Contentstack's no-code automation hub - making composable tech stacks easier and shaking off 'integration hell'

Barb Mosher Zinck Profile picture for user barb.mosher May 24, 2022 Audio mode
Summary:
A new initiative from Contentstack that might just shake off 'integration hell' for many.

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Headless content management systems need a way to enable companies to plug in new capabilities as efficiently as possible to help keep up with changing business and customer needs. That’s why vendors like Contentstack and Contentful build their platforms as composable architectures. But composable architectures are not simple to build and manage on their own.

Contentstack says it has the solution with its no-code Automation Hub. According to Neha Sampat, Contentstack founder, and CEO, composable architectures are necessary today because multi-vendor environments are a reality that every company faces.

Contentstack has taken a platform approach to help ease some of the challenges of building a composable stack. There are four components to this:

  1. A Marketplace - Contentstack provides an extensibility framework for apps that enables Contentstack itself, along with partners and customers, to create applications on Contentstack. The Marketplace includes these apps (when they are publicly available), best practice guides, recipes, and starter packs.
  2. The Developer Hub – this hub includes tools for packaging, versioning, authentication/permissions, etc. Each company can have its own library of tools.
  3. Venus Component Library - these are reusable front-end components to help speed up the development of the front-end experiences.
  4. Application Framework – this includes extension points, custom webhooks, authentication, integration tools.

The Marketplace was introduced only a couple of months ago, but it already offers apps from a wide range of companies, including vendors for DAM, analytics, personalization, commerce, marketing, and many more.

Conor Egan, Contentstack VP Product & Engineering, explained how to connect with Cloudinary (media as a service) to add the ability to select images from Cloudinary to add to an article in the CMS. Once the Cloudinary app is connected to Contentstack, an author can include images from the Cloudinary account to add to an article they are working on. The Cloudinary app opens in a separate window, and the author selects the image or other media asset, and it’s added to the article.

Introducing the Automation Hub

But even with the Marketplace and the other tools and libraries, creating a composable stack is not always straightforward because developers still need to work with APIs and coding to integrate components in the stack - what many refer to as ‘integration hell’.

That’s why Contentstack has developed the Automation Hub. The Automation Hub adds a no-code business logic front-end on top of the composable stack.

Egan demonstrated the Automation Hub to me by showing how you can automate sending an article for translation using Smartling, then add the translated content back into the article. Each time a new article is added, the workflow kicks off by sending the article to a Smartling project for translation.

Once the content is returned translated, the automation process downloads that content, sends a Slack message saying the translation is ready for review, adds the content into the correct locale for the article, and sets the workflow to ‘ready for review.’ Before the Automation Hub, much of this workflow would have been manual or built using APIs and custom code.

Many connectors are already available out of the box to include in an automation you want to create. It’s also extensible using LAMDA functions, giving developers even more options. Finally, reporting lets you know what integrations are set up and how they are performing.

The Automation Hub will be generally available late this summer.

Composable tech stacks 

Contentstack has introduced many new things to help companies build their composable tech stacks. The new Marketplace offers one-click integration. The blueprints and guides help development teams create experiences more efficiently. Now, says the company, the Automation Hub makes integrations with other apps much more straightforward  to do.

Contentstack is not the only headless CMS vendor that wants to make composable architecture easier. Contentful also introduced a marketplace last year for vendors to build apps for its platform, and it introduced two apps of its own - Launch,  to plan or schedule content releases, and Compose, to create content.

According to Paul Briggs, who leads the EMEA Product Marketing team at Contentful, they wanted to empower their customers to extend the content platform to align with their own requirements. An app framework built on an open-source designed platform enables customers to become a key part of the ecosystem. And if they were going to encourage partners and customers to build on the platform, it makes sense they would extend Contentful’s capabilities by doing the same thing.

But Contentful does not provide automation capabilities like Contentstack, which means the so-called ‘integration hell’ to which Contentstack refers may still exist for some integrations with Contentful. However, Contentful received a $175 million investment last summer, so I expect we’ll start seeing new capabilities coming. Whether they are thinking along the same lines as Contentstack regarding automation remains to be seen.

My take

What I like about Contentstack’s approach is that it believes in composable experiences so much that it works closely with other vendors to ensure it can happen as seamlessly as possible. This philosophy started with Contentstack’s Care without Compromise, a program that brings Contentstack and its partners together to help joint customers build their composable architectures.

Now it adds a new program, “Connect without Compromise,” that brings together the tools necessary to make that happen, including the Marketplace, the Automation Hub, its Blueprints, and a library of guides and recipes.

Considering how many different options we have for marketing and sales technology alone, moving to a composable architecture sounds good and is a smart move. But having that support and guidance, as Contentstack provides, certainly gives the vendor a leg up in what is becoming an in-demand headless CMS market.

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