The Digital Customer Experience Consulting Gold Rush Takes Off

Want more evidence that companies are realizing that digital customer experience is essential to survive and thrive in the Age of the Customer? 

Look no further than last week’s IBM Connect conference in Orlando. Bridget van Kralingen, the senior VP in charge of the IBM’s $20 billion Global Business Services group, used her main stage keynote to unveil new services to help enterprises create “irresistible user experiences.”

IBM’s new global IBM Interactive Experience consulting practice “anticipates the emerging client demand for irresistible user experiences as the point of entry to high-value relationships with their customers, employees, prospects and partners,” according to the company.

The new offerings will integrate design and user experience capabilities from IBM Interactive, its digital agency, plus innovations and data expertise from researchers in its IBM’s Customer Experience Lab.

You could call it the next step in the digital customer experience gold rush. Software vendors have spent years building and selling clients software to run digital infrastructure, such as web content management, eCommerce,  digital asset management and analytics.

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Limelight Sells Clickability: Speed Takes Priority Over Web Content Management

When Limelight Networks bought SaaS web content management (WCM) vendor Clickability in 2011, it united WCM with video streaming and a large, global content delivery network (CDN) to create an offering unlike that of other vendors: Limelight Orchestrate, a multifaceted “digital presence management platform”.

Limelight liked to say marketers and other digital pros could, with a one solution, manage multichannel content and digital experiences including video and shave relevant milliseconds off page-load times and site delivery.

Flash forward to last week. On December 23, Limelight announced the sale of the Clickability WCM business to Upland Software, an Austin, TX, company that, in two years, has added six cloud-based software solutions to its enterprise work management portfolio.  

Limelight says it will focus on “delivery optimization capabilities” – in a word, speed. It’s a change I can follow. Limelight invested in WCM enhancements and pushed “digital presence management” to marketers and technology pros, but WCM revenue never skyrocketed for the publicly traded company. Limelight estimates WCM revenue in 2013 at $13.7 million, according to an SEC filing, a small slice of its $170 million or so annual turnover. For Limelight, the CDN business still rules.

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IBM Injects Design Religion Into Software Development

At a recent software summit for industry analysts in Stamford, CT, IBM made a big point of showing off some of its newest employees. They’re not computer scientists from top engineering schools like MIT or Carnegie Mellon, but visual designers, interaction pros and user experience experts from design schools like Rhode Island School of Design and Pratt -- urban hipsters in a sea of button-down IBM’ers.

This is part of IBM’s growing effort to embed “design thinking” into software development across its portfolio. Central to the effort is the new IBM Design Studio in Austin, TX, led by design general manager Phil Gilbert. The group is recruiting design-minded professionals by the hundreds to help inject human-centered design principles into next-generation business software. They work closely with software teams to rethink interaction models and influence what’s coming out next.

The facility has also hosted dozens of high ranking execs from across IBM in “design camp” events aimed at teaching the relevance and importance of design-centered thinking across the company.

“We are attacking this transformation from the bottom, top, and (everywhere) in between,” said Gilbert.

This isn’t just an effort to make software look good. Software vendors are realizing that to be competitive, software products must have powerful capabilities, function smoothly, streamline complexity and be usable across a spectrum of people, regardless of their technical skill.

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Will Digital Customer Experience Software Platforms Rule in 2014?

Two  or three years ago, software buyers in the market for new and improved tools for managing website content and cross-channel digital customer experiences had a typical request: “Help me replace my legacy web content management system with a new web content management system.” It was out with the old, legacy, hard to use system, and in with a new solution that perhaps had a few new capabilities, but which still looked and felt like… a web content management system.

As we approach 2014, that WCM buyer is asking for a whole lot more. Enter the digital experience platform – an emerging software category poised for takeoff as enterprises seek to differentiate through better digital customer experiences.

Forrester has defined the digital customer experience platform and 14 specific tools and capabilities in our TechRadar report for application development and delivery pros.

We took the research further in another recent report, a Market Overview report covering digital customer experience delivery platforms. This reports describes 17 representative software vendors and their offerings as they try to tackle this robust market with a diversity of capabilities; each has a different approach. Our research has identified players with heritage in four vendor categories: web content management (e.g. Acquia and Adobe), eCommerce (e.g. Demandware, Digital River), marketing solutions (e.g. Hubspot, Razorfish), and enterprise business software providers (IBM and Oracle).

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Which Vendor Will Deliver Your Digital Customer Experience Platform? Here Are 17 Candidates

Choosing digital customer experience solutions isn’t easy for application development and delivery (AD&D) pros, or for their counterparts in the business. Tech pros used to respond to digital business needs by acquiring, say, a web content management or eCommerce system. They may have integrated other software tools to deliver extended capabilities. And it was good.

Fast forward to 2013, and the range of tools to support robust multichannel digital experience is wide and deep. Many different vendors are responding. A new Forrester report cites a number of their offerings as examples of emerging digital customer experience delivery platforms.

In our report, “Market Overview: Digital Customer Experience Delivery Platforms,” my colleague Mark Grannan and I offer Forrester’s view on this emerging market, the 14 tools and capabilities most needed for on-site experience delivery, and 17 example vendors who play in this space.

In our research, we discover some vendors provide more capabilities; some have fewer. Some build or buy most of their capabilities; others focus on integrating best of breed tools. All represent a range of companies attacking this market by answering a multitude of needs by IT and business customers all seeking to better address their customers through digital channels.

For this report, we identified four market segments plus representative vendors, including:

  • Web content management-centric platform vendors, such as Acquia, Adobe, Bridgeline Digital, Ektron, HP Autonomy, OpenText, SDL, Sitecore.
  • eCommerce-centric platforms, which expand upon their transactional foundations, such as Demandware, Digital River, and hybris (an SAP company).
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Avoid Website Development Flops By Taking A Lesson From Healthcare.gov

“We’re in charge of developing your new website. You can have it  good, fast, or cheap. Pick two.”

