What Headless CMS Means to Digital Agencies and Their Clients—an Interview with Andy Thompson

Andy Thompson and his team at Get Started share their first experience with headless CMS on a project built by their agency. He explains the pros and cons of using the headless approach and how it impacts their implementation process and productivity.

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Bryan SoltisPublished on Apr 19, 2017

Recently, I sat down with Get Started CTO Andy Thompson to discuss his thoughts on how a headless CMS impacts digital agencies. The Get Started team has recently implemented Kentico Cloud, Kentico’s new headless CMS, on several projects, and I was curious as to how the experience was for their developers, designers, and clients. 

What was the biggest difference for you between a traditional CMS and headless CMS?

I think the biggest difference for us is that people will choose the traditional CMS based on its feature set. And how many boxes it can tick, which is a valid approach if you have a lot of technical requirements. Whereas, a headless CMS allows you to step back from a technology and start with a solution and strategy and pull together the pieces you need. So you pull in the CMS to do what a CMS does, which is to manage content and you look at what your other requirements are separately.

 Where do you currently see the best fit for a headless CMS?

Currently, there are probably two best fits I see. I'd say one is a light-weight, content-first, pure marketing microsite where you don't need all the extra bells and whistles that come with an all-in-one system. An example is a short timeframe microsite that needs to get to market very quickly and is very design-driven. And perhaps you are dealing with strict brand guidelines, that sort of stuff.

The other really good fit is if the requirement of being omni-channel is there from the start. So, right away you are saying “I need a solution that is going to publish to a mobile app and touch screens and a website.” These types of solutions are a great use of a headless CMS because the platform is designed to provide that functionality easily. 

Andy Thompson - Get Started

What’s the difference between traditional and headless CMS project plans?

Okay, we find with the traditional CMS, there are a lot of restrictions because the CMS needs to house the design, the front-end code, the back-end code, and content—all in one place. So you find it tends to enforce a bit of a waterfall approach because there are certain deliverables that are required to be implemented into the CMS before the next phase can occur.  With a headless CMS, it separates out those concerns a bit. Your content editors and developers can get started on configuring your content management system without having to worry about what the design is going to look like. Meanwhile, the designer can design a great experience without worrying about what restrictions the CMS can impose on the presentation.

How does headless CMS fit the Agile development model?

A headless CMS fits the Agile model really well because it allows all members of the team to be working simultaneously during a sprint. Developers can be working on content models and writing controllers and doing business logic, while a designer is doing user experience, and front-end development is writing markup. All the while, the client, customer, or content strategist can be entering their content in a system that's ready to go from the start.

Do you see any difference in developer productivity with a headless CMS? 

Yeah, I think the best example of an increase in productivity is that removal of roadblocks. So you don't see, for example, a back-end developer or CMS-integrator twiddling their thumbs waiting for the designs to finish or the front-end markup to arrive. 

What’s the difference in website deployment and hosting when using headless CMS?

I think, in both cases, the requirements are reduced significantly. For website development, you’re not developing and customizing to integrate with an actual software platform. The headless CMS is Software as a Service and it has a complete  feature set in terms of what it’s good at from day one. What you are building is your presentation. In terms of deployments and hosting, the requirements are massively reduced because you don't have to deploy and host the CMS. The CMS is already in the cloud, so all you’re deploying is the presentation that you have created. 

What do you miss with the headless CMS approach compared to traditional CMS?

Well, the first thing that we all miss, as creatures of habit, is all of those features that were available out of the box with these platforms that have been developed over a decade. To tick every box in a feature matrix that a customer needed. An example is we’re building a site. We think we need a contact form. No problem, where’s the forms module? There may not be one because forms are not necessarily content and more of an interaction. We're learning to deal with that by approaching the project with more of a microservices frame of mind. And realizing there are other services that can create forms very easily for you. 

What does a Headless CMS mean to non-technical users?

I think that’s a great question because some of our own non-technical staff get a little bit confused by the term “headless CMS”. However, it makes a lot of sense to our technical users. Some of our strategy for salespeople internally is to think of a headless CMS as more of a centralized content hub or library with a delivery network attached.  I think even though “CMS” technically means just content management, we're creatures of habit and we now think of a CMS as a multi-purpose tool. 

How would you explain the benefits of a headless CMS to your client?

I think there are few benefits that really sell it to them. One is the efficiency gains and the ability to be rapid and take a more Agile approach. And, deliver a viable product more quickly. The other is this content-first, centralized content model, where they can focus on their content straight away and deliver it to multiple channels. They don’t have to wait for their website to be built before they can start looking at content. It also allows them to improve their own efficiency by managing all the content across all of their channels in a single location.

What would be your recommendation for other agencies starting with a headless CMS?

My biggest recommendation would be to just give it a go. Dive in. Choose maybe a small project and just give it a try because it will be different and you need to experience it for yourself. Once your team really understands it, I think they’re going to love it!

I want to thank Andy again for taking the time to talk with me. As you can tell, a headless CMS can significantly improve the efficiency of your project development and offer new capabilities over a traditional CMS. By leveraging the content-first aspects of the platform, your projects can get developed sooner, your teams can be more productive, and your clients content can be available to multiple channels right from the start.

Andy’s Presentation

Andy has recently presented a case study on their project at Kentico Roadshow in Sydney and Melbourne. Below, you can find his presentation and a recording:

If you want to learn more about headless CMS, you can still sign up to Kentico Roadshow in Chicago, Denver, Boston, London, and Amsterdam.

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Bryan Soltis