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What is a CMS and why your current project probably needs one

what is a CMS

If you're not using a content management system - like Intuiface Headless CMS - in your projects, you're missing out. We think we can change your mind.

If you are fully immersed in the value of content management systems (CMSs) in general and Intuiface's Headless CMS in particular, you're probably already using one in virtually every Intuiface project you build.

This article is for those of you who are not yet using a CMS in your Intuiface projects.

What is a Content Management System?

So, exactly what is a content management system? A content management system is a system used to manage content. Great! That was easy. Next question.

what is a CMS

Ok, let's dive deeper.

The general principle of a CMS is to separate content - text, images, videos, etc. - from the application displaying that content. By doing so, one can modify the content without having to change the application. In fact, a key benefit of a CMS is its ability to enable people with zero understanding of application creation, deployment, and management to control the content.

Except on rare occasions, CMSs now live in the cloud. The user interface of the CMS itself is essentially a website. You use the website to define and control the content, while under the covers is a data store that does the heavy lifting. Applications connected to the CMS are communicating with that underlying storage. This framework enables deployments of any size, as every instance of an application in the field can reference the same single CMS instance in the cloud.

Often, content management systems are structured to reflect the target application's user interface. Users are literally assigning content to specific visual elements. I'll put this image here; I'll put that text feed there... In addition, many CMSs explicitly identify targeted devices in the field. You select the endpoints that will be associated with a set of managed content.

CMS advantages when using Intuiface

Now that you have an idea of what a CMS is, let's highlight the CMS advantages helpful to you as an Intuiface user.

A CMS enables you to easily deploy content changes

By using a CMS, you don't have to redeploy an experience every time you want to make content changes. Your experience will update every time the CMS updates. It happens dynamically in real-time. There's absolutely nothing you need to do in Intuiface!

A CMS enables any user to easily make updates

By using a CMS, anyone can control the content, even if they don't know you're using Intuiface. All content managers need to do is pull up the CMS in a web browser. The assumption here is you've configured the CMS as it typically reflects your project's user interface, but once done, you can let any appropriate people make changes.

A CMS optimizes your experience

By using a CMS, you can reduce the size and complexity of your experiences. The projects you build won't contain the actual content, so they'll deploy quickly and simply. And since you'll be making template-like experiences - i.e., you create the framework, the CMS fills in the content - the resulting experience can be super fast to build and easy to maintain. For example, if you want to create a zoo kiosk with information about 50 animals, you don't need to create a 51 scene experience (one Table of Contents scene, fifty animal scenes); create a two-scene experience instead. The first scene dynamically pulls and displays the name of all 50 animals. The second scene is populated with data about the selected animal. How much easier is that!

CMS examples in the marketplace

There are boatloads of CMSs in the marketplace.

If you're reading this, there's a chance you're at least passingly familiar with the world of traditional, broadcast digital signage. These solutions, of which there are possibly hundreds, literally call themselves content management systems. Their web-hosted CMSs are used to define, schedule, and push content to the endpoints - i.e., to the actual displays in the field.

Then there's the world of website and mobile app creation. Every website and app can benefit from having a CMS running behind it. Examples include:

Finally, there is a world of "headless" CMSs and solutions that don't call themselves CMSs but act like them. A headless CMS is a CMS focused entirely on data structure, independent of the application user interface. Examples include Contentful, Contentstack, and Directus. Solutions that don't call themselves a CMS but can act like one include Airtable and Kintone. Oh, and even Excel can be used as a CMS, in a way. We've been encouraging folks to do that for years.

Most of the CMSs mentioned above can work with Intuiface. For example, many Intuiface customers have used Airtable in the past. But Intuiface has its own CMS, and it will make you very happy.

Introducing: Intuiface Headless CMS

Headless CMS
Intuiface's Headless CMS

Let's start with that "headless" part. Remember, as mentioned above, to be "headless" means the user interface of the deployed application does not influence how the content is managed within the CMS. Unlike with traditional digital signage CMSs, knowledge of the target design is not required.

As a result, with Intuiface Headless CMS, anybody with content expertise can manage that content on the web, even if they have no idea Intuiface is being used.

Headless CMS

This headless nature also means Intuiface's CMS permits a very data-centric approach. Content managers can create data structures in Headless CMS that reflect their world rather than reflect constraints imposed by an experience's design. In fact, the same Headless CMS base (we call the Headless CMS datastore a "base") can be used across multiple, completely different experiences with very different looks, not to mention there is no need for Headless CMS to be aware of which endpoints will be consuming the data.

Headless Content Management Systems

To supercharge data structures, Intuiface Headless CMS introduces the novel notion of a "variant". This feature greatly simplifies the entry and management of data that can vary based on certain conditions, such as time of day or language. It's beyond the scope of this article to describe how variants work, but you'll find them critical to many of your experiences and a breeze to adopt.

But what about experiences that need to be resilient in the face of unstable network connections? If the CMS is in the cloud, doesn't it require connectivity at all times? For many CMSs, this is the case - but not with Headless CMS. In our case, a local copy of the cloud-hosted master is stored on each device running Intuiface Player. The experience isn't actually pulling content from the cloud; it's pulling content from the local copy. The local copy, meanwhile, is synchronized with the master. Changes made on the web work their way down to each device - but if network connectivity is lost, an Intuiface experience can still operate as if the connection was live thanks to the local copy.

Learning to use Headless CMS

Every trial and paid Intuiface account - regardless of Platform tier - can use Headless CMS. The main difference across Platform tiers is the number of variants you can create and the number of content editors you can manage. Big picture, nothing prevents you from using Headless CMS in your next project.

If you're ready to get started, we first recommend a visit to Intuiface Academy. There you'll find a complete introductory course dedicated to Headless CMS. It's totally free, covers all of the core features, and will set you up to create your own projects.

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Go to the Intuiface Academy Course: Managing Content with Headless CMS ‚ěĒ

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Interested in going to the next level? Check out our two-part Headless CMS deep dive, created for Interactive 2022, Intuiface's annual User Conference. Watch as our product expert and Customer Success Manager Sebastien Meunier builds a project in real-time, giving you tips and tricks along the way. Watch the videos below:

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Considering how powerful and valuable a content management system can be, we wouldn't be surprised if you're using one in your next project. Give Headless CMS a try to see what you think.

Geoff Bessin
Geoff Bessin

I'm Chief Evangelist at Intuiface, which means I think about the intersection of digital interactivity with signage and presentations. Pearls of wisdom? Well...

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