How plug-and-play tech can keep digital transformation lean

The trend towards mix-and-match technologies to meet the needs of a fast-paced digital marketplace shows no sign of slowing
Double wall plug with one cord plugged in and switched on

Keeping on top of technological advances is a head-scratcher for most IT departments. More likely than not, firms of any size and history are struggling with a legacy tech stack. 

For many organisations, the answer to transforming that stack has been to add plug-and-play solutions; dedicated pieces of software that are comparatively easy to add to systems and allow flexibility to adapt to changing digital needs. 

“Most tech today offers turnkey integrations, making it easy to add to a stack or swap in solutions. Thinking that one enterprise suite will solve every problem is, in my opinion, getting to be an outdated approach, though for many this is still debatable,” suggests Odd Morten Sørensen, growth hacker at NTE and martech evangelist.

Plug-and-play solutions have a variety of guises. That may be under a digital experience platform (DXP), which is a collection of systems curated by a vendor to work well together to help deliver digital experiences. Or they can be part of a self-selected set of technologies that are individually designed to integrate, even between competitors. This is part of the trend towards composable architecture – an ecosystem that can be created using independent systems that work together through APIs and can be swapped in and out at will. But the key is to understand the shortcomings of the existing systems, know where support will be most meaningful and adapt the tech stack accordingly.

No silver bullets

The description ‘plug and play’ can be misleading, though. Sitecore is one of many software companies providing a DXP as well as solutions that arguably fall under that definition, such as Sitecore Search. But the company itself states that: “The truth is there is no plug-and-play solution that will enable marketing teams to flip a switch to integrate their stack.”

Sørensen warns: “There are many possible solutions to manage the digital experience today. It comes down to your current set-up. There will always be a transition phase when switching from legacy or on-premise solutions to cloud-based and connected solutions.”

Gareth Chilton is the founder of tech consultancy ManMachine. He notes that one of the reasons companies clamour for plug-and-play solutions is that what they have is underperforming. And instead of addressing the underlying problem, they use new tech as a sticking plaster. “In the same way that running a marathon requires a lot more than buying a pair of Nikes – it takes the right training and nutrition too – just layering on a DXP won’t be a silver bullet.”

Chilton also points out the danger of thinking a company can slot in a new piece of tech and forget about it. “Vendors change their technology all the time. To take advantage of it, you must invest to stay up to date – has a particular provider added or launched a feature that is relevant for your company?” The result is a lot of swapping in and out of component software as functionalities are needed, making it a never-ending task.

It pays to be careful about just how much plug-and-play technology a company onboards. One source estimated the average enterprise uses 288 different SaaS apps. Yet recent research suggests that nearly every IT professional (94%) says their company would benefit from reducing their overall software contracts while 89% believe they waste time every week dealing with ‘bloatware’ – unwanted, overly complicated SaaS add-ons and features that hinder productivity and cause frustration. 

“There are some pitfalls to avoid,” Sørensen says. “Buying tech first, with no strategy in place, is one. And while turnkey integrations can be easily swapped, adopting new software to a team or organisation will take time and will probably cost more than expected every time.” 

Order from chaos

Marketers are looking for a solution that creates order out of this chaos, as global software and information provider Wolters Kluwer found itself. The company was managing more than 200 different websites to serve its varied customer base of tax, legal, governance and health clients. After an extensive sales and marketing survey, the company discovered it was well below parity in marketing maturity, had gaps in capabilities and skill sets, was labouring under a proliferation of poorly used marketing tools and its many websites had security, compliance and user experience issues. 

Running a marathon requires a lot more than buying a pair of Nikes… in the same way, layering on a DXP won’t be a silver bullet

“Our business case was, we had no business case. We couldn’t find the numbers. We couldn’t find the performance. We didn’t understand how those sites were being used, what they were generating or even what they cost,” explains Amy Kolzow, vice-president of global digital marketing at Wolters Kluwer. 

Over two years, the company created a single, multilingual website that could reduce costs and evolve customer experience through a shared, flexible and integrated technology stack. This included a Sitecore content management system at the core, supported by their content management platform and digital asset management solutions, Google Analytics and Mouseflow analytics engines and a Conductor SEO solution. 

There were clear logistical benefits to rationalising the chaotic and confusing technologies into what the company calls its OneWeb transformation – information was easier to find for customers, the brand had a consistent brand experience, and it lowered the total cost of ownership around software licensing, hosting, analytics and agency services. 

Inevitably, though, companies like Wolters Kluwer will have to keep an eye on how their new tech setup is performing. “Martech is developing at a rapid pace. Whatever is happening today will be different tomorrow. If you’re adopting a more agile approach with composable technology, be sure to keep up to date with it,” Chilton says. 

The fact remains that using DXPs, plug-and-play technologies or investing in composable solutions looks to be the way forward for most businesses. “Continuing to build one’s own, bespoke solutions into 2023 is something only companies in niche areas could benefit from,” claims Sørensen. But proceed with caution and at no point rest on your laurels, lest your martech stack comes tumbling down.