Insights, The Marketing Technology Office

Continuous Everything: The Modern and Agile Experience Delivery Model for Marketers

Brands are investing in digital experiences to compete for customers and revenue. Those digital customer experiences are made up of the latest features and functions delivered and deployed as part of a software development lifecycle. With so much at stake, these companies must minimize time to market and address their customers’ expectations more frequently than ever before, continuously.

As Forrester notes in their recent research, DevOps Makes Modern Service Delivery Modern, the required automation to quickly meet consumer demands must not introduce risk; “To meet this demand, developers are making use of Agile practices to create small, targeted releases. An increase in speed, however, must not result in software quality and production environment issues. Customers today expect reliability, quality, and a continuous stream of additional functionality.”

For leading brands, automated, rapid and no-risk releases require a collaborative focus by infrastructure, operations, application development and business leaders to organize into an agile and modern service delivery model. This organizational discipline is often referred to as “DevOps” (Development + Operations) and has given rise to concepts like “Continuous Deployment”, “Continuous Delivery” and “Continuous Integration”.

Behind the buzzwords and confusion around the definitions, your take-away should be simple; just about anything “continuous” is important to enable an agile marketing operation.

What is it? Continuous Delivery, Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment

Continuous Delivery is the practice of ensuring that code can be rapidly and safely moved (aka “delivered”) between development, testing and staging environments. Every application/code change is delivered to a “production-like” environment through rigorous automated testing. This system for testing code incrementally and frequently to ensure quality is referred to as Continuous Integration. The value lies in the practice of continually integrating changes, so the system can catch errors and failures while they’re still small and manageable. Your automated, continuous integration system provides a level of confidence that the application can be deployed to production (in theory with a push of a button) when the business is ready.

Continuous-Deployment-Blog-Graphic

Continuous Deployment is the next step in this model. Every change that passes the automated tests and is approved for “go live” is deployed to production automatically. Continuous Deployment should be the goal of most companies, however, few have their network, development, operations and business teams in sync to facilitate that level of agility. With modern tools like Docker, Tutum, Jenkins, Puppet and dozens of advancements in related domains like CDNs and front-side caching engines (ex. CloudFlare, NGINX, Varnish Plus), today’s DevOps teams have a lot of capabilities at their fingertips and are advancing these disciplines to realize the most common benefits:

Speed & Agility. Short time to market delights your customers with the latest features and functions. Business stakeholders seek the agility to meet market demands and compete for the customer’s attention.

Scope & Scale. Automation testing mitigates risks by testing every new iteration of your code, instead of testing once a day, or once a week. That limits the damage that can be done if something breaks. Testing incrementally also makes it easier to identify and remediate errors.

Governance & Quality. Fast changes, and lots of them, require organizational alignment. Automation, when designed correctly, facilitates communication and workflow across diverse teams. Automation eliminates — or at least vastly reduces — the opportunity for people to cause errors.

Let’s review some of the specific tools we have been working with to establish modern application delivery, integration and deployment processes. In the following example, we highlight the use of Hippo CMS with Docker and Tutum.

 

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Insights, System Integration

Martech Integrations: Video Saved the Marketing Star

Video-Integration-Kanban-Brightcove

Content and experience management systems sit at the core of any brand’s digital transformation strategy.  That core must then serve as the center point of integrations with the many peripheral systems enabling relevant, unique and engaging experiences.  Even the most advanced marketing suites must work effectively with external systems since most enterprise organizations have a mix of legacy and best-of-breed prior investments they expect to leverage.

The Connector Conundrum

For years, integrations between systems were the snake oil of yesteryear, plagued by over-promises and under-delivery.  According to Forrester’s 2015 Digital Experience Delivery Survey, ease of integration now tops the list of concerns when selecting technology vendors or products.

With integrations aplenty, smart technology buyers are looking for any advantage to ease integrations.  In response, many vendors and their implementation services partners have invested in libraries, marketplaces and other sources of pre-built connectors, sometime also referred to as modules, extensions, etc.

The vision for both buyers and sellers is that the challenge of integrations can be addressed by simply pulling an available connector off the shelf in plug-n-play fashion.  For example, salesforce.com claims to have over 2,800 such “productizations” in the AppExchange.

The trick to building these connectors is to balance flexibility with interoperability.  Meaning, the connector must not only integrate two distinct systems but should also allow for that integration to be configurable and extensible.  Let’s use a real example.

Video Saved the Marketing Star

Video is one of the hottest marketing topics today, and every brand is racing to create more effective video capabilities.  Say you use Brightcove as a cloud based video distribution platform.  You will want to access and possibly even manage those videos through your CMS.  So within your authoring interface, you would want to browse the videos stored in Brightcove, select the appropriate video or videos, add that video to your CMS component and publish that video and associated player within your web page.  You may even pass certain metadata and analytics through this connector, in both directions.

