This is a co-authored blog post by Forrester Analysts David Aponovich and Michael Facemire.

Corporations and brands are jumping through hoops (and spending lots of money) to build and support mobile customer experiences. It has us asking: Where are the web content management (WCM) vendors in all of this?

The answer that applies to many: Missing in action.

Here is a group of tech vendors whose R&D and acquisitions have been incredibly focused on enabling digital experiences and helping marketers and brands connect with customers online.

Yet many web content management vendors serving enterprise and midmarket clients still lack a fully baked mobile solution for back-end developers or their marketing counterparts, or even a road map that considers the place for mobile and cross-channel experiences in their content management and future digital experience ecosystems (think: interactive TV, point-of-sale digital, even interactive goggles, or whatever new channels emerge). Clients are jumping in completely, and they’re looking for the best tools, solutions, and services to make a successful leap. They’re looking right at you, vendors.

Here’s what they see: Not every WCM vendor today is adept or positioned to offer deep mobile solutions.

Vendors lacking this power and capacity to support mobile initiatives will face challenges as specific WCM competitors answer this need. And here’s the other rub: non-WCM tools and techniques are gaining momentum and serving as the path of least resistance for companies that need, today, to get mobile with their content, sites, and experiences, preferably without redeveloping from scratch.

The rapid shift to mobile presents WCM vendors the golden opportunity to take on a bigger role (and slice of the license pie). It also presents a potential Achilles heel. After jumping ahead of marketers’ demands by developing new, cool marketing capabilities in WCM solutions (that’s a nice A/B testing tool you’ve got there), these same vendors risk falling behind in the explosive mobile arena.

Last week, our colleague Thomas Husson wrote in a Forrester blog post, “Mobile has the potential to be more disruptive than the Web.” We echo his sentiments. But it’s not just us saying so: companies are rushing to fill this need, and these are not half-hearted attempts but rather strategic projects tied to corporate growth.

Forrester clients ask daily: How much should I depend on my WCM vendor to support my mobile strategy? After all, all my digital content lives there. Or should I look elsewhere for help?

We’ve recently seen some examples that foreshadow a better reality. For example, Adobe is using its acquisition of Scene7 to enable responsive web design of sites that consume media from their CQ5 content management system. Additionally, IBM acquired the Worklight mobile application platform, which similarly will augment its web content management/web experience solution.

Based on recent Forrester client inquiries, here are some key observations worth taking note of:

1.       Confusion and differences exist in the "mobile" world among customers. There’s a difference between “mobile content” and “mobile experiences in a cross-channel world,” but it’s a distinction many roles inside companies don’t realize. (Never mind the perma-confusion over the difference between mobile web and apps and the best application of each approach.) WCM vendors largely are not fully ready to serve either mobile content or mobile experiences. Should they be? Expect more from our research that helps bring clarity to this murky situation. Vendors, what say you?

2.       Fractured approaches for mobile equate to fractured ideas among adopters.

a.       Is it a “content and publishing to mobile device” issue to make visitors/customers happy?

b.      Is it a “front-end development/template” issue?

c.       How does the back-end development or application development platform play into the issue?

Clients are asking all of the above and more. And for good measure, this begs this critical question: For your upcoming mobile transition and growth, where should the center of gravity be located?

3.       Back-end service providers are coming to forefront. Surprise, these companies are nimble, innovative, and meeting enterprise needs, juxtaposed against WCM vendors and capabilities. These providers are attacking the problem from many directions, including API management such as Mashery and Layer7, back-end integration from Talend, along with many others. Additionally some enterprises are working with their agency partners in this area. These solutions tend to be built on technology stacks including Ruby and Java and increasingly on JavaScript-based solutions such as Node.js.

4.       Mobile first. This is a term we’re hearing almost daily, and there’s no reason that this shouldn’t be paramount to WCM vendors. As more enterprises design their content to be consumed by smartphones and tablets as well as desktop browsers, they are looking more to their WCM infrastructure to provide benefits to their mobile developers. These benefits can come by means of content transformation from the back end to the client device or by means of access to the content through an integrated SDK (software development kit). Regardless of the means, the mandate is clear from our clients that content should be available to all devices in a contextually appropriate way.

5.       Advice to WCM vendors: Make a move now. Be a thought leader with eyes on mobile if you expect to achieve and/or maintain market leadership. If you don’t provide a means for content transformation within your solution, don’t prohibit third parties from doing this for you. A number of third-party data transformation solutions are becoming en vogue (PHP, Rails, and NodeJS, etc.). Partner with an agency/systems integrator (SI) that can do this for you, or have a set of best practices around this solution if you do not provide it natively.

The massive, rapid shift to mobile is real, it’s moving fast, and it offers the chance to make leaders out of vendors who respond with effective solutions. To vendors we say: Your customers are asking around. They want answers now, not in six months or a year. The window of opportunity is open, but it won’t be for long. 

Vendors, how are you addressing this challenge today? And to clients: Who or what is best supporting your mobile success today? What are the biggest gaps in your solutions today?