Kentico Connection 2023 Nashville Focuses on Innovation, Partnerships, AI, and the Future of DXP | CMS Critic

Kentico Connection 2023 Nashville Focuses on Innovation, Partnerships, AI, and the Future of DXP | CMS Critic


Alan Jackson once said, “To me, songwriting is the backbone of Nashville. Looks can go, fads can go, but a good song lasts forever.”

It’s hard to argue with a modern-day music legend. The Chattahoochee crooner has penned such foot-stomping classics as “Don’t Rock the Jukebox” and the aching anthem “Remember When,” securing his place in the Country Music Hall of Fame – which is located in Nashville. 

While other cosmopolitan cities might seem apropos for a cutting-edge tech event, it’s no wonder Kentico chose this place as the boot-scootin’ backdrop for its 2023 Connection conference. Nashville is, after all, the hallowed “Music City,” famous for its irreverent content creators – from Hank Williams to Taylor Swift (if I missed any big ones, I beg your Parton…)

Mixing hybrid headless and honky-tonk made for a perfect groove in the “Athens of the South,” where Kentico assembled a first-class agenda for its signature event this week. It was a follow-up hit to the company’s European conference, which recently took place in Kentico’s hometown of Brno, Czech. The world tour will continue with a final stop in Sydney, Australia, on November 1. 

Much like the city of Nashville, past and future collided in a spectacular display of substance. Fueled by the local culture and cuisine, Kentico turned up the heat with a tasty agenda, jam-packed with speakers, sessions, learning tracks, and more. 

With so much music on this playlist, I tapped Kentico’s Jenda Perla, VP of Marketing, and Debbie Tucek, Director of Product, for some lyrical guidance. 

For me, the big spotlights included CEO Dominik Pinter’s keynote and Debbie’s strategy review of Xperience by Kentico, which I’ve covered in this article. 

Worthy of the Grand Ole Opry, Scott Brinker also brought down the house with a dense analysis of martech and why AI is more than a one-hit-wonder. I’ve touched on some of his thoughts as well. 

OK, y’all. Here are a few big highlights from the keynotes at Kentico Connection 2023 – best served with hot chicken and a little Alan Jackson on replay.

Building success through partnerships 

In my previous interview with Jenda Perla, we discussed Kentico’s fierce commitment to its partners. He emphasized the importance of agency intimacy as a philosophical mandate for ensuring customer success – and the Connection 2023 event reflected it. 

Echoing that sentiment, Dominik Pinter kicked things off on the first day with a simple question: what makes Kentico and our partners successful?

Now in his role as CEO for a year, Dominik reflected on some stunning milestones the company has achieved over the last 12 months, namely 42% ARR growth and a continued presence on the Gartner Magic Quadrant for DXPs. All validation that Kentico is moving in the right direction.

And why? Because of partners. 

As Jenda shared with me, existing partners are already embracing Xperience by Kentico, the company’s next-gen product. But new partners are also joining the Kentico community – a signal that builders and agencies are dissatisfied with their current products and business strategy.

“Partners are switching, and new partners are coming to the ecosystem, thanks to Xperience by Kentico,” Jenda said, most originating from 25 of Kentico’s competitors. 

While Xperience by Kentico is indeed taking center stage, Dominik reinforced the company’s plan to maintain its legacy Kentico Xperience 13 well into 2026. This would coincide with efforts to ease migration to the new product through a well-supported upgrade path. 

Why Xperience by Kentico is the answer

There’s always shock and awe when someone flashes Scott Brinker’s infamous MarTech Supergraphic on screen. If you haven’t seen the latest iteration, bring a microscope.  

To illustrate the market’s complexity, Dominik compared the original diagram from 2011 to today. The increase: 150 to over 11,000 – that’s 7000% growth in 12 years. TCO for tech stacks has gone through the roof as solutions become overly complex and inefficient, driving what Dominik described as “suboptimal ROI.”

This is where Xperience by Kentico is making its value play. “You’re launching a website, not a rocket,” Dominik said. And that’s true: the web is still the most crucial channel for the largest portion of the company’s mid-market B2B customers. 

While composability has become a buzzword across the DX landscape, there’s still confusion in how DXPs define it. Different models exist, but according to Dominik, only the single vendor DXP enables partners and customers to consolidate their stack, centralize governance, add best-of-breed solutions, and enhance multichannel capabilities. 

This all positions Xperience by Kentico as a composable hybrid headless DXP: a new breed of single vendor DXP that enables the flexibility needed to escape complexity. There’s a nice overview of this positioning and a snapshot of the platform in this short video.

Kentico is also doubling down on its SaaS offering, which reduces infrastructure complexities while ensuring customers have the proper measures of security and governance based on their needs. SaaS is now driving more pipeline than traditional on-premises deployments. Still, the company will continue to help customers meet their hosting needs based on compliance and regulatory factors. 

