Is AEM Sites the Right Fit for Your Enterprise?

Adobe Experience Manager Sites is the latest name for a Web Content & Experience Management (WCM) platform that's been around since the late 1990s under different monikers.  Originally built to address the needs of developers, within Adobe the toolset got substantially spiffed up and re-positioned as a marketer-friendly offering. On the surface that might seem a MarTech match made in heaven, but is Sites the right fit for your needs?

The Skinny on AEM Sites

The WCM system formerly known as "CQ" became part of the Adobe software conglomerate via the 2010 acquisition of Switzerland-native Day Software. The platform sits within the Adobe Experience Manager (AEM) suite, which in turn is subsumed within the overarching Adobe Marketing Cloud.

Sites is an architecturally advanced Web CMS aimed at Global 2000 customers. As a platform, AEM boasts a strong technical vision and a dedication to technical standards around content management. Few WCM solutions can claim to offer AEM’s combination of extensibility, experience management potential, and enterprise readiness (in terms of connectivity, scalability, security, and other common IT requirements) — built on an elegant architecture. Finally, it has an increasingly deep and broad cloud story.

However, despite its infrastructural elegance, many of AEM Sites' pieces feel like one-offs and remain obscure to workaday Java developers. AEM business users seem relatively unimpressed with its usability. 

While AEM Sites is overkill for simpler and most mid-range scenarios, it’s a potential match for larger enterprises with unusually complex or diverse needs. Bear in mind however, that an Adobe solution will be anything but inexpensive — even before you start adding extra modules for social, multisite management, and mobile integration, among others. 

AEM Sites Scenario Ratings
Fig 1.  Adobe AEM Sites ratings against canonical WCM scenarios (click to enlarge).  Source: RSG Vendor Evaluation Research.

Given a relative scarcity of implementation talent, you may pay dearly for outside help. This is a high-end system with a high TCO to match. However, if you’re prepared to do some custom development and require a WCM platform with a highly extensible architecture and rich set of potential capabilities, AEM could be a good match.

Minding Strategic Considerations

At RSG we counsel paying close attention to vendor and community intangibles, and that's especially the case with AEM.

Overall, this is a comparatively quite expensive platform sold by a somewhat disorganized vendor with a rather thin track record of supporting enterprise server software. You will also find the consulting partner channel somewhat stretched and sometimes inexperienced.

AEM Sites Strategic Considerations
Fig 2.  Strategic Considerations for AEM Sites (click to enlarge). Source: RSG Vendor Evaluation Research.

If you decide to pursue AEM, be sure to put a strong program management team in place and make sure your DevOps regime supports consistent dollops of custom code; you’ll probably end up with a lot of it. Remember, licensing costs are only the beginning of your AEM outlay, and implementation costs will be your larger investment by far (4x-6x the licensing fees). If you deploy on-premise, don’t underestimate your hardware needs, especially if you plan to use AEM Assets (DAM) as well. Run the TCO numbers carefully.

To be sure, cost may not present an issue for some AEM licensees, "We go to large customers with public-facing, brand-sensitive sites," explained one Adobe salesperson. Large customers value architectural flexibility, but your digital marketing manager may like this complex product less than your developers do. Baked deeply into the culture of the AEM team is a priority on improving the WCM engineers — not WCM users. Agility can suffer as a result.

In our experience, a comparatively high number of Adobe customers struggle to gain full value from their WCM investment. The level and sophistication of the resources required to achieve success with AEM should never be underestimated. Adobe has made things worse by rather tin-eared and meandering product management in the Version 6.x era, along with a seemingly inbred tendency to blame customers when things go wrong.

To be sure, with enough time, money, and expertise, you can make almost anything possible with this highly extensible platform. I've certainly seen very successful AEM Sites deployments. Just make sure you can adequately support all the custom code you or your integrator will need to write.

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