Now, let’s consider the very possible scenario where an organization may have more than one such provider.  It is likely that a brand may use a partner like Brightcove or Vimeo and say, Youtube.  So, is that one connector or two?  See where this is going?

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Insights, System Integration

No Silver Bullets in Digital Transformation, but APIs are the Silver Lining

API Management Kanban

With today’s distributed, cloud-based systems and rich applications, content and data integration is a must.  As organizations enable digitally-powered, multi-touchpoint customer experiences, APIs speed the integrations with back-end systems and decouple them from systems of engagement. In other words, they help you create immersive and engaging customer experiences that are fast, flexible and innovative.

Why Now?

Despite the continued investment by large platform vendors (ex. Oracle, IBM, Adobe) to rationalize their product portfolios, every enterprise will retain some number of legacy systems that provide content and data. And even though organizational siloes are the focus for many (myself included), we can only expect to integrate siloes, not break them down.  Not until the CEO steps in to define cross-department objectives and metrics that align teams will we see politics not undermine the vision of a single source of content and data truth.

So, best-of-breed technology ecosystems are likely to remain the reality for some time. Especially as the venture capital community continues to fund innovation in marketing technology driving early adopters to integrate dozens of distinct systems and tools, most of them cloud based.  Add Internet of Things and mobile and you have the perfect storm of integration.  APIs are then the saving grace of today’s customer experience-obsessed CMOs, ROI-focused CEOs and digital transformation-minded CIOs.

APIs are the silver lining in the world where there are no silver bullets.  APIs can enable rich customer experiences, accelerate innovation, streamline dev ops, build new revenue streams and lift product value.

But you won’t create long-term success without keeping the following points in mind:

Don’t Believe the Hype

Just because the marketing and sales team from some technology vendor tells you about their “robust” API, be suspicious and don’t assume it works as promised. One thing is certainly true, not all APIs are created equal. Some APIs expose only a portion of a systems content or data, limiting what you have access to. Make sure you ask question about uptime and performance metrics. Does their API use a CDN?

Think Small to Go Big

Atomize processes and capabilities within an overall microservices architecture.  The idea of architecting your solutions as a smaller group of individual interdependent services is becoming increasingly popular and rightfully so. But what happens when some of your services are slow either because they rely on 3rd parties or receive data from a slower legacy system. One advantage to properly architected microservices is the ability to easy scale horizontally. But, that does not help when your data source is the bottleneck. The use of a REST based API for each of your services end-points allows you to fully leverage an API engine.

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Content Engineering, Insights

Forrester Publishes Latest Wave for Digital Experience Platforms

digital experience kanban 2Just a couple weeks ago, Forrester released its much anticipated Wave for Digital Experience Platforms*.  The annual, detailed review of content and customer experience technologies draws both praise and criticism.  Those vendors that qualify to participate leave their fate in the hands of a scoring paradigm focused on both current offerings and strategy boiled down to two numbers plotted on an X and Y axis.

Critics claim that no important technology decision can be quantified without applying the lens of organizational context and maturity; and therefore the Wave is misleading.  Forrester agrees, to an extent, and suggests that the Wave be used by organizations to get a feel for the marketplace, that they utilize the detailed research data to customize rankings based on their unique needs and acknowledges that viable firms may exist that do not qualify for participation.

With this in mind, we took a moment to review any notable trends since the last Digital Experience Wave conducted in Q3, 2014**.  They are…

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Experience Optimization, Insights

Retailers Are Seeing Big Impact From Personalization & Targeting. Are you?

Kanban personalization

On a Q4 2015 earnings call held on September 22nd, CEO Don Grimes had some exciting news. The luxury retailer, currently preparing to go public, sold $1.3 billion online in fiscal 2015, an increase of 13% year-over-year. Web sales accounted for 25.5% of the company’s 2015 sales of $5.095 billion, up from 23.9% a year earlier.

On the same day, Daniel Neukomm, the CEO of La Jolla Group—parent company to surf apparel retailer O’Neill Clothing Company—had his own exciting results to share in an interview with Internet Retailer. In the last two years, smartphone revenue has increased 111.15% and smartphone conversions increased 15.28%. This improvement is good because, according to Neukomm, about 50% of O’Neill’s traffic stems from smartphones.

But these two CEOs share far more than some exciting sales numbers and a little press coverage. Each man credits the same foundational web experience strategy for his success: Personalization.

What They Did

At Neiman Marcus, the focus was on the on-site customer experience. From a personalized editorial homepage that provides customers with relevant content in the homepage main image to personalized site search based on buying or browsing behavior, Neiman Marcus hoped to capture high-end fashion buyers by serving the brands they love in a variety of ways. They also launched the ability to customize and personalize merchandise on the website and added a variety of advanced search filters so people can customize their experience even further.

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