What is content as a service, and how does it work – econsultancy

The concept of Content as a Service (CaaS) has evolved in response to the dilemma posed by our modern digital ecosystem and its incredibly high demand for new and different types of content. However, it’s also an evolving concept which isn’t always clearly-defined – making it difficult to pin down exactly what it entails, and how brands can implement it.

We reached out to some experts to find out how this new method of managing content works, its benefits, and how brands can get started. Content as a Service is typically mentioned in conjunction with “headless” or “decoupled” content management systems. What is the relationship between CaaS and a headless or decoupled CMS? Richard Jones, CTO at Inviqa:

It describes a headless CMS that’s hosted and allows you to set up content for consumption by different applications – from frontend web applications, to chatbots, voice user interfaces (VUI), and so on.

With CaaS, activities relating to scaling and performance become the responsibility of the platform provider. Rick Madigan, Digital Marketing Strategist at MMT Digital:

However, headless is in effect the separation of the administration backend and presentation layers. With that in mind, many of the traditional CMSes – often referred to as monoliths because they cram a lot of functionality for content management, ecommerce, online marketing, analytics, etc. into one product – could be utilised in a headless fashion to pull out content and display through a separate presentation layer.

It is easier to think of headless as the overarching term. Content as a Service is simply a category within this, describing the types of content management system – such as Contentful or Prismic – that are hosted, managed and upgraded by the vendors, and which focus on the creation, management and delivery of content. What’s the difference between a headless and a decoupled CMS? Richard Jones, CTO at Inviqa:

With a headless CMS, you have no capability to generate front-end code, so it’s purely a content service without a display layer. Headless is reactive because it assumes that another system will request content as and when it needs it. So, if you add content to a headless CMS, what you get out is the same content in the form of an API request.

With that in mind, there are several benefits that I would identify. First, flexibility and speed to market: free from the constraints of the traditional CMS, which will typically assist in constructing the HTML, developers can very quickly build up user interfaces and deploy these changes, assuming you have a well-architected deployment process in place: something that goes hand-in-hand with modern microservices architecture.

Secondly, customer reach. The content you are creating through a headless CMS is no longer wedded to a site. It is just content in its pure form, which opens up the gates to allow businesses to leverage content across channels – whether that’s websites, progressive web apps, voice, bots, smartwatches, etc. We can get greater returns on investment for the content that is created by using it through the channels that customers use at the right time.

Thirdly, future-proofing. A typical microservices architecture would be decoupled – essentially no systems are tightly bound together – so businesses have greater flexibility over the infrastructure. If it was decided that the headless CMS did not have a suitable roadmap or was proving to be less value for money, the content could be exported out into another headless CMS, the old CMS could be pulled out and the new CMS could be introduced, all with a lower amount of input from developers – a very different picture to the traditional architectures where it is more difficult to make such changes.

There are also benefits in terms of cost, innovation, greater control over automated testing – and happier developers. We rely on developers to deliver the solution. With traditional CMS, they are often hamstrung by the constraints of the system and prevented from using the latest tech. Using a headless CMS, we give developers the freedom to use the technologies they want. Richard Jones, CTO at Inviqa:

Changing to a decoupled approach from a traditional CMS could potentially be a large undertaking, so it’s important to be clear about why you’re making the change, and both the opportunities and challenges this will create for the organisation. A key driver is usually the organisation’s need to seamlessly deliver content to new platforms and for emerging use cases (for example, for voice user interfaces like Google Home or Amazon Echo). Is a headless CMS suitable for every organisation? When should brands consider using one? Richard Jones, CTO at Inviqa:

That’s why I always recommend going through a content modelling process that helps the organisation understand the domain of the content without being distracted by its layout and other cosmetic implications. Starting with connected content design is a good thing to do when thinking about a decoupled CMS. Rick Madigan, Digital Marketing Strategist at MMT Digital:

Starting with infrastructure and technology: the move to a headless CMS is unlikely to be simple. In the majority of infrastructures there are dependencies and constraints which can come from the hosting environment, the way in which the digital ecosystem has been architected – as in, how systems fit together – and even in the different systems or software in operation within the ecosystem, some of which may be business-critical.

As far as people are concerned, you can split this up into editors and developers. For editors, the move to a headless CMS can be jarring. It’s a different mindset and, to an extent, a different approach. Content is intended to be treated as just that, agnostic from any channel, so sitemaps and site trees are gone. It requires a shift in mentality which some will handle better than others.

With developers – do they have the skillsets required to handle not only the migration but also ongoing development? It’s a cultural shift. It’s bit of a generalisation, but from experience, developers will often handle the change better than editors. How can brands who want to manage their content in this way get started? Rick Madigan, Digital Marketing Strategist at MMT Digital:

With most of the large organisations that we work with, the advice is to start small. Find a use case within a smaller project that provides an opportunity to spin up a new website or application that could use a headless CMS rather than having to be implemented in the legacy CMS. Beyond just the content, start to think about how you could develop modern microservices to interact with other platforms that you need (e.g. CRM, analytics etc).

As part of this project, work with architects to map out the ultimate goal. What would a complete shift to microservices look like in terms of search, personalisation, marketing automation, business services, CRM, data & analytics, etc.? Whilst this is probably handled with a small number of legacy platforms, what might it look like in the future?

Let’s use a recipe page as an example: in a traditional CMS there might be a single text area where the editor enters the ingredients, instructions, and so on, but with editorial guidelines around how this should be done. With a well-designed content model, this could become a number of specific fields for each ingredient and instruction step.