In closing, Dominik drove home the company’s focus on growth and expansion, citing the North American market as a key target. He reinforced the impact of consolidation and the importance of Xperience by Kentico as the premier single-vendor, composable, multi-channel, hybrid headless solution on the market. 

One thing is certain: as he enters his second year on the job, making partners successful will continue to be a vital part of the Kentico playbook.  

Diving deep on Xperience by Kentico 

In his opening keynote, Dominik codified that Xperience by Kentico is the company’s central product initiative. It answers a critical need at a time when headless platforms have forced marketers to compromise around their natural content creation processes.

Xperience by Kentico aims to remedy this by helping organizations adapt to new channels and technologies with greater ease – and become more digitally mature. It offers a truly hybrid headless ecosystem that can simplify your life across web, mobile, commerce, social, email, and more. 

When I talked to Debbie Tucek about her deep-dive session on Xperience by Kentico and the roadmap ahead, she emphasized the goal of consolidating and the importance of multi-channel, multi-experience capabilities. 

“What we’re talking about is not only multiple channels within a single instance [and] being able to manage your content distribution to all of those different endpoints,” Debbie said, “but we see it as a potential to consolidate your content and all of your channels – and attack this nasty thing that we refer to as complexity.”

During her talk, she emphasized how the complexity of an expanding marketing ecosystem creates additional burdens around security and orchestration. Composable might be a good fit for some organizations, but it can also negatively impact the bottom line. This is where the mission of consolidating content and channels comes in. 

In Kentico’s October Refresh of Xperience by Kentico, Debbie shared how these consolidation strategies are already unfolding by introducing a uniform content hub as a secure, persistent source of truth. 

Additionally, a unique multi-channel architecture and multi-lingual capabilities give marketers greater control over the experience while reducing complexity.

From an experience perspective, multi-channel has also been made frictionless with the company’s SaaS offering, allowing for the management of multiple channels. 

Tapping AI to generate content for multi-channel applications

Also featured in the October release are new generative AI capabilities. In the preview Debbie shared, the experience is slick, intuitive, and easy to use; one click and you’re generating content. The UX also provides a series of prompts and tags that simplify the process. 

Debbie noted that competitive products are “on the same bandwagon” regarding AI feature sets, but Kentico has deliberately focused more on its overall AI strategy. This includes the first steps of expanding AI to its multi-channel ecosystem, allowing marketers to reuse content and refurbish it for specific channels. 

“We wanted to go a little bit further and build upon this whole multi-channel content reuse story,” she said, “so you can select content from your existing store and generate content to prepare an e-mail newsletter, for example. So it’s very much about looking at building the AI as an efficiency and productivity helper within our multi-channel and reusable content story.”

This AI “taster” is only available in preview mode for existing Xperience by Kentico customers – and it’s currently free. Once GA, the plan is to include it within the existing licensing tiers.

Easing the upgrade challenge

One of the big announcements that Debbie shared was around upgrade support. Using the company’s data migration toolkit, customers and partners will now be able to make the move from earlier versions of Kentico Xperience to Xperience by Kentico with relative ease. 

Easing migration has been an ongoing initiative since last year, and a commitment to move organizations to the latest technology without the typical headaches. This was welcomed news for partners, particularly those with customers on Kentico 12 who want to leap beyond 13. 

Debbie also mentioned that the data migration toolkit will provide universal migration capabilities, assisting not only in upgrades from legacy Kentico versions but also from competitive products – something she said customers have been asking for.

“So basically, if you’re looking to re-platform to Kentico, it means that process is going to be a lot cheaper and easier in the very near future,” she added.

The capabilities of the tool were also highlighted during a separate track with Brian McKeiver of BizStream, a Kentico MVP and Gold partner. 

What’s ahead for Xperience by Kentico

In terms of the future roadmap, Debbie shared a compelling ecosystem diagram that focused on key initiatives in areas like cloud, speed and productivity, and multi-experience – as well as core features and strengths within the platform. Along with developing production-grade headless APIs, the company is laser-focused on enabling the marketer to do more with headless. 

Multi-step workflows and cascade publishing are also key initiatives that have taken on great emphasis after the October Refresh. More advanced taxonomy and tagging features will also improve what she calls “quality of life for partners,” who are implementing Kentico products for customers. AI and other automation capabilities will help accelerate performance in the future. 

Partner education is also an essential part of the roadmap, so Kentico’s community understands the full breadth of capabilities. “Xperience by Kentico isn’t just a new version of the previous DXP, it’s like a brand-new product,” Debbie said, “and as a result, it probably has a lot of the same business scenarios, but it’s going to be able to do so much more.”

In terms of market focus, mid-market will continue to be core, with a growing emphasis on lower enterprise heading into 2024. This includes large, distributed teams with cross-channel requirements and more advanced needs. 

