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A Fair Review of the Top Mid-Market CMS for 2020 — Episerver

Gary Eisenstein

By Gary Eisenstein

January 16, 2020

Corporate Name: Episerver Inc. Web: www.episerver.com
Founded: 1994 Get in Touch: 1-603-594-0249
Corporate Office: Irvine, California Worldwide Locations: 18
CEO: Alex Atzberger  — Since 2019 Worldwide Employees: 688
Platform Type: ASP.NET MVC Current Version: 11.0
Licensing Model: Subscription-based Licensing Cost: By Request
Support: Service Level Agreement GitHub Account: https://github.com/episerver
Trial (Sandbox) Version: By Request Online Demo: By Request
North America Service Partners: 215-plus, Certified Global Service Partners: 1,022-plus, Certified

Episerver is a global software company offering web content management, digital commerce, and digital marketing through the Episerver Digital Experience Cloud software platform. Episerver sites are built in ASP.NET MVC, a web application framework developed by Microsoft, or by using our Headless REST API. Episerver’s solutions can be purchased as core or extended platforms. Core platforms include Episerver CMS, Commerce, or Campaign, while the extended platforms include additional features powered by artificial intelligence. In 2015 Ektron merged with Episerver, combining the capabilities of both platforms into the Episerver Digital Experience Cloud. Episerver continues to support Ektron platform legacy customers.

HISTORY

Episerver was founded in 1994 in Stockholm, Sweden, by Mikael Runhem. Then known as Elektropost Stockholm AB, the company focused on internet-based electronic mail and introduced the first version of the Episerver CMS platform in 1997. In 2002, the first version of Episerver CMS that was based on Microsoft’s .NET Framework was launched. In 2010, the company was owned by a group of investors, and in November 2010, this group sold the company to IK Investment Partners.

In December 2014, IK Investment Partners sold Episerver to Accel-KKR, a technology-focused private equity investment firm. Accel-KKR had also purchased Ektron, a New Hampshire-based CMS company. In January 2015, Episerver and Ektron merged. Two former executives from KANA Software, CEO Mark Duffell, and CMO James Norwood were appointed President and CEO and Executive Vice President Strategy and CMO of Episerver, respectively. Martin Henricson, CEO of the former Episerver business, assumed the role of Executive Chairman for the merged entity. 

Deane Barker, Senior Director of Content Management Strategy at Episerver shared, “In 2012, Episerver purchased a company called Mediachase and created Episerver Commerce, which kind of embarked on a long push into eCommerce, which we've done quite well at. And then for the last two or three years, Episerver has been focused on the cloud. Virtually all of our sales now our cloud sales, say in excess of 90%,” 

The company combined its software into the Episerver Digital Experience Cloud, and in June 2015, Episerver launched the first major release of its platform following the Ektron merger. In August 2016, Episerver acquired Peerius, a London UK-based commerce personalization company. In September 2018, Episerver was acquired by Insight Venture Partners for $1.16 billion.

KEY CAPABILITIES

Episerver CMS is for medium-sized to enterprise-level companies. The platform's focus is on solving challenges with marketing, branding and lead generation. You can launch new content without involving IT, maintain brand consistency across several markets, and increase engagement and conversions. It enables editors to drag-and-drop content to quickly create new digital experiences that are automatically responsive. Episerver CMS has several features that help you automatically work smarter. These include automatic A/B testing, landing pages and content recommendations, and Episerver CMS enables you to manage content and marketing campaigns in one screen easily. You can personalize content according to personas, segments, or individual users. 

“I would say it's a broad scale, highly integrated web content management system. It has all the features of any top-level WCM system at this point, with some interesting angles to it. It's written in C sharp; it has code-first content modeling. So you write your content as C sharp objects, and you can deploy those from source,” said Deane.

Key features and functionalities include:

  • Drag-and-Drop Authoring
  • Automatic A/B Testing
  • Cloud Service
  • Machine Learning Capabilities
  • Language Management
  • Personalization
  • Extenstive Set of APIs
  • Multi-site Management
  • SEO Metadata Authoring
  • Social Channel Content Distribution
 

ECOMMERCE CAPABILITIES

Episerver Commerce is part of the Episerver Digital Experience Cloud, a unified platform for digital commerce, content, and marketing. It has everything you need to manage catalogs, orders, customer data, and payments across regions. You can combine content and product information, and automatically personalize journeys using artificial intelligence. Episerver Commerce uses a Service API to integrate with external systems for marketing automation, search, PIM, payments, etc. This REST-based and Headless API also means you can connect with other systems and devices faster. 

