The Sitecore Paradox

[Editor's note: this post was originally published two years ago this month.  We updated it a year ago when the vendor laid off 5% of its staff, and again this week, after news of the CEO getting replaced...]

I've been following Web Content & Experience Management vendor Sitecore since it emerged from the primordial soup of Nordic competitors in 2001 and eventually evolved its way to the top echelons of the global WCM market.  The company's focus on core R&D and channel-based selling proved a winning business strategy, but I think Sitecore has hit a ceiling in recent years.

Impressively Complicated Platform

Natural selection made Sitecore an impressively rich if unusually complicated, developer-centric platform.  In fact, it's more of a toolkit, but that's a bonus for the vendor's integration partners.  Sitecore also hit on advanced personalization as an early focus, cleverly sensing that customers would very much like to buy this, even if almost no one had the chops early on to actually implement it.  In any case, all this heft led to a very complicated architecture.

Sitecore 9 Architecture from Oshyn
Sitecore Logical Architecture, via implementation partner, Oshyn.

So, Sitecore joined the ranks of the WCM upper tier, then became a "unicorn," and now competes directly with Adobe AEM Sites,among others.  Many of the same problems customers experience with AEM also befall Sitecore licensees.  You face a greater risk of overbuying  than underbuying in the WCM market.

The Paradox of a High-End DXP

In recent years, Sitecore has also pursued a different journey, to become a "digital experience platform."  The idea is you put nearly all your digital engagement services in a single platform.  (Contrast with the likes of Acquia, Adobe, Oracle, and Salesforce, who try to sell you a curious menagerie of acquired tools integrated mostly by sharing common brand names.)

Among other services, Sitecore wants to bundle in its flagship Experience Platform (XP) offering:

  • Web Content Management
  • Catalog Management
  • Customer Data Aggregation
  • Digital Analytics
  • Marketing Automation
  • Campaign Orchestration
  • Personalization
  • Social Media Management
  • And optionally Ecommerce

Sitecore XP Services Stack
Sitecore XP Services Stack; Source: the vendor.

But do customers want this sort of omnibus platform?  This approach is a decent strategy for smaller enterprises that may have a digital team of one person.  For a large enterprise with a sophisticated digital strategy, it's a total clusterfunk.  Such enterprises are working to separate out the pieces of their growing MarTech stacks for greater agility

The Sitecore model almost harkens to the era of über-webmasters, doing it all from a single control panel.  We don't live in that world anymore.  Specialized digital teams need different tools and interfaces, and MarTech stacks have become increasingly diversified.  Yes, integration has now become the prime MarTech challenge, but who wants to deploy an ill-fitting catalog or email marketing solution just because it's bundled with your WCM platform?

Perhaps you can't blame Sitecore entirely here, since their industry analyst advisors are promoting the myth of an "enterprise DXP."  But that's the thing about analyst advice — including any counsel you get from us at RSG — in the end we all have to be accountable for our own digital strategies.  Gartner and Forrester have steered them wrong.

Sitecore may point you to their simpler base CMS called "Experience Manager" (XM). The vendor is too-clever-by-half here, since XM is not just the WCM bits disconnected from the rest of the platform, but rather a dumbed-down product missing enhanced WCM features and some UX niceties of the larger edition. So you have to purchase the complete XP bundle to obtain the advanced WCM services that would justify Sitecore in the first place...

MarTech Stacks: Bigger at the Base, Smaller at the Edge

There's another big trend that's rising slowly but still rather ominous for Sitecore: large enterprises are breaking out journey orchestration, personalization, and customer data aggregation as separate horizontal tiers in their marketing stacks. They want these core enterprise marketing services to become disconnected from individual engagement silos. 

For the large customers it targets, I believe Sitecore's on the wrong side of history by bundling these services into their XP platform (though they're far from alone here).

"But We're Growing!"

Sitecore will tell you that it's growing, with happy licensees. The vendor's a private company so we can't confirm this, but I take them at their word.  Nearly all WCM vendors are expanding revenues as they roll out managed PaaS hosting as a new service line and convert to ungodly-lucrative subscription pricing.  (Flip side: you the customer get ripped off, but that's another topic for another day...)

On the other hand, organizational changes at Sitecore hint that this growth could be decelerating or worse.

In any case, the deeper story is that customers don't actually deploy all of Sitecore's extraneous services.  I've heard running jokes among Sitecore integrators that licensees simply use the platform to build big fancy websites, and that's all.  The integrated analytics and email marketing?  "Demo candy."

The scope for WCM is getting skinnier.  That's a good thing. But it's a poor omen for Sitecore, Adobe, Acquia, and others whose central value proposition seems to be, "we're expensive, so we must be good." You can still make a case for a higher-end WCM platform — and at times we make that case for enterprise subscribers who have truly unique needs — but it's increasingly rare.

If you're an RSG subscriber and wish to discuss this further, feel free to schedule an advisory session with one of our analysts.


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Gil, Partner, Cancentric Solutions Inc.
iStudio Canada Inc.

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