Future CMS Crystal Ball

Historically, content management systems arose in the mid-90s when the editorial and functional needs of web pages exceeded the manual handling of HTML files. A new industry came into being, with several enterprise WCMs rising to the occasion.

Increasingly becoming full fledged marketing suites, the resulting DXPs of the early 2010s led to the “monolithic” era. Then the headless CMS entered the fray in more recent years to cater to the rising omnichannel needs.

In light of this historical context, where is the world of CMS headed in the future? And how do you keep building and maintaining great customer journeys in order to preserve and expand your business?

Fragmented future

The general trend of the digital world can be summed up in one word: fragmentation. Not in terms of destruction or entropy, but rather in more positive terms of preferred channels. The current and future tendency is clear: everyone—from banks to bowling alleys—digitizes many of their customer interaction and business operations. And as many different actors across many different industries join the digital transformation, different requirements arise as a result.

It is clear that a CMS, both today and tomorrow, needs to solve much more than simply maintaining a website. A modern customer journey consists of multiple touchpoints in addition to the traditional website, like online ads, SERP, social media, in-store beacons and free QR code synergies, apps, and self-service—not to mention different media platforms like video and podcasts.

This omnichannel reality clearly demands more of a CMS: More systems, more integrations, more development, and more management. Also, this fragmentary trend entails that developers and content editors must work even closer together in the future.

Read more: Enonic: A flexible platform for the future »

Building the future-proof customer journey

The purpose of a CMS is to build digital experiences that solve tasks for your target group. For most businesses, this means building a superb customer journey, which simultaneously helps your current and potential customers, and guides them to perform preferred actions—like buying a product, subscribing to your service, or content to attract them to your physical store.

As mentioned above, the world of digital experiences offer more platforms and channels than ever before. In order to be where your customers are both spatially and temporally, you need a future-proof CMS in order to build an equally future-proof customer journey. Being “future-proof” means you can build a solid foundation now and scale it to whatever channel, platform, or requirement occurs in the future.

See also: The future of digital: What will digital experiences look like in 10 years?

We believe most future content management systems will somehow incorporate the following principles and features in order to stay relevant:

Content first

At the foundation of almost all your customer journey touchpoints is content. Whether you’re reading an ad, watching a video guide, checking a price, or handling a transaction, content forms the very backbone.

Future CMSs will most likely adhere to the “content first” principle, which is to model content for reuse and thinking content first, presentation second. Atomic content design is an example of a content first approach taken to a great length. With this approach, structured content is broken down into its smallest meaningful parts, ready to be reused in larger contexts—like different stages in the customer journey—via metadata.

Don’t miss: Atomic content design: interview with Eirik Hafver Rønjum »

Headless CMS

By following the content first principle, future content management systems will usually appear in the guise of headless CMS. With headless, you focus on structured content, and the ability to distribute from one source to any channel via APIs, potentially making it a content hub for your customer journey.

Content editors should pay close attention to the headless trend, as developers may push hard to use the headless approach, even when it is not the right tool for every project. Headless is for instance no great match for traditional websites, with requirements like URL handling, navigation, and landing pages.

Read more: Is headless CMS the future?

Hybrid CMS

An alternative to headless CMS that might fully blossom in the future is hybrid CMS. The traditional website will not disappear, and as headless CMS is primarily geared towards apps and limited requirements for back-end customization and editorial control, many organizations will look for something more.

A hybrid CMS combines the best of both worlds: content first and headless delivery, paired with URL handling, previewing, landing page editing, and more from traditional CMSs. But, given the diverse nature of content management systems in terms of offered features and functionality, you need to be aware of the differences between a real hybrid CMS vs. a legacy CMS with an added API.

A real hybrid CMS can be spotted by the following traits:

  • Content types can easily be defined and used
  • Being content-oriented as opposed to being page-oriented
  • Supporting rich content models, like references and nested fields
  • Powerful search, preferably down to the attribute level on content
  • Dynamic image delivery with focal point and cropping

Boye’s top 3 most important trends

Digital networking firm Boye & Company facilitates discussions between professionals and leaders in the digital industry around the globe. When we asked founder Janus Boye on the top three most important future CMS trends, he answered the following:

Customer innovation

Customers are now innovating fast, often faster than the vendors. This has huge implications.


This is a big buzzword by analysts, which makes good sense. It helps answer the question by customers: Do you fit into my architecture?

Time to market

This is key. How fast can you launch my new eCommerce store? Even large, complex, and global organizations now want it done is less time. COVID has also driven the need for speed.

Related: Boye & Co evaluates Enonic »


The future of CMS seems to be headed into fragmentary, omnichannel territory. This will fuel the rise of the content first principle and the resulting technical solutions of headless and hybrid CMS, tailored to fit each customer’s unique requirements.

While we don’t know how the future will look, we do know that content is at the center of, not just digital experiences, but human experiences. Content and meaning will not go away anytime soon, so it’s safe to say that a venture into structured content and channel agnostic platforms is a reasonable bet.

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