Headless CMS Architectures

thumbExplore why Enterprise Digital Ecosystems are creating a new style of content management architecture

I find mid tier CMS vendors the most interesting, they are the vendors that are the most innovative and challenging to the guys  at the top.  However because of their nature they are marketing their products to users that like everything wrapped up into a suite of capability.  This is where things can go wrong and prevent those vendors from enjoying some of the benefits of working with enterprise clients.  A way to break through this barrier is through architecture of the product.  Creating product architectures that enable customers to have a great degree of choice and flexibility in the implementation of the platform into their business.  The best approach to do this is the decoupled approach or headless CMS model.  The following white paper explores some challenging approaches to mid tier CMS vendor architectures;

Headless Content Management Architectures White Paper

 

Further to the initial white paper I will publish a video and podcast on this subject in the next week.

CTO Bytes // The Enterprise Digital Hub

Following on from my recent podcast about the enterprise digital estate I decided to produce a CTO Bytes episode on the subject to illustrate some of the concepts.  The Enterprise Digital Hub is a concept I have been working on for some time. Watch for an explanation of why I think it is important for organisations and digital strategies.

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Click here for the CTO Bytes Channel

So we’ve implemented hybris, what’s next?

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With hybris leading out as the most widely selected enterprise e-commerce platform more and more organisations have moved to implement the platform into their business.  This job is often no simple undertaking, but with the promise of great rewards both in terms of functionality and future proof capability, it will have driven your passion and rigour to get the first instance of hybris into your business. However once the platform is there up and running, where do you turn your strategy and thinking to?

Naturally the answer should be trading, merchandising and optimisation.  This in itself is an ongoing job that will continue for the next 5 years and will involve constant testing and evolution.  However if I’m a CIO, is their a roll for me to think outside this cycle of improving sales conversion and optimising revenue.  To understand this it is essential to understand the capability of the platform and how it can play a much bigger role within your business. The following is a number of useful considerations to help you formulate your strategy;-

1) Owning the product landscape.

Put a price on your product data. During your journey to implement hybris you would have taken inevitable pain processing, restructuring, understand, designing and enhancing your product data.  You will probably have a set of clear integrations to get your data into the platform and a good set of processes to enrich that data making it a single source of truth for all product information and its associated assets.  This journey ended up in you being able to display that product information in a nice new e-commerce platform for consumers to buy from.

It, however, shouldn’t end here.  We have created this single source of truth of product data and now hybris is the owner of all your enriched product information.  You need to create tools to expose that data to other services.  Whether that’s omni channel feeds to sales apps, pos platforms, mobile apps, omni channel environment or even print channels.  The first step is to make this openly available to your business by developing a set of simple api for subsidiaries, partners or even other departments to call to consume that data.  What this gives you is control, reuse, savings, quality, consistency a single source of truth.  Get this right and you are unlocking one of the biggest benefits of hybris. Get this wrong an you will see your hard work un done with data duplication by other system as your organisation digital evolution continues.

2) Development of a master consumer view

Once hybris is up and running and you are generating sales data you will start to develop a consumer data set.  Each of your consumers will be requested to create an account within hybris.  You may have implemented a loyalty programme alongside hybris again collecting more information on the user’s buying habits or profile.  You may be using hybris’s advanced personalisation module, again collecting more profile information.  This is an important next step in putting hybris at the centre of your single consumer view.  Each hybris consumer needs a dedicated account and because that account is where money is changing hands with the consumer it is one of the most important touch points with your customer.  Hybris will therefore have more authority over other consumer data that is collected within your organisation and ultimately if you are collecting other consumer information elsewhere you are more than likely to drive those consumers back to your commerce platform.

It therefore essential that hybris should look to own the master consumer model, even though the actual data may existing elsewhere such as SAP or a leading CRM platform.  Once this principle is established you should look to extend the master consumer model beyond the basic e-commerce profile, this can be done by considering the following;-

  • Create a global consumer passport id using hybris authentication via an open standard api as as open id.
  • Extend the profile data to authenticate with leading social platform therefore allowing us to harvest their profile data.
  • Extend their profile through loyalty programmes
  • Extend their profile trading and analytics data
  • Extend their profile through third part services and apps
  • Look to create api’s into hybris to allow other services to access key consumer information and also to contribute to their existing profile

I believe that extending hybris to own first the id and then the consumer profile makes it a much easier step to then integrate the data collected back into a global CRM platform. If you where to approach this the other way round or via an independent signon technology you would be left with a much greater integration challenge.

