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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Should we ban the word e-commerce?

Ok so the last three years this word above any has been at the core of my day.  However I feel its probably time to make a change and not even acknowledge the word exists.  Why? because I think it creates a kind of thinking and behaviour that is disruptive to innovation.  It signals a clear vote to one of the major enterprise commerce players or that you need to look at partners that have a proven checklist of capability.  Sound familiar, big bulky, slow, time consuming old I.T. world.

But surely this goes against everything we have built and tried to achieve over the last three years?  Why would I say such a thing?

I say such a thing because its making us look at every opportunity as a platform rather than an innovation in business or service offering.  More and more I  am having conversations about new ideas for services and or business lines that don’t involve a shopping cart.  This is where the next growth opportunity is going to be.  How do I transact with my customers, my partners without a shopping cart. Do I turn all my relationships into subscriptions or do we create tools, apps or accounts into one click intelligent transactions? Are we already getting the feeling that there a more and more services out there that take our money off us with such convenience that we enjoy the pain.  Are we seeing better mobile apps that play to convenience around the transaction? Ringing any bells?  I can count 5 mobile apps that take my money off me every week with such convenience I think they have done me a favour and I’ve gone to the trouble in paying an extra 20p for the process.

What does this mean for us and the e-commerce vendors?  Well vendors you are simply not moving quick enough. For us we need to concentrate on the transaction and service.  Above all we need to think outside the box and innovate even if it means adding bespoke technology back into the mix.

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.

HOW BUSINESSES ACHIEVE GLOBAL SUCCESS.

We have released our latest whitepaper, ‘Digital commerce – how businesses achieve global success’; a best practice guide which identifies how businesses can harness the power of global eCommerce solutions.

With online sales predicted to reach $1.6 trillion by 2018, the white paper examines the growing adoption of connected devices and the current state of the changing commerce landscape and identifies the seven critical steps for global success in a competitive marketplace.

The seven steps to success are summarised as follows:

  1. Getting the financials right – Solid financial planning is key and it is crucial to allocate enough time and budget before commencing a project of this kind. Organisations need to build longer than anticipated timescales and recognise that a replatforming roll out will be competing against other resources.
  2. Choosing the right technology and architecture – The complex technical integration needed for a global digital commerce solution must be respected right from the start of a project. The architecture design needs to be able to integrate with ‘best of breed’ technologies, it needs to be agile and a solution that can be quickly and easily rolled out across the different regions.
  3. Putting the right people in place – A digital commerce solution is only as good as the people behind it and building strong team chemistry is key and the gel that will bring everything together. The strength of the team really is the difference between success and failure.
  4. Data readiness is key – Getting product data right from day one, including an understanding of how a product is categorised and searched for, needs to be the core foundation to a solution. It is also important to start planning dataware house and intelligence dashboards to capture trading data.
  5. The importance of global governance – Every global digital commerce solution needs a visionary to head the team and push the boundaries. This champion needs to drive the momentum of the project and maintain the pace of global roll out so delivery takes place as scheduled.
  6. Global solutions are the future – The concept of a single global solution may seem daunting at first but one platform means synergies and shared costs, as well as the shared benefits of collectively improving solutions. Digital commerce has the power to transform business processes, bringing real cost benefits throughout the entire commerce lifecycle.
  7. Continuous optimisation – Employing a strategy of continuous optimisation is essential to ensure that progressive enhancements are made to a solution and for delivering added flexibility. An agile solution will allow processes to be quickly improved in line with changing business needs for the long-term.

Commenting on the white paper’s insights, Matt Clarke, Chief Technology Officer at Amaze, said:

“While it is encouraging to see some organisations standing on the threshold of digital commerce, others are still unsure of how and where to begin. Organisations need to embrace this new era of digital commerce, as real growth and success will only come with an ongoing and accurate understanding of the changing needs of consumers. For those organisations that do make this leap, by following these seven critical steps, they are set to expect real rewards in the long-term.”

Download the full white paper here.

We hate Enterprise too but…..

13 years I’ve been dealing with large platforms in multi-countries and territories.  At the start of each project we say to ourselves how can we do it differently, how can we be more lean, more agile, more flexible, more fluid.  I’m a coder at heart, I’ve recently fallen back in love with the open source world and love hacking away in whatever spare time I have, building apps in an agile free flow manner.  It keeps me up to speed.  I can still code an application (not in the most elegant way, mind) with the best of the geeks in some hackathon in soho or some more exotic climate if I’m lucky.  This is my first instinct, just get shit done.  Don’t faff over architecture, spend money.  I hate layers of bureaucracy that develop in projects.  Why can’t we just sit down and code out functionality in a permanent beta rollout.  That’s surely the future? Its surely something we all aim to achieve? So yes I hate enterprise and everything that gets in the way to slow things down.

But and there is a massive but. I have learnt over the years that the odd software project can come off the rails.  Why? Geeks maybe? Bad management maybe?  The reality lies in the complexity of solutions as they gather momentum.  Whether that’s momentum in terms of the reach of the application such as a global platform, increased functionality, increased numbers of developers churning out code,  increased product stakeholders.  Even the very nature of the application becoming business critical with many moving parts. All of which need to be tamed, this agile constant beta development approach is great in startup mode but like a new puppy they eventually need to be tamed otherwise developments have a tendency of becoming unplanned. Resulting in unmanageable code and an unsustainable solution.  We need to organise the chaos into a controlled ecosystem and as the complexity increases, the modules and lines of code grow, all increasing the management burden which in turn, make the whole approach of getting releases out more rigid as we fight to tame the beast that we have created.

