Integrating AEM in a portal?

Content which is being produced and stored inside AEM is often widely used. Not only for direct publishing to the web, but nowadays also in Emails (using Adobe Campaign) or for the consumption of mobile apps. Also a very common case is the integration of AEM content in 3rd party systems, when content maintained in AEM is fetched by a portal. So the portal provides the transactional parts, but the content is fetched from AEM. This is the usecase I want to discuss in this post. When I write „portal“ it’s most often a J2EE portal, but there also other options. For this post the underlying technology stack doesn’t really matter.

In this case the portal is always the leading application, and AEM has just a supporting function (providing content). Depending on the exact case, you can embed AEM content as a portlet or use the REST approach to fetch AEM content. In this case AEM is mainly used for content authoring.

This approach has the unique benefit, that you can continue to use the existing portal solution and and provide your authors a easy-to-use solution for content authoring. The existing architecture is just extended by adding AEM.

But from my point of view this approach also has some severe problems:

  • In the editmode AEM can only display the elements, which are available to AEM. If the portal displays AEM content as part of the page next to a number of other elements, you don’t have these elements available on AEM. This limits the usability of the editmode or preview mode to display content in an end-user way.
  • A similar problem is, that with AEM pages you can normally edit most pieces of a page. In the case of the portal, you have to limit the possibilities of an author to a way provided by the portal. That means, if the portal does not allow you to change the page footer or add special HTML headers, you cannot change this from AEM (although it might be possible ootb). Within an AEM application I always recommend to allows authors to change every text and image of a page (including headers and footers), avoiding any hardcoded content.
  • When content is created in AEM, you need to develop templates and components for it. If you want to display this content in the portal, you need to build its equivalent there as well, but with a different technology. This is doubling the cost and you build dependencies in the cycles of the AEM development and the portal application development. You need to spend development on both sides to include new components or change the parts of a page, where content should be managed from authors.
  • Recent versions of AEM provide a good integration of the Adobe Marketing Cloud features, so authors can easily use them. When a portal is setup in a way, that it can fetch content from AEM, this integration normally needs additional effort and implementation work, which you don’t have when AEM is in the front.

A personal conclusion: I think, that using AEM just a content-authoring system is possible, but you ignore many of the features of it, which bring a lot of value. You increase costs by the need to develop new components and templates twice (for AEM and the portal) and decrease the time-to-market by synchronizing 2 development streams, which should basically be independent. And you cannot use many of the new Adobe Marketing Cloud integrations provided out-of-the-box.

So there are quite some arguments (especially for enduser-facing systems) not to use AEM just as a simple content-feed, but to establish AEM as frontend of your platform.