3) Protect your CMS

hybris is an enterprise e-commerce suite, with it comes a comprehensive set of core products such as a pcm(product content management platform), a cms(content management platform, a customer services cockpit, search engine as well as the e-commerce platform itself.  With such an extensive enterprise toolset you will no doubt have challenges to it as a one platform fits all.  Most of the challenge to hybris will come from the traditional content management vendors who themselves have expanded their customer engagement capability as well as their ease of use and agility in handling campaign based content. The two can naturally complement each other with one focussing on customer acquisition and the other focussed on conversion into sales.  However they do not naturally sit well together from an architecture perspective.  For example you cannot unpick a commerce platform so that it is wrapped via a content management platform with the cms platform handling the entire presentation layer.  If you do this you risk breaking the roadmap of each product and cutting out most of the advantage of the e-comm platform for marginal gains in functionality.  There is however a case where the two can exist as long as the boundaries are clearly marked and more importantly respected. So how is this done?

  • Hybris must take the lead, it is the core platform and engine behind your commerce site.  It therefore must take the lead in delivering all content and presentation for the commerce journey, product display, navigation and search. Breaking this will fundamentally undermine your architecture.
  • The content management journey must focus on the engagement of the consumer, whether higher up the conversion funnel via campaign activities.
  • Architecture of the two platforms needs to be clearly planned in advance.  Reliance on apis will cut out the value of both technologies.  Whilst apis do existing in both technology sets you cannot fall into the trap of assuming that they will deliver all elements of functionality that the product suites deliver.  They are there to expose data only not whole suites of technologies such as checkout processes and merchandising capability. Ignoring this will see expensive and constant cost with you initially building swathes of functionality and then later maintaining it to keep it in sync with both products roadmaps.

4) Be wise with mobile

Mobile is overtaking desktop browser environments.  hybris has traditionally been fragmented with accelerators having a clear split between mobile and desktop versions.  More up to date implementations of hybris have led to the partner community adapting one or more of the accelerators and making them more responsive templates.  However this may still lead to older implementation of hybris requiring the need to revisit the front end templates. Our view is that can be done efficiently and not require a major rebuild of the front end.  At Amaze we have utilised the Jeet Grid System into our templates which works fairly effortless with hybris.  Other approaches include Bootstrap and the Foundation framework.  Where to start this process is key,  we do not favour looking to redesign existing templates, we only look to design the degrade options for smaller screen sizes. We then work with existing css elements to ensure they will interoperate with the framework. Our recommendation around mobile is not to open a can of worms which will involve a complete redesign. Work with existing accelerators and your chosen responsive framework as a starting point, do not go back to the drawing board or photoshop as it will lead to an expensive redesign of all templates.

If you are starting out avoid the mobile accelerators for the time being.

5) Reporting

Reporting will be an ongoing theme for you as you get to grips with your data and trading activity.  Reporting will always include a mixture of services including hybris, ERP and your analytics platform.  You will however find all of these services fairly static and as you start to digest your data you will want to dynamically cut and dice that data.  This is where data reporting such as Business Objects, Tableau and Mixed Panel come into the equation.  However when you start to consider such projects you need to understand your data.  In order to do this we recommend grouping your data into pools and investing in the export mechanisms to get the data out of each platform. Again architecture and approaches need to be carefully thought through here as there is a place for an abundance of technology to process your data.  So we recommend not trying to do this adhoc look to create a service to pool all your data flow and maybe combine that with a central data warehouse.

