music or podcast your ears desire, no matter where you are. Of course, if you want to be nitpicky, Spotify isn’t really SaaS, since it’s not a B2B model, but for all intents and purposes, it’s the same thing.

Some other examples of SaaS: Slack, Dropbox, Grammarly, and Gmail.

Chapter 3

Cloud CMS and CaaS

A content management system (CMS) run on the cloud can be referred to as Content as a Service (CaaS), which is a specific version of SaaS. At its simplest, a cloud CMS (or CaaS) refers to a headless content management system that stores raw content on the cloud. By raw we mean content in its most basic format, without HTML or template, designed as content building blocks — modular content that can be pieced together in different layouts and consumed by numerous end points. The platform uses application program interfaces (APIs) to feed this raw content out to (or deliver content when called by) various consumers (devices or channels, in marketing speak), where it can be rendered and then accessed by end users.

To classify as a cloud CMS, a platform needs to have several key features:

  • The cloud
    This probably goes without saying, but a cloud CMS requires the cloud. And it delivers all of the attendant benefits — scalability, price savings, security, and bandwidth increase, along with stress reduction for internal IT teams, etc.
  • Object-based content structure
    In a CMS, content can be stored as either blocks or objects (raw content above). An example of block storage would be a CMS that stores webpages in whole, like Drupal. In contrast, an object-based CMS, such as Sitecore, stores that same webpage as objects. One object would be the header image, another the H2 copy, another the body copy, etc. This is critical in today’s omnichannel world — object-based storage smooths cross-channel delivery considerably.
  • Headless architecture
    In general, CMS architecture can be divided into the backend and the frontend (for specifics, see here). The backend manages content. The frontend presents it. For many traditional CMSs, these two layers are bound together. Sitecore has always separated them, and our foresight paid off — as the various devices used to access the internet proliferated, developers and content producers increasingly favored a decoupled approach.
  • Agnostic presentation
    The decoupled approach is favored for one main reason: freedom. Teams are free to store and deliver content on the backend, while allowing the various devices the content is accessed on to determine how it gets presented. What this means in practice is the same content can go to a webpage and Alexa.

Content structure enters back into the picture here. Alexa doesn’t want your banner image. She just wants your headline, sub heads, and body copy. If your content is stored as a whole page (versus as objects), you’ll need to make an entirely new Alexa-friendly version.

You can likely already see why both developers and marketers are fans of cloud-based content management. But let’s dig into the benefits a bit more.

Chapter 4

Cloud content management benefits

For starters, backend developers can work concurrently with the frontend. On the frontend, user interface (UI) developers get their preferred APIs, and mobile app developers get easy-to-use content. And, finally, marketers get to deliver content across channels, without recreating it anew for each one. Another huge benefit of decoupling the backend and frontend is future proofing — no matter what channels appear in the future, marketers will be ready to deliver content to them.

Let’s zero in on each of these benefits in turn:

  • Flexibility
    Thanks to APIs, cloud-based CMSs make it easy to integrate numerous applications and platforms without having to make complex code changes or even tweaks.
  • Scalability
    With third-party hosting in the cloud, you have access to an array of servers. Microsoft Azure’s infrastructure, for example, is global and vast, which means scaling up and down is as simple as contacting your provider (many options will auto-scale as well).
  • Less initial cost and risk
    From security to maintenance, your web host takes care of all the infrastructure issues — not to mention the initial investment of purchasing it.
  • Easy access and smart collaboration
    A cloud CMS offers organizations one source of truth for all content, empowers omnichannel data collection and analysis, and enables concurrent work across the globe. An advanced one will offer various levels of permissions, and even use AI to support numerous teams’ needs — from asset tagging to content suggestions to data analysis and auto segmentation.

These benefits translate to increased speed to market, on-demand scaling, worry-free infrastructure management, reduced risk, simplified innovation, and efficient and effective omnichannel delivery and data capture.

Chapter 5

Total cost of ownership

When it comes to total cost of ownership (TCO), it’s important to consider several factors.

First, you’ll want clarity on upfront costs and subscription fees, including what the fees include. Ask your provider about the costs of hosting, scaling, security, and deployment. For example, does the provider offer an SSL certificate? How many page views are included per month? What are the charges for heavy trafficking times, such as Black Friday for a commerce business? Etc.

You also want to talk with your solution provider, their enablement partners, and even current customers (assuming you can find them), about another upfront cost: The training your team will need to get up and flying.

Second, you’ll want to consider updates. Many cloud-based solutions, such as Sitecore Content Hub, update automatically. While this convenience, offering you the latest version with minimal updates from your team, is ideal for many solutions (such as, again, Sitecore Content Hub), it’s not always the best option for your CMS. That will depend on your business’s digital maturity, the size of your IT team, and their preferences. Whatever option is best for your needs, it’s worth clarifying what is needed on your end for implementing new versions.

Recent legislation, such as GDPR and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) have made it all the more necessary for organizations to maintain security and compliance with customer data. Cloud CMSs enable the localization of content and data policies, which streamlines these needs. Be sure to explore the security and data options of the cloud-based CMS you’re considering.

Chapter 6

Choosing the right deployment option

Different organizations have different needs. This is as true for deployment options as it is for software. While we’re happy to offer cloud-based content management, we continue to support on-premises and managed cloud options. You can learn more about our deployment options here.

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