Finally, partners will continue to shape the company’s roadmap through regular collaboration. Debbie said they were pivotal in coalescing Kentico’s hybrid headless positioning, as it spoke to their broader needs. 

“They said, ‘sure, there are probably a couple of projects where a purely headless offering would actually be more appropriate, but the vast majority? No way.’ If we’ve got this with the hybrid headless capability, we have all the tools we need to be able to flexibly deploy exactly what the customer needs.”

“Hey ChatGPT, is there a Brinker diagram for AI?”

Listening to Scott Brinker is like getting a digital download from the future. Kentico was lucky to host this industry icon at Connection 2023, where he presented his latest research on everyone’s favorite subject: artificial intelligence.

While the noise around AI has already reached peak volume – heck, most CMS and DXP platforms already offer some manner of generative AI – Scott grounded his talk in some of the martech fundamentals. 

He began with a startling reminder that martech is just one category in a complex ocean of technologies. He shared slide after slide of sales, human resources, legal, restaurants, and other ecosystems cluttered with logos – a whole range of multiverse superdiagrams.

The scariest might have been the set of modern procurement tools. Who knew procurement liked procuring so much tech?

But this is just the packaged apps. It accounts for none of the custom apps that have been developed for a wide range of teams and use cases. And while our own industry’s superdiagram might feel intimidating, martech represents one of the smallest categories for SaaS apps – well below areas like engineering, ops, and security. 

With all these examples, Scott zeroed in on the same complexities that both Dominik and Debbie spoke about. It’s no wonder why we’re in this pickle: according to one of his graphs, companies are adding new applications every 30 days. The bigger the company, the more apps – and this is compounding the demand for APIs and integrations.

Scott also delved into the hype cycle for AI, discussing the risks companies face as they race to adopt these technologies. He offered this sage advice: strive for the “Goldilocks Zone.” By resisting the urge to push the peak, organizations can effectively smooth the curve from inflated expectation to disillusionment – and (perhaps) move successfully towards productivity.

I’ve seen Scott’s “martech supercollision” talk before. He revisited the concept during his talk, pooling together the three key components of data, composability, and AI. From the data perspective, he reinforced how aggregation is the name of the game, making data useful across a multitude of applications, from experiences to workflow to UX.

Scott also touched on composability, invoking Conway’s Law to illustrate how companies adapt software to their needs – or, inversely, adapt their company to how an application functions. Now, in a composable world, companies are empowered to create, configure, and compose in new ways. Think low-code/no-code tools for building apps from the ground up or buying and adding components that are designed to work together. 

Buy, build, adapt. This also aligns with Kentico’s single-vendor composable positioning.

Back on the data front, Scott also waxed philosophically about automation and “big ops.” Rather than focusing on static data lakes, he reminded us that data lives in multiple places, and it all needs to be managed at an operational, integrated level. 

All of this led to artificial intelligence, and yes – there are already marketing maps for it, covering some of the leading tools across general and generative AI. In a CMO Survey, he showed that over half of companies using AI are focused on areas like content personalization. 

Oddly, 1.6% are using it for “biometrics and chipping.” Which CMOs are those?

One of the big takeaways from Scott’s presentation is how AI is fundamentally transforming the nature of tools with its copilot capabilities. From what he posits, citizen developers will eventually be replaced by AI copilots, which will enable a faster, easier path for building thousands of new apps. 

This might start small, but in the future, he envisions AI being used to create highly complex and demanding applications – all with prompts instead of code.   

So… where is AI headed in marketing? That’s the question on everyone’s mind. As Scott shared in his final slides, most AI users within organizations have gone outside their company’s four walls to learn about AI, or even use it via their own personal accounts. Risky? Yes. But it also presents an opportunity for leadership to bring training and guidance to the table – and, through people, leverage AI to its maximum potential.

The takeaway

With an event of this magnitude, it’s impossible to cover everything. But it’s safe to say that Kentico set another high bar at Connection 2023. The content was stellar, the speakers top-notch, and the location was music to everyone’s ears. 

Throughout the presentations, it was clear that Xperience by Kentico is taking the main stage. The company has invested significant resources in its capabilities, and by easing the migration path, they’re ensuring faster and more satisfying adoption. 

If good songs last forever, Kentico’s chart-topper is its community of agencies and partners, all of whom sing its praises. That was undeniable throughout the event, where outfits like (a perfect name for a country band, BTW) shared key insights about the shifting market landscape.  

One of the highlights on day one was a panel discussion about the future of websites and the impact of multichannel. Hosting these types of lively debates is how Kentico is tuning into its partners and exploring future collaboration and new product innovation. 

By providing a shared platform at Connection to engage with Kentico’s leadership, the company continues to do what it does best: build connections. Not every company can do it well, but those that do – succeed.

And that’s better than hot chicken.