Author: Tim Hanse
Content Management Consultant at Crossphase
Published on 14 August 2019

Headless. Decoupled. Hybrid. Agile.

All types of CMSystems that you need to have NOW. Yesterday, actually.

Because everyone is working with them. So you need to join in.

Or do you? My guess is that there is a 50/50 chance that your organisation has thought about the idea of a headless CMS. Or that your IT department has at least had that conversation once. Or that you’ve heard about it at a conference. Or that you read a very clear and eloquently written ‘advantages and disadvantages’ article somewhere last June.

But what exactly is a headless CMS?

The short definition of a headless CMS is that it is a CMS that separates content from form, or, in other words, a CMS that separates the data from the front end code.

In practice, it’s a database that sends data to the front end module through an API, which in its turn decides the form and function of the content for a channel. An API is an Application Programming Interface, or a set of rules that decide which content can be retrieved on each channel, and how this content is presented.

I like to compare it to a rain barrel with water on which you can install different valves.

One version is a so-called decoupled, or hybrid, CMS.

In this type of system, the database is connected to the front end module through an internal API, within the infrastructure of the CMS. Your system will work immediately, without having to connect it to a front end module. But you can, if necessary, because there is an API available. This will allow you to connect several channels to your database.

Most Enterprise CMSystems have incorporated this in recent updates and now claim to offer a headless version.

Headless and Decoupled both still have the shape of the traditional CMS, in which the content is still presented as an end product: a web page, an email or an app. Does this mean that headless is the solution that companies need in this day and age? Yes and no.

According to Forrester (you can read the article here) there will soon be a new type of WebCMS: the Agile CMS. They present this as the a new generation CMSystem which can cater to the needs of a visitor. But if I read the explanation, I fear that most CMS users are not prepared enough to work with it. What I do agree with is that headless is not a sustainable option. Even though it is technically feasible and can be set up efficiently, there are too many obstacles. One of them is that your content organisation should be ready. Because even though headless should serve as a solution for your content organisation, scalability is its Achilles heel. When you are handling large quantities of content, it’s no longer the technology, but humans and their way of working that become an obstacle. Because a lot of data needs to be managed, and who checks if there are double entries? It would be a pity if nomenclature or wrong metadata would cause an incorrect piece of content to be called up. And the larger the amount of content, the bigger the chance that there are duplicates or errors.

So should I participate in the headless hype? Please take some time to consider the fact that headless may be easy to implement from a technical point of view, but that you will also have to change the way you look at software, the way your content organisation works, and the way you handle your content. And that last one is important, because most companies don’t have the basics in order there. I would therefore advise: Don’t lose your head over it. Keep an eye on headless and only start using it when you think you really need it. But before you do, break down the silos in your company first, formulate a vision on communications and set up a good way of working for the storage of your content.

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