How many times have you heard (or said) something like that on a digital experience project? With any digital initiative, one of those desires is usually odd man out. Application development and delivery pros  at corporations, digital agencies, and systems integrators know this; they’re often the people talking reality in the face of the wishes of the business asking for all three (and, frequently, a fourth: “Can you make it as good as Apple.com?”).

Web projects always require compromise. The challenge is figuring out what you can live without.

It’s enlightening to apply the good/fast/cheap triangle to the Healthcare.gov snafu that’s been playing out in Washington, DC. If you’re involved in web applications, reviewing the government’s project might be one way to inoculate yourself and your team against an invitation to the hot seat by preventing website crash and burn. No one wants to be like the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, and her squad, who’ve had to explain the most visible website flop in history.

It makes me ask: how did the Feds deal with the good/fast/cheap question for Healthcare.gov? It’s a hard reality to deal with on any digital project, never mind a project of this scale. Where would you compromise?

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The 14 Digital Customer Experience Tools You're About To Invest In

If you’re involved in delivering and executing great digital customer experiences, you’ll want to access Forrester’s new TechRadar report that digs into the diverse, rapidly evolving technology ecosystem that supports this strategic business imperative.

We define 14 technologies (and cite representative vendors) including web content management, eCommerce, email marketing, web analytics and testing — all capabilities we believe are necessary to support “on-site” customer experiences, or the digital channels that businesses and brands control.

This is an important market not just because vendors that serve it are making lots of noise. It’s relevant because enterprises have discovered that great digital customer experiences matter to their customers and to their enterprise success, competitiveness and viability. It’s about technology plus a whole lot more. From the report:

Delivering great multichannel digital experiences isn't as easy as plugging in new software and calling it a day. Digital customer experience success comes from combining many elements: a big-picture vision, short- and long-term strategic planning, shifts in roles and responsibilities, and intelligent technology adoption and delivery.

The shift to digital at organizations is not happening — it cannot happen — at an incremental pace. Too much is riding on it. This is a transformative change, and to date too many organizations that have paid only lip service to supporting the customer across all digital channels have felt the sting of competition beating them to the punch. We don’t call it “digital disruption” for nothing.

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WCM: A Sexy Tool For Digital Customer Experience

This content also appeared in the June 2013 edition of CRM Magazine.

Web content management (WCM) software has been around nearly as long as the modern Web. This software enables technology pros to develop sites, lets content people create and publish, and helps marketers leverage online channels to engage customers and prospects.

Forrester’s recent research into this vibrant market confirms a fact that buyers of this technology need to be aware of: WCM has become an essential foundation for enabling successful digital experience efforts. And by doing so, it’s supporting one of the last things that corporations and brands can use to differentiate themselves.

Recently, vendors have put resources into expanding features, building, buying, or integrating with various things:

  • Visitor profile, segment, and targeting tools to deliver personalized content in context
  • Capabilities to develop and deploy mobile and social channels of engagement
  • CRM, email marketing, analytics, A/B testing, integrations, and tools
  • Cross-channel insights and reporting
  • Multichannel campaign management functionality
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Survey Shows Mobile Web Gets Priority Over Mobile Apps In 2013

As companies work hard to deliver multichannel digital experiences (DX) to their customers, questions persist. A big question: Which channels (and, by extension, which development strategies) should we prioritize for our DX initiatives? Recent Forrester survey data provides some guidance by indicating which channels DX professionals say are top of mind in 2013.

A focus on traditional web sites remains the highest priority, cited by 80% of organizations, according to data in Forrester’s March 2013 Global Digital Experience Delivery Online Survey. (Forrester colleague Anjali Yakkundi dives deep into the survey data and its implications in her The State of Digital Customer Experience Technology, 2013 report.)

But when it comes to addressing the mobile imperative, respondents indicate two distinct layers of prioritization.

The focus on building mobile web experiences is measurably higher than the focus on developing purpose-built mobile applications. See the accompanying chart to witness the gulf between organizations extending a web experience to tablets and smartphones, over those creating specific web apps typically developed to support more specific tasks or functions.

Many organizations tell us that they’ve shifted their mobile strategy away from creating specific apps built for iOS and Android devices, unless and until they have a compelling reason to create a custom app experience.

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When Digital Experience Becomes The Product: Examples From Three Brands

When people at your company talk about wanting to create great digital customer experiences (DX), do they quickly venture into the land of the abstract by talking about technology platforms and features?  

If so, you’re not alone. I see this every day in my research on web content management and related software that supports digital experience strategies. It’s easy for technology, marketing, and business people to embrace the concept of creating delightful multichannel digital experiences. But far too many organizations still find it difficult to actually create DX that matters to customers and helps their brand gain a competitive edge.

Fortunately, inspiration isn’t far away. We’ve reached an inflection point in the evolution of digital experience where companies and brands are now selling the digital experience as much as they focus on what they're actually selling.  

Suddenly, technology-enabled experiences have morphed into the product. This should be a wakeup call for application development and delivery (AD&D) professionals everywhere to grasp this challenge. The same goes for digital experience agencies and partners that service brands. When digital experiences become the product, technologists have the opportunity to help bridge the DX vision and DX technology planning and project execution inside organizations. Tech capabilities and features matter most when you interpret them for the business and show people what’s possible. 

Recent TV commercials here in the US from Geico, AutoTrader, and La-Z-Boy each shine the spotlight not so much on their products (auto insurance, cars, and furniture, respectively) but on sweet digital experiences that focus on the needs of their customers. Specifically:

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