6) Complementary Products

Once hybris has been implemented we need to keep a close watch on the vendor landscape.  There are lots of complementary services that are coming online that enhance hybris capability.  These are either hybris partner product or wider services from the e-commerce market place.  The early winners in this space are the A&B Testing toolsets that look to optimise trading content and merchandising.  Optimizely is a winner in this category and can work well with hybris.  But there are so much more that can benefit your implementations.  My recommendation is to talk to us first, we can demonstrate some up and coming tools and services that may benefit you.

7) Advanced personalisation

Following on from our master consumer view, a natural progression with hybris is through the advanced personalisation module.  This cannot be taken on until you have a clear strategy around your master consumer model.  However once you have an answer to this then hybris advance personalisation module can aid;-

  • An increase in your average order size by collection customer information from all sources, comparing it to adaptable targeting rules, and providing a personalised shopping experience.
  • The definition of meaningful customer segments and dynamically assigning customers to those segments based on online behaviour.
  • Support for behavioural targetting across multiple channels including online, offline and mobile.
  • Monitoring of outputs from rules to assess results and gain insight into customers and their online behaviou to adjust the product mix and develop effective marketing campaigns.

Again looking at the capability of this module within hybris can further underpin the necessity to keep hybris at the core of your digital estate rather than diluting it via competing cms technology, because personalisation can only truly be achieved via the platform that controls the product and pricing data which in all case is your commerce platform.

9) Better search

Hybris utilises the Apache SOLR search engine.  It is fully integrated within hybris and provides a rich set of search and navigation capability. However it can be improved through extension and customisation or via considering other complementary technologies. Enter SDL’s Fredhopper search platform.  The strength of this technology, combined with hybris is its ease of use for merchandisers.  It is a technology for consideration but only with close respect to the overall technology architecture and not to replace the hybris presentation layer.

10) Finally revisit the full specification capability of hybris.  T

There’s some great documents in hybris’s wiki.  You will find functionality and capability that you did not even know existed.  Ask Amaze to show you something new.

Identity Driven Templating

We are now entering the Web 3.0 generation, where we will see web technologies start to evolve into semantic technologies through connected intelligences. This area will play out across numerous Internet technology layers including analytics, content management systems and social networks. But the key area where we see it having the biggest impact on our current browsing activity is in the template, navigation and content layers of most websites.

Amaze is investing heavily in technology and intellectual property to join the dots between a users identity, their social graph, their browsing habits and their content consumption. This will give us a deeper understanding of user behaviour and will allow us to morph relevant content and navigation around users through dynamic templating and content delivery.

It may be said, that this is just an advanced form of personalisation but it requires intelligent algorithms that continuously learn from mined data to build evolving profile groupings of user communities. This deeper analytical information can drive content and design in much more granular way compared with what we typically see from analytical products today.

Amaze’s next generation web sites will work with progressively enhanced templates using latest HTML5 thinking to give a rich dynamic experience. However, just underneath the presentation layer we will have a layer of algorithms that connect to the users identity via the social graph or through our profiling engines to source the correct content, navigation structures for that user through a rich and engaging interface.

This approach and thinking gives us a truly next generation approach to website building.

User Experience is what matters

People are starting to expect more engaging and connected experiences from their web browsers, devices, apps and social networks. Connected User Experience is what matters and isolated traditional domain based websites will become outdated and uninviting.

For high end consumer products, we know that user research is a big part of the buying process. Companies need to provide their prospective clients with a connected experience, across multiple channels, that reflects modern social browsing behaviour.

Already Facebook Connect is starting to appear on many sites allowing users to stay linked to their wider community. Access to this community means that experiences can be shared and friendly advice is on tap. We predict that seamless browsing integration with your community and your environment will start to become the norm. The standalone website will not be able to compete.

More engaging user experiences will also become a critical part of the marketing mix. There is a range of techniques that are currently being investigated, ranging from the latest gesture technology, video animation, deep zoom effects, interjectable animations to clever navigation techniques. The best product show cases are set to quickly move beyond the zoom and rotate that we have seen for the last ten years.

The internet is moving on and we need to think beyond the device and the website. We now work in a multi channelled, socially connected ecosystem. Your digital strategy should account for the opportunities provided within this ecosystem by the application of rich digital content and the exploration and interaction of that content.