Key eCommerce features and functionalities include:

  • Catalog Inventory & Content Management
  • Personalized Search
  • Product Search
  • Automatic A/B Testing
  • ASP.NET and REST API
  • Checkout & Customer Care
  • Elastic Autoscale & CDN
  • Mulitple Sites, Markets, & Stores
  • Continuous Software Maintenance
  • 24/7 Monitoring
 

DIGITAL EXPERIENCE CAPABILITIES

Episerver’s Digital Experience Platform includes all Episerver products, unifying digital content, commerce, and marketing in one platform, including omnichannel solutions for smart personalization and intelligent campaigns. Episerver's Digital Experience Cloud is offered in a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) model to take full advantage of Microsoft Azure.

“Episerver has built-in customer data platform (CDP) and a reporting tool called Episerver Insight. We also have a content recommendation tool called Episerver Advanced, which can use information about that CDP to figure out common traffic patterns and lead conversions that can automatically suggest content to customers. Then we have a full campaign management system called Episerver Campaign,” explained Deane.

Key DXP features and functionalities include:

  • ASP.NET and REST API
  • Digital Commerce Solution
  • Marketing Automation
  • AI-powered Personalization
  • Email Campaigns
  • Content Management Solution
  • Enterprise Search
  • Visitor Intelligence Analytics
  • User-generated Content Management
  • Episerver App Marketplace
 

TECHNOLOGY PARTNERS

The Episerver Marketplace is the single source for customers to find the additional solutions they are looking for — applications, integrations, add-ons, and connectors to Episerver that broaden their users' digital experience into a complete solution. The Episerver Marketplace Partner Program is the connection for Technology Partners, Solution Partners and developers to offer extensible solutions to Episerver platforms.

Episerver's technology partners include:

  • Microsoft Azure (Cloud)
  • Microsoft Dynamics (CRM)
  • Siteimprove (Site Optimization)
  • Salesforce Marketing Cloud
  • IBM Watson (Campain Automation)
  • Optimizely (A/B Testing)
  • Cognigy.AI (Chatbot)
  • Bynder (DAM)
  • Oracle Eloqua (Personalization)
  • Translations.com (Multi-language)
 

STRENGTHS

Episerver's Point of View

One Episerver's strengths is how well it fits into the Microsoft infrastructure. An Episerver website is fundamentally an ASP.NET MVC application that happens to have a CMS behind it. As Deane puts it, "If you know ASP.NET MVC, there's no voodoo; there's no magic. You can be productive on an Episerver site within the day if you know MVC." 

Episerver was also early to the Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) game. Episerver's Digital Experience Cloud is offered in a PaaS model to take full advantage of Microsoft Azure, resulting in ease of use, reduced complexity, and cost-effective technology consumption.

Another strength of Episerver’s is their commerce. With Episerver Commerce, you can run enterprise applications such as Walmart.com on top of Episerver Commerce with the benefit of deep integration into CMS. "It’s as close to seamless as I think you're going to find across the industry, in terms of matching content and commerce," said Deane.

Implementation Partners' Point of View

"Personalization approaches are already impressive; with the addition of new goals-based and related models, there won’t be a personalization approach that Episerver won’t be able to show proficiency in."

"Smart acquisition strategy, but watch integration closely to see how quickly these new acquisitions offer actual value to customers."
"Improved support for partners with Managed Services engagements."

"Continued focus on improving core elements of UI and authoring experience is smart; while not a sexy move, it goes to the heart of how most customers actually use the platform today."

WEAKNESSES

Episerver's Point of View

The Episerver platform has a somewhat complex learning curve and can be difficult to navigate through the system for beginners or first-time users. 

Episerver was a late adopter to the headless wave, and though they strongly feel that they have an accomplished headless API solution, they have found themselves playing catch-up on their marketing strategy and proper telling of their headless story.

