Earlier this month, longtime WCM vendor Sitecore bought Hedgehog, one of its premier channel implementation partners. This sort of acquisition always raises sensitive questions around business models, relationships, and conflicts of interest, but I think there's an even deeper story here.
Sitecore's acquisition raised hackles among other implementation partners. (Deane Barker reports some turbulence in the Sitecore partner slack channel in his newsletter.) The vendor's rather disingenuous assertion that the purchase is actually a boon for the implementer community probably just fanned some flames.
Any vendor-partner dance can get complicated, but typically the steps are repeatable. I wrote about this ten years ago when Sitecore and other WCM vendors were pushing boundaries in the aftermath of a recession: vendors will wax and wane over how much services revenue they want to capture themselves. In the WCM marketplace, building a platform and then recruiting an implementation channel has turned out to be a winning vendor business strategy, but tensions always persist.
Not About Consulting Revenues
Longtime industry insider Ian Truscott observes that the Sitecore-Hedgehog deal is less about increasing revenue and more about purchasing expertise. I agree. But let's take this a step further: why does the vendor, which built the platform, need this added consultative expertise?
In RSG's WCM vendor evaluations, we classify Sitecore in the most complex, "toolkit" category. To compound things, the vendor has (questionably) bundled a variety of adjacent services into the overall platform.
WCM marketplace on a complexity spectrum; find Sitecore in the far left. Source: RSG
So, you need highly experienced talent to perform even simple customizations. You can find that talent across a wide range of Sitecore channel partners around the world, but there's a deeper issue underneath.
The way you architect a Sitecore implementation from the very beginning will have a huge impact on your platform going forward. There are many different ways you can configure a Sitecore set-up, but few universally acknowledged best practices. (Adobe has an identical problem, and this one example echoes several snafus I've seen.)
I've encountered dozens of Sitecore customers over the years, and the larger ones in particular will share an important lesson: if you lay the foundation the wrong way, or don't adequately anticipate future requirements from the very beginning, this platform will punish you. Small changes accumulating over time can require major architectural refactoring and sometimes outright rebuilds.
Sitecore has historically recognized this problem and at one time even mandated (paid) annual architectural reviews as part of your license. Of course sometimes channel partners can also screw things up. The same thing can happened with fellow toolkits, Adobe and Tridion.
Or more commonly, different Sitecore system experts will apply different and sometimes incompatible methodologies and frameworks. In the the end, you may need to pay the vendor to fix it, which takes deeply knowledgeable — and therefore scarce — services talent. Enter Hedgehog.
Lessons for You the Customer
As an enterprise customer this entire episode might seem like insider talk, but the deeper lesson is that the most high-end WCM platforms do not operate in real life like the highly packaged solutions you saw in sales demos.
Toolkits become necessary when you need to do something really special and unusual, but in my experience they become a major lodestone when you just need to execute on the basics. A vendor loading up on architecture talent is a cautionary sign.
TL;DR: Don't overbuy, people, especially at a time when you should push complexity lower in your omnichannel stack and simplify your customer engagement tier. Check out RSG's WCM research and advisory packages for more advice.