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Beyond CMS: Flexible, evolutionary infrastructure is the future of content operations

Will Robinson
© Shutterstock / StanislawV

Content management systems are suffering from stagnant, legacy systems that were not built with a modern, agile, API-driven approach. To keep up with the competitive demand for digital products, more and more organizations are adopting a continuous development and delivery model and cuts down on development time and long dev cycles.

Content should be the lifeblood of new digital products and services, but all too often, it’s trapped within an inflexible content management system that dictates workflow and stymies speed and progress. Companies need to move beyond rigidly enforced content templates and workflows and towards enabling continuous content delivery.

Continuous delivery at scale, however, is only possible with evolutionary architecture. Although the prevailing wisdom used to be that architecture is immutable once built, this new approach argues that static architecture should be a thing of the past. “If evolutionary change is built into the architecture,” write Neal Ford and Rebecca Parsons for Thoughtworks, “change becomes easier and cheaper, allowing changes to development practices, release practices, and overall agility.”

Digital content is much more than text on the web, and products and services based on content must be dynamic, interactive and personalized. Anne Rockley of The Rockley Group coined the term “intelligent content” — that is, content that’s “structurally rich and semantically categorized and therefore automatically discoverable, reusable, reconfigurable and adaptable.”

Legacy CMS

Legacy CMSes weren’t built to support the kind of agile-minded, API-driven approach this type of content development demands. Rather, these monolithic systems do exactly what their name says: they manage content — but their way, on their terms. Even the smallest of changes can take days, weeks or even months to implement, reducing organizations’ ability to act on new opportunities and trends in real time.

To keep up with the competitive demand for digital products, more and more organizations are adopting a continuous development and delivery model. Enabling content creators to make small changes and iterative updates help keep digital platforms fresh, creating higher customer engagement while also cutting down on wasted time for developers. This approach distances itself from long, drawn out development cycles (the core DNA of legacy CMSes) and toward an environment in which software and services can be easily and rapidly updated.

Applying the evolutionary architecture model to content management means creating flexible content. Infrastructure is no longer treated as a one-and-done — it adapts and changes as a company’s digital needs do. This means that development and content teams can provision environments, migrate content and write tests using APIs, allowing software development teams to create and quickly deliver high-quality products and services.

To achieve content agility, organizations must adopt an approach that composes digital products and “experiences” via services that seamlessly work together. Timely, relevant and targeted experiences are necessary for any company that wants to keep up with consumer, industry and regulatory demands.

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Red Bull Music Academy’s CMS

The Red Bull Music Academy, for example, hosts hundreds of live events and musical launches that are heavily promoted on campaign microsites. More often than not, these sites must be launched on short notice and with widely varied customer requirements.

RBMA’s legacy CMS imposed hard constraints on the types of features it could develop, forcing the company to build mostly static sites. The RBMA team tried a number of methods to overcome these limitations — like building a custom Rails backend —but these methods were expensive and hard to replicate.

With a more flexible architecture, RBMA launches sites in a third of the time it used to take, and developers and content creators alike are freed to come up with new designs that engage customers and set RBMA apart from competitors.

At RBMA, a typical campaign website is maintained by a diverse group of professionals, not just developers. Under their legacy system, to make any changes with the company’s legacy CMS — even trivial ones — contributors had to turn to developers for assistance. Now, RBMA content creators have access to a user-friendly interface comprising standard fields, asset galleries, and clear workflows. On the other end, the system outputs content in JSON, ready to be consumed by a variety of platforms and frameworks. The result is that developers and content creators can do their work in parallel, enabling them to deliver faster in an agile development framework.

SEE ALSO: The Second Age of Agile: measuring success with meaningful Agile metrics

Legacy CMSes worked fine with legacy web products — static, rigidly formatted and infrequently updated. However, this is no longer the case. The highly dynamic market — where customer demand drives near real-time product development across multiple platforms — a new, better content model is required. Since content creators no longer have to be dependent on developers, they can work with more creative freedom. Evolutionary content architecture, much like evolutionary architecture, enables organizations to deliver new products quickly, efficiently and cost-effectively.


Will Robinson

Will is the Services & Solution Architects Manager at Contentful where he works with some of the biggest brands in the world to drive digital change using Content Infrastructure. Prior to Contentful, Will was the lead technologist at the British Museum. He received both a BA in Computing and Interaction Design as well as an MFA in Computational Studio Arts from Goldsmiths College, University of London.

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