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ECM— more options for efficient processes and better digital experiences

This article appears in the issue May/June 2018 [Volume 27, Issue 3]
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The headless option

TrustedChoice.com helps consumers find independent insurance brokers knowledgeable about the services they require, whether auto, home, business or other type of specialty insurance. The topic is extensive, and the TrustedChoice.com website has more than 4,000 pages of content that provide answers to myriad questions regarding both personal and business insurance.

To keep pace with a rapidly changing market and the emergence of new platforms, particularly mobile ones, TrustedChoice.com needed a new method of managing content for its website and other platforms. Its existing content management system (CMS) had a presentation layer that was tied to a specific repository and was difficult to make changes to adapt to SEO optimization rules for ranking websites.

“About 80 percent of our traffic is SEO-driven,” says Derek Hyde, CTO of TrustedChoice.com. “If our website’s performance didn’t measure up, we were unable to change our code quickly to adjust. In addition, we wanted our content creators to be able to work in whatever environment was most comfortable for them, rather than in the CMS. We saw significant advantages in separating content creation from code development activities, and that’s what led to exploring the benefits of using a headless CMS.”

Headless technology provides a backend for content, but unlike a traditional CMS system, it does not provide a presentation layer. Instead, it manages content that can be reused and delivered to any channel through an API. Because the presentation layer is not part of the CMS, more flexibility in design of the digital experience is possible, and the content will be consistent across all channels. It can also act as a content aggregator to present information from multiple data repositories.

As an example of how a headless CMS could work with another enterprise application, consider a situation in which a company manages its product specifications and price lists in SAP. The company wants to publish that data on a website and mobile app, but also wants to enrich it with content for social media or with product images. One way to accomplish that would be to periodically import the SAP data into a headless CMS that also contained the other content. The website would present both the current pricing and the desired images to customer-facing applications through an API.

Driving forces

TrustedChoice.com researched headless CMS products and chose Kentico Cloud, a cloud native headless CMS. “An important factor in choosing a vendor was partnering with one that would enable our team of Java programmers to code in the language they were accustomed to,” explains Hyde. TrustedChoice.com collaborated with Kentico to develop a Java API and then open sourced it to make it available to other Kentico customers.

Another factor in the selection was Kentico’s personalization capabilities and user-tracking services. While the deployment is too recent for TrustedChoice.com to have metrics, early indications show website performance has improved with respect to SEO. That is relevant for a site that gets 450,000-plus visits a month.

TrustedChoice.com has various stakeholders, including insurance seekers, insurance agents and associations that have agencies as their members. “We have multiple websites,” Hyde continues, “including a consumer site, an industry-facing site and a learning content site. The consumer site was the largest and first to migrate to Kentico, with the others to soon follow.”

The company’s learning site provides online courses on digital marketing to independent agents and brokers. “As a long-established and relatively conservative industry, insurance has not been an early adopter of digital marketing,” Hyde says. “But agents of all ages today want to learn about new technologies and incorporate them into their own marketing strategies.”

Several forces are operating in the digital world that make headless CMS a good option, according to Petr Palas, CEO of Kentico. “There are a growing number of channels,” he says. “It’s about not only websites and mobile devices, but also chatbots, augmented reality, virtual assistants and many others that will come to the market in the future.” Most CMS systems were focused on websites and were not ready to publish to the numerous other channels that were emerging.

The other major force is the growing importance of cloud computing. “More companies want to move to cloud,” Palas explains. “This is not a new trend but has gotten much stronger in the last five years.” After trying managed hosting, Kentico decided to rethink the entire architecture of its product and provide a new product, Kentico Cloud, designed as a SaaS product for omnichannel use that connected to other applications through APIs.

“We see a major shift in how customers are building their apps,” Palas says. “They don’t want to build them on top of the CMS but as separate applications and then combine multiple systems.” From a technical viewpoint, using the headless approach is no more difficult than using a traditional CMS, but from a business viewpoint, it requires a different mindset.

“The organization should develop a well-thought-out content strategy,” Palas advises, “in which it identifies all the content it wants to share with customers and establishes a governance plan that specifies who is creating the content, how the content can be reused and so on. The plan needs to go well beyond just the content on the website, to encompass all the channels and all the enterprise content that will be delivered to customers and partners.”

Headless CMS is well-suited to the cloud because it is relatively easy to scale up and offers much greater flexibility than systems that have a tightly coupled repository and interface. According to Forrester (forrester.com), traditional CMS vendors are also beginning to offer a headless option. In addition, Forrester predicts that the next generation of computer architects will lean toward a more streamlined, microservices approach to development. Those solutions will also work well with headless e-commerce solutions to provide a richer customer experience. 

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