Implementation Partners' Point of View

"Partner network is still small, especially compared to the competition.  Need to attract larger CX partners."

"EMVP network is tiny and needs to be rapidly expanded."

"Paucity of certified Episerver developers; perhaps consider some lesser form of certification (like Certified Developer versus Advanced Certified Developer or Certified Architect as examples of how to quickly grow the program)."

"Name recognition continues to be the major challenge compared to Sitecore or Adobe."

KEY DIFFERENTIATORS

Episerver's Point of View

Momentum is one of their key differentiators, with the acquisition by Insight and the rapid growth of Episerver’s partner network across the United States being the driving force.
 
“Our obsession with staying one step ahead of our customers’ needs is paying off and is a tribute to our agility as a company,” said Justin Anovick, Head of Worldwide Product at Episerver. “Marketers and CMS users are in the driver’s seat of their brand, so they don’t want shelf-ware or empty promises, and our teams embrace that as a personal mission.  Our customers require elasticity, scale and usability to make a project an immediate success while proving value as they launch the next project.”

Implementation Partners' Point of View

"One of the easiest platform to drive business value out-of-the-box."

"Consumption-based and Combo pricing goes a long way to clearing up pricing challenges."

"Very transparent about road map, implementation approaches and support model; probably best in class in this respect; overall, an exceptionally transparent, honest and authentic vendor."

TRAINING & SUPPORT

Episerver trains business users and developers online and in their training centers worldwide. The Business User Programs are for anyone who needs to learn how to manage solutions for the Episerver Digital Experience Platform. The Business User Programs include a 12-month subscription to multiple eLearning courses and a Personal Instructor to provide support via email and live online sessions. A Developer training program includes access for 12-months to a bundle of relevant eLearning courses, plus an exam attempt, plus a well-designed study program, plus email and live support from a personal mentor.

Episerver offers developer support subscriptions to both customers and partners. We provide the support subscriptions through our six regional support centers staffed with highly skilled support engineers who are available online or by phone. Our support subscriptions are offered as an annual term, and there is a Standard and Premium Support option: Standard Support is offered Monday – Friday from 8:30-17:30 regional time, excluding holidays. Premium Support includes Standard Support plus 24x7x365 Support for Priority-1 issues. Episerver also provides 24x7x365 monitoring and operations support for all of our cloud customers through a dedicated global managed services team. If there is an incident, our managed services team will work within our customer’s environment to resolve the issue and provide a resolution without our customer’s involvement. Cloud customers additionally receive developer support as part of their cloud subscription.

IMPLEMENTATION PARTNER PROCESS

Episerver has over 880 partners in 30 countries and is required to either maintain a specific number of certified developers or increase the number, as part of upgrading their partner status. Episerver relies on a wide network of skilled solution partners to implement Episerver CMS, commerce and marketing solutions, and are segmented into tiers based on their level of experience and knowledge with Episerver solutions.

Premier Platinum partners are an elite tier for partners that have extensive competency, product expertise, and implementation experience. They have a large resource pool and are highly specialized in Episerver solutions. Gold partners have proven Episerver competencies and documented delivery expertise, with established product expertise and certified resources, and specialize in two Episerver solutions. The Silver tier is for partners with documented Episerver competency and implementation experience and they specialize in one Episerver solution. The majority of their partners are in the bronze tier, which is for partners that do not meet Premier, Gold and Silver qualifications. 

“For each level, you have to have a certain number of certified developers, a certain number of sales-trained people in business development, and then you have to meet a certain quota of licensed sales. And so it's a formal process, we don't just take any partner. We’ll certainly work with anybody, as any CMS vendor would, but that we don't really take anybody as a partner, they have to apply and sign that kind of partnership agreement and commit to getting the number of certified developers,” said Deane.

