Image: metamorworks, Getty Images/iStockphoto

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the market shift to a digital-first economy, widening the digital gap between organizations that rely on legacy systems and those that have adopted next-generation technology, a new study finds.

Digital leaders are using cloud-based, API-first solutions to quickly test and deliver digital experiences that meet customers’ changing needs, according to the study by content platform provider Contentful. Meanwhile, companies with less agile processes and systems are struggling to build and scale digital solutions fast enough.

SEE: Digital Transformation: A CXO’s guide (ZDNet/TechRepublic special feature) | Download the free PDF version (TechRepublic)

Chief concerns are time to market (89%); the unit cost of development (81%); and the ability to iterate on digital experiences, once delivered (79%), the Contentful study found.

Further, 82% of the 750-plus people surveyed tie digital experiences directly to increased revenue, the report said.

“Our survey also uncovered a gap between the perceptions of digital and business leaders, and the experiences of a group of people we call builders: Content creators, developers, and others who contribute to creating digital experiences,” the Contentful report said.

SEE: Digital transformation budgets, hampered innovation, and incident management challenge the enterprise (TechRepublic)

“Our findings point to an overconfidence on the part of business leaders that their CMS has the necessary functions to support omnichannel and content orchestration, while builders say they feel disempowered and frustrated.”

One telling stat the study found is that only 34% of content creators said they can control all the content across digital channels without developer assistance, while 74% of digital leaders think their CMS enables this, Contentful said.

Additionally, two-thirds of business leaders believe they are behind competitors in delivering new digital experiences, the company said. “They struggle with maintaining content and brand consistency across channels, hiring qualified talent, juggling multiple systems, and managing a mountain of existing content while simultaneously building more, more, more.”

Connected omnichannel experiences

Eighty-three percent of respondents believe customers expect an omnichannel digital experience and 88% think brand consistency across these experiences is important, the study said. “This aligns with industry research that shows consistent, connected digital experiences are important throughout the customer lifecycle.”

Yet, businesses are struggling to deliver connected, omnichannel experiences. “For many, the challenge is a sprawl of siloed content that must be manually managed across channels,” Contentful said. “Half of our respondents report using multiple CMSes. This might have supported autonomous innovation in early digital efforts, but disconnected systems are now a liability. Seventy-six percent of traditional CMS users are struggling to deliver consistent content.”

These inconsistencies impact customer satisfaction and brand recognition, not to mention the ROI on the content solution itself.

As 70% of business leaders plan to increase the number of digital products or channels they deliver, they will also need to invest in better tools to unify content and deliver a seamless experience across those channels. API-first content platforms with proven integration capabilities will be critical and platforms that can integrate with existing services will help businesses transition faster.

Other key findings from the survey data include:

  • Digital is no longer a differentiator; it’s an expectation: 90% of survey respondents said building digital experiences is important to business success, with 82% of business leaders tying digital capabilities directly to revenue.

  • More channels, more digital problems: 70% of business leaders plan to increase the number of digital products or channels they deliver, but they need API-first integrated tools and systems to deliver those experiences faster.

  • Content is further fragmented: 80% of business leaders said they plan to invest more in personalization, localization/translation, segmentation, and other adaptations to content. But half said they’re already spending too much time maintaining their existing content, and not enough developing new content.

  • Editors lack autonomy: 93% of respondents said they must manage content across multiple digital products. But 66% can’t control their content without developer assistance, 41% are updating content individually in each CMS, and 35% can’t reuse content across multiple digital channels.

The digital innovation gap is an opportunity to leapfrog competitors and claim greater market share by pivoting from multiyear digital transformation plans to creating digital competency fast, Contentful said. Winning companies are accelerating their ability to build, launch and iterate on new digital products and experiences.

This pivot shortens the time from vision to value, so companies can reap the rewards of their efforts sooner, according to Contentful. “It also reduces the inherent risk associated with long implementations and enables companies to iterate—no matter how the market evolves.”