Separate Agency Hype From Reality: Evaluate Service Providers' Technical Competencies

“Often, my IT group isn’t even aware of what application development and implementation is being outsourced. Eventually, this creates a big problem for us ...We have to clean up a lot of messes.” (North American manufacturing organization)

“Our marketing group paid an agency $250,000 to launch an app and didn’t tell IT. There was no QA done, the agency had no idea how to measure satisfaction, and the app was unstable. The app had just a 2.5 star rating in the iOS app store, and eventually marketing had to kill the app because it just wasn’t working.” (Fortune 500 company)  

Do any of these anecdotes sound familiar? More often than not, we talk with organizations where the business uses agency partners to work around IT. But IT pros need to be marketing’s eyes and ears when it comes to evaluating a service provider’s technology expertise. We recommend asking some of the following questions:

  • What’s your mix of offerings? Vendors come in all shapes and sizes: marketing/ad agencies, creative design agencies, SIs, and consultants. When it comes to digital experience, these vendors are converging. It’s not about which vendor is “best,” but rather which service provider has the right mix of skills for your initiative. Are you looking to launch an innovative campaign to strengthen your brand messaging? You probably want a marketing/ad agency with strong creative skills. Are you looking to implement a killer mobile app? You want an agency strong in technical and design skills. Do you need a thought leader to help you revamp your omnichannel experience, helping create an overall strategy and implement a new website and mobile app? You need a partner strong in consulting, design, and technical skills. 
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What's Your Digital Experience X Factor?

I recently had the pleasure of participating in Mike Gualtieri’s Technopolitics podcast. We discussed why digitally enabled customer experiences are no longer a nicety; they’re an obligation. But the problem is that IT and business don’t always work well together because:

  • Business relegates IT to a uncreative computing utility.
  • IT chuckles at business’s technology naïveté.

I think the gulf between business and IT is closing — I don’t see that the clash is quite as big as it used to be, and the IT pros I speak with already have been working on getting closer to the business. But often, they’re not going fast enough. Why? You cannot separate technology from customers’ digital experience and you cannot separate business from technology.

My solution: You need to hire IT pros who have the digital experience X factor. This is going to be increasingly important as the emerging role of “marketing technologists” and tech-savy customer experience professionals continues to evolve. I discuss in the podcast what I think the X factor is, but some of its major components are:  

  1. Customer-oriented, customer-centric values (even if they’re not customer-facing or customer service agents)
  2. A marketing and business mindset
  3. Creative and design thinking (not just technology-minded)
  4. Strength in strategic and design skills
  5. A “digital first” mindset
  6. Competancies in a  breadth rather than depth of skill sets (e.g., developers with knowledge of multiple programming languages instead of just deep knowledge of Java)
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2013 Digital Customer Experience Survey

Our application development and delivery (AD&D) team has recently launched our survey on digital customer experience initiatives, and we’re looking for information on your digital customer experience strategy and technology investments. Some of the questions we’d like to get answers to include:

  • What projects (if any) you have planned for this year.
  • Details about what those projects look like (e.g. budgets, staffing, and primary decision-makers).
  • What investments you plan to make in technology.
  • How you will use third parties (e.g. agencies, consultants, SIs) to help with your digital customer experience projects.
Not planning anything for the coming year? That’s okay — we still want to hear your thoughts! It should only take you 10 to 15 minutes to complete the survey. The information you provide will help shape an upcoming report. What’s in it for you? To thank you for your time, we’ll send you a free copy of that report when we publish it.
 
Here’s the survey again, and we look forward to hearing your thoughts.

The Dreaded G-Word: Digital Experience Governance Doesn't Have To Be So Bad

We’ve all heard how people perceive governance: It slows down processes, stifles innovation, and adds unnecessary bureaucracy. It’s time to get over those perceptions. You need governance, and policies and processes don’t need to be roadblocks. Instead, they can enable better customer experiences using governance models that bridge the gap between IT and the business, unify digital experiences across customer touchpoints, reduce time-to-market, and foster a culture of customer-centric innovation.