Getting the architecture right at the beginning helps with this process, but with everything, progress and ideas keep flowing all of which challenge this architecture immediately.  We adapt to keep up, but with this adapting, changes the nature or our original intentions and starts to introduce the odd little bit of chaos into the solution.  This chaos is a good thing, it challenges us, it helps progress our thinking, however it needs to be managed.

The real reason why enterprise ends up coming into play is because software development, which running into thousands of lines of code is by very nature complex.  But this is a myth its actually quite simple.  The thousands of lines of code have all been written to keep up with our new fast paced market and our insatiable demands for innovations, ideas and pace.  It’s our market place that is creating the requirement for enterprise, the more ideas we have the more structure we need to keep in place to tame the beast that we could end up creating.

And at the top of the human food chain with the ever increasing ideas is our digital marketeers who want us always to stay ahead of the game.  These beasts could reinvent our efforts every week. The problem is without enterprise thinking we have controls that naturally have to fall in place to protect the investment we have made so far.  On smaller solutions that do not require such heavy lifting at the backend, we can simply throw away and start again if it gets complicated.  This leads to consumable software solutions, which have their benefits and place.  However these are strategic decisions and must be made at the beginning.  Trying to change a large scale business critical solution with a strategic corporate investment into a consumable solution will lead to some very expensive software development cheques.

So what’s the answer.  I think the problem is not about about whether enterprise is a bad or a good thing.  Its about how we design the conveyor belt, how we ensure we can load the hopper of our product roadmap and ensure there is a common understanding of the order of releases.  Sometimes this requires patience, sometimes things have to wait for those larger releases that will benefit someone in your organisation but not necessary our new sexy urgent idea we may be trying to push out. Remember we are trying to bring some order to something that could quickly get so complex and out of control that the only thing we can do is throw it away and start again.  This is the real risk, every I.T. project is only a few scary ideas away from the scrap heap and this costs a lot more money in the long run.

The challenge for us how to we maintain our competitive advantage. A solution to this is a well thought out roadmap thinking ahead about the market, using real metrics about performance, your user base and how best to plan in functionality to keep them satisfied.  Enterprise is a game of chess, its hard to master and takes time.  Each move requires us to think well ahead and plan.  Even if that means planning in your agility. Its not a gain for short term game and requires a lot of patience.

More than half of companies providing e-commerce will look to re platform in the next 24 months

2013 will see significant investment in e-commerce technology and platforms as demand for e-commerce increases and as companies  innovate their multi channel retail offerings. The real winner will be platform providers that provide true commerce suites.   The concept of a commerce suite has evolved out of a driving requirement to combine what use to be very different technology, retail and marketing angles.  Each one of these angles meant that you would end up with a mash up of technologies like content management for your front end promotional and marketing platform, catalog management for your product information and then finally your e-commerce engine to take the order, take payment, check for fraud and pass off to the appropriate fulfilment partner.  To then combine this with all the subsequent technologies that need to be deployed for functionality such as analytics.  This miss match of technologies has meant that it has been difficult for companies to evolve and innovate their e-commerce platforms to take into account different e-trading ecosystems such as being able to work with partners such as Amazon, Apple(app), eBay, Google or even different approaches to commerce as demonstrated in China. It also has prevented them from innovating for different devices, channels and from providing a true omni channel experience between both online and instore worlds.  In addition to this the world of fulfilment has been changing, no longer are companies able to rely on one fulfilment model.

 

Organisations are faced with multiple fulfilment partners, multiple types of fulfilment from traditional ship to consumer models, to ship to store an in store pickup models.  Each require different levels of complexity and even different levels or integration requirements. Today commerce suite platforms provide a one stop platform that bring all this together under one architecture and one technology. Commerce platforms have evolved to combine content management, product information management, order management, customer services, analytics, fulfilment management promotions and campaign capability under one umbrella ecosystem, therefore allowing companies to be more agile and more costs effective when operating their e-commerce infrastructure.  The evolution of these suite of which we rate Hybris as the best is causing companies to think and take on the replatform of their current e-commerce estates.

 

Amaze are seeing a number of our customers and partners now undertaking these projects, however it requires a  unique capability;-

 

1) The right commerce suite platform which has the capability of providing one platform for all commerce requirements from marketing platforms, content management platform, campaign platform, brand platform,  product platform, promotions platform, order platform and finally fulfilment management.

 

2) The right commerce architecture that works with the suite, the fulfilment partners, your e-store design and your multi channel retail strategy.

 

3) The right model that takes into account your consumers, your markets and regions.  But also takes into account economies of scale between your stores.

 

4) The right integration approach that is open and encompass common standards.  Integration needs to be plug play allowing different fulfilment models and partners
5) The right retail control and optimisation approach that works with the site, the commerce suite and the data produced by your consumers to optimise trading, provide feedback and ultimately help provide intelligence to improve sales.
Amaze have developed a unique approach of consortium building, technology capability and the strengths of a traditional agency to provide the necessary one stop approach to re platforming your e-commerce functions. This traditionally is the realm of system integrators, but we have found that, as with the evolution of commerce suites, it requires a new type of business to deal with the challenges of todays e-commerce requirements.
So moving into 2013 we are going to see an 12% increase in online retail growth in the US and Europe but a far bigger percentage increase in e-commerce technology investment.  We will also see agency’s really come to grips with the commerce world with them starting to undertake the challenge of building significant commerce practices.