CUSTOMERS

Worldwide Deployments: 30,000-plus

Top Market Sectors: 

  • Banking & Financial
  • Consumer Goods
  • Education
  • Healthcare
  • Manufacturing
  • Non-Profit
  • Public Sector
  • Retail
  • Technology
  • Travel & Tourism


Notable Episerver Brand-Name Customers:

  • Eason & Son
  • Absolut Companu
  • Pizza Hut
  • Yamaha Watercraft Group
  • Arcadia Group
  • Mazda
  • Metro Bank
  • Copenhagen Airport
  • Lindblad Expeditions
  • City of Stockholm

Customer Comments:

Michael Robinson, IT Manager at Eason & Son 
“The success of this project is about having the support of a proactive partner on the ground, one who deeply understands Episerver CMS and in particular Episerver Commerce. Episerver fulfilled this role with great success. Delivering a complex ecommerce project such as this, with a tight deadline for Black Friday, required a highly collaborative approach. We can now confidently say, we have the strong foundations in place to support our continuing roadmap for a customer-centered omnichannel strategy.”

Fredrik Lagertrad, Manager, Digital Development at Absolut Company
“With traditional infrastructure hosting and service level agreements, it can take up to five days for changes to the website to take effect. But something might happen today that we want to talk about. How do we get that content out now? With Episerver, our time to market has been reduced by days.”

Kathryn Austin, Marketing Director at Pizza Hut Restaurants
“The new website acts as a digital flagship restaurant to support our business needs. It has captured the very essence of our approach to casual dining and translated the importance of locality into a clever and very personal user journey.”

 Customer comments and testimonials are all third-party verified

Featured Case Study

Mazda Increases Engagement 200% with New Experiences

FUTURE ROADMAP

One of the biggest things Episerver is doing in 2020 is integrating the Idio acquisition into the product line. They believe that one of the next big leaps in CMS is connecting people to connect. "The greatest content in the world doesn’t do anything if no one reads it, and there needs to be better ways to surface content in larger repositories to move the customer along the journey to a decision," said Deane.

Additionally, Episerver is making considerable investments in transitioning to .NET Core. This is the future of the Microsoft platform, and Episerver has a history of integrating tightly into Microsoft’s environments. As Deane explained, "We don’t reinvent wheels that don’t need to be reinvented, and we strive to meet developers where they’re at. .NET Core will become a big part of that in the near future."

According to Deane, headless is very much going to be addressed in 2020. "We do headless quite well already, but we’re making more moves here. Our .NET Core strategy will coincide with an expanded REST API, and we have improvements coming in context-free editing, additional support for advanced JavaScript frameworks like React, and “HTML as a Service,” which is underserved in the headless space right now. We’re looking to become a leader in the ‘hybrid headless,’ which gives customers traditional web CMS capabilities with seamless headless support for selected needs."

PERFORMANCE GUIDE

CMS-Connected's performance guide is based on our interviews with the vendor, their implementation and technical partners, customers, and leading industry analysts.

Category Scoring: 5 = Excellent | 4 = Very Good | 3 = Good | 2 = Satisfactory | 1 = Unsatisfactory

Overall Performance Scoring: 57–70 = Excellent | 43–56 = Very Good | 29–42 = Good | 15–28 = Satisfactory | 1–14 = Unsatisfactory

Performance Category Scoring
Strong North American Footprint with a Global Presence 4
Leadership and Positive Industry Recognition 3
Wide Selection of Features and Functionalities 4
Well-defined Differentiators 2
Offers Headless and/or Decoupled Architectures 2
eCommerce Offering 4
Cloud Capabilities 3
Digital Experience Platform (DXP) Offerings 4
Ability to Integrate with Pairing Technologies 4
Stable Platform with an Active Number of Deployments 3
Strong Customer References 4
Presales and Post-sales Support 3
Trained, Certified, and Experienced Implementation Partners 3
Clear and Well-defined Future Roadmap 3
Overall Performance Score — Very Good 46

ANNUAL HOSTED EVENTS

Episerver’s annual event is called Ascend. Episerver Ascend brings together our community of digital marketers, developers, and ecommerce leaders to share their strategies for driving growth through digital transformation. Whether you join their hands-on sessions, get inspired by industry leaders or connect with the partner and customer community, Episerver Ascend aims to provide attendees with the very best insights to inform the future development of Episerver.
 

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Gary Eisenstein

Gary Eisenstein

Gary has been working in the IT industry for over 26-years and is a Principal Analyst at CMS-Connected Media Corp. and is the Founder and CEO of Falcon-Software Company. If you would like to receive additional advice or consultation on how to evolve your digital transformation journey, Gary can be reached at gary.eisenstein@cmscmedia.com.

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