But right now many organizations we speak with haven’t given enough thought to their governance model. We identified five main areas of digital customer experience governance that application development and delivery (AD&D) professionals should pay attention to:

  • Roles and responsibilities. Governance means oversight and executive sponsorship. Right now, this is often siloed around business group and, for IT, siloed around software applications.  Digital experience governance instead requires a cross-business executive sponsor, cross-business digital experience steering committees, and cross-application IT functional committees. 
  • Charters. This is your mission statement. It defines your scope, goals, objectives, and articulates the business case. Too often, we talk with organizations that haven’t actually defined their digital customer experience goals, and if they have, their charter is static and siloed around individual brands. Instead, look to define your goals and create a dynamic, cross-business, and cross-application mission statement.
  • Processes. Governance needs to solve the problem of siloed processes: business working alone and then dropping requirements on IT’s desk. Processes must become more iterative and collaborative.  
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What’s Ahead For DAM? A Look To The Road Ahead

This past year was an exciting one for digital asset management (DAM). In 2012, DAM became an important part of the customer experience management (CXM) ecosystem, especially in providing content and data services and acting as a repository for rich media content. In other words, DAM helps enable marketers and information workers to create and manage digital experiences and they’re associated content. Although many vendors I speak with have trouble articulating this vision to customers — many still think of DAM in terms of its traditional roots with creative professionals and niche verticals like publishing and media and entertainment — I’ve also seen a shift in other vendors to embrace this trend. This is smart, as based on the client questions I get, CXM is where DAM will find the most traction.

But as we’re now officially one month into 2013, I’ve started to ask myself what’s ahead for DAM this year and beyond:

  • Is 2013 the year of vendor consolidation? Probably not, at least for the major players. The market continues to be fragmented, with independent players and only a few larger CXM vendors. Independent DAM vendor North Plains — backed by venture capital funds — has made moves to consolidate the market by acquiring Xinet and Vyre. I expect them to continue to make moves to expand their global and CXM footprint. Many large CXM vendors like IBM or Oracle don’t yet have best-of-breed DAM solutions and have remained quiet on the DAM front. I expect them to remain preoccupied with bigger priorities like cross-channel analytics and experience delivery.
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Build Best-In-Class Digital Customer Experience Teams: Five Questions For AD&D Pros

I’ve read a few headlines proclaiming that IT is dead and marketers are the future in this age of the customer. We reject this widely cited notion. After all, what’s the point of great design, user experience, and marketing strategy if you can’t use technology to deliver the right experience to the right customer? IT is far from dead. IT just needs to evolve and take on a new look and feel in order to keep up with the digital customer experience (CX) imperative.

Traditional IT shops will need to rethink how they are organized and hire for new skill sets in order to keep up with digital CX projects. We recommend that application development and delivery (AD&D) pros answer these five questions when organizing around CX:

  1. Will you be a lead actor or a supporting player? There are three main roles that AD&D pros can play for digital CX projects: provide back-end services; design, architect, and implement projects; and partner with marketing to take on a CX leadership role. There’s no “right” role. Depending on your maturity, you’ll want to take on the role that best suits your organization.
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Personalization Isn’t Enough — Get Up Close And Contextual Instead

In our recently published report, Ron Rogowski, Stephen Powers, and I explored how organizations are rethinking their personalization strategies. Organizations have long understood the need to "personalize" their websites for customer segments in order to meet customer needs, feel personal, and deliver in the moment. But we’ve seen many organizations fail to deliver highly relevant experiences to their customers. "We were about to launch personalized content, but our dog ate the segmentation and targeting strategy." We haven't heard that one (yet), but organizations and their agencies frequently cite a familiar set of reasons for continuing to offer non- or underpersonalized sites.

What’s going wrong? Organizations fail when delivering contextual experiences. They must take into account who the customer is, what that customer did in the past, and the customer’s situation — what’s happening to the customer at that moment and from which touchpoint he or she is engaging with the brand. While they may take one or two of these into account, many organizations we speak with (especially outside of the eCommerce space) fail to take all three into account.

What does this mean for application development and delivery professionals? After all, IT will eventually need to support these contextualization initiatives. Here are a few questions to get you started:

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Digital Experience Implementation Partners: Turn The Odd Couple Into The Power Couple

We’ve already established in our research that there’s a huge opportunity for application development and delivery (AD+D) pros to help marketers deliver exceptional digital experiences. Why? IT can offer valuable skills to fulfill marketing’s customer experience vision.  

One of the biggest areas where there’s a lack of IT-marketing communication has been in the selection of digital experience delivery service providers. This is big because digital experience implementations are complicated, and most of our clients need a little outside help. I define these vendors as: Service providers that help create digital experiences (through design and/or strategy) and implement technology solutions (e.g. content management, digital analytics, eCommerce platforms, etc.) that support digital experiences.                                  

These vendors come in all shapes and sizes (and some are better at certain components than others). In an upcoming report, I will include a more detailed list of relevant vendors and their capabilities. But in general, they include service providers with a varied background:

·         Management consultants. These firms (e.g. Accenture, Deloitte) have experience with delivering broad, strategic consulting services. Though it’s often a smaller part of their business, these vendors remain relevant in the digital experience delivery space.

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