Alexandra Barcelona
Director of Marketing

Choosing a CMS: All-in-One vs API-First

Oct 31, 2018
By: Alexandra Barcelona

The debate between suite applications and API-first CMS has been raging on for quite some time, and it can cause a bit of a stir when a company is choosing between the two.

On one hand, you have an all-in-one solution that promises to do everything you need to bolster your digital presence. On the other hand, you have an API-first platform that specializes in content management, and is ready to integrate with best-of-breed technologies so you can construct your own digital experience using the market’s best solutions for each dimension of your business.

In this article, we’ve compared suite CMS and API-first CMS solutions and find out which is the better option for brands looking to grow in the IoT era and beyond.

What is an All-in-One or Suite CMS?

A suite CMS is often described as an all-in-one solution. It comes with a variety of functions out-of-the-box, ready to cater to and help you work on multiple areas of your digital presence using the same software.

For example, a suite CMS will often go above and beyond standard content management and authoring to give users features such as email marketing, digital asset management, project management, marketing analytics, customer relationship management and social media management. With suite CMS solutions, all the features and functions are developed and maintained by the CMS provider.


While a suite solution sounds like stress-free (after all, you’re getting multiple solutions in one), the problem is that the software is often spread a mile wide and an inch thick. In other words, it doesn’t excel in any particular area.

What is an API-First CMS?

An API-first CMS, also known as a best-of-breed CMS doesn’t try to be a “jack-of-all-trades”. Instead, it focuses on being an excellent content management and authoring solution while giving its users the APIs necessary to draft in other “best-of-breed” technologies.


So, instead of having one product that goes an average job on every front, you end up with several software working seamlessly together — with each one specializing in its own field.

dotCMS for example, is an API-first CMS that integrates with Salesforce’s API to support your sales team and Hubspot’s API to help you execute your marketing activities. We don’t try to out-do these seasoned veterans of the sales and marketing industries — we just focus on being the best at content management while giving our customers the ability to integrate with their favorite third-party solutions.

The Pros and Cons of an All-in-One CMS

Writing in CMS-Connected, Venus Tamturk mentions that the advantage of a suite CMS is that it enables organizations to work with a consistent data model and a common user interface. “What IT departments like about this approach is the idea of dealing with one major application provider and having consistency,” writes Tamturk.

Also, suite vendors who are well-established are seen as less risky from a senior management perspective. Their proven track record gives key decision-makers plenty of reassurance.

However, Tamturk also noted that suite systems are complex, costly and rigid. In fact, because suite solutions are essentially an assortment of several, technologically different products under one brand, it’s common for internal conflict to arise between products. For example, your CRM may not integrate with your marketing automation system the way you want it to — and there’s no way to change that reality.

But as previously mentioned, the most significant drawback to an all-in-one CMS platform is the fact that it’s a master of nothing. That means your digital experience will be sufficient, but rarely will it be cutting-edge. Moreover, your software vendor won’t be able to give you specialized advice and support for specific dimensions of your digital presence, as they’re built software to act as a Swiss-army knife, not a precision tool.

The Pros and Cons of Going API-First

A 2017 report by Walker Sands stated that 83% of marketers who adopted a best-of-breed strategy reported to have gained the most of value of their technology stack.

An API-first CMS solution provides more flexibility and functionalities in comparison to the all-in-one solution. As mentioned, the API-first platform enables you to implement the best-of-breed strategy so you can pick-and-choose the most suitable niche applications to perform different functions.

With API-first CMS, it is easier and quicker for brands to integrate and implement a variety of different functions through simple API calls, resulting in better adaptability and user satisfaction.

Lara Hughes, a B2B marketer who recently spoke with CMSWire, noted that adopting a best-of-breed strategy was significantly cheaper than operating with an all-in-one solution. Hughes works for a FinTech company that previously entertained an all-in-one platform, but now her organization adopted a CRM platform that integrated with a marketing automation tool.

Large organizations tend to prefer working with API-first applications, as Tamturk writes, “IT departments like this approach as it is more convenient due to the smaller scope, the lower cost, and time-efficiency. From the senior management’s perspective, the motivation includes having more tailored applications, better functional fit, and the ability to easily modify based on the needs and priorities of the business.”

Departments have more control over what tools they can use. This allows for better productivity and eliminates the possibility of vendor lock-in from occurring. Plus, since best-of-breed vendors are specialized in what they do, they tend to have good APIs, and both their support engineers and product managers are more focused since their application performs fewer functions rather than a multitude of functions which are technologically different.

The drawbacks of the best-of-breed approach, as according to Tamturk, is that both real-time processing and data integration is quite hard to achieve across platforms. However, ChiefMarTech’s recent Martech Supergraphic has shown an that, while integrations between different marketing technologies in a stack are still relatively “shallow”, it is possible (and evolving).

Why API-First Triumphs Over Suite Solutions

If you’re looking to establish a digital presence from scratch as quickly as possible, a suite solution is probably ideal for the short-term. However, it’s not the best option for a long-term digital strategy.

As we move further into the era of the Internet of Things, brands need a digital presence that is, above all, flexible. With an all-in-one solution, you’re at the mercy of your software vendor when it comes to new functionality, IoT marketing, and new content authoring environments.


With an API-first CMS, on the other hand, your marketers, salespeople, and developers are free to construct and re-construct their digital presence at will, using the market’s best technologies.

That’s why we’ve built dotCMS as a hybrid CMS — giving developers the freedom of a headless CMS and marketers the joy of a traditional, yet powerful content authoring interface, And yet, dotCMS’ robust APIs allow for integrations with both suite solutions and niche applications such as HubSpot, Marketo, Salesforce, Magento, Netsuite, Bynder, Nuxeo, AWS, Akaimai, Docker and Kubernetes.

These are just a few of the third-party integration options. As more best of breed tools continue to offer robust API options as integration points, the possibilities are rapidly growing. With the dotCMS 'Everything as a Service' philosophy, the CMS provides flexible APIs that make it straightforward for brands to integrate with the tools they need without limitations.

BNP Paribas, with its partner ISAAC, for example, was able to build a scalable platform for a co-branded MasterCard rewards card program. The complex solution used the flexible APIs of dotCMS to integrate with frontend and middleware systems seamlessly and securely. Now customers can active cards online, receive push notifications, transfer cash, review rewards points, and more. And this is just one use-case that exemplifies the power of best of breed integrations for business results. 

If even API integrations seem too limited for your organization, dotCMS is open-source, so the source code can be modified to fit nearly any use-case. The possibilities of third-party integration are truly unlimited, enabling brands to create a best of breed solution that caters to their specific needs.

Now that’s a long-term digital strategy.

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