01 Feb Adobe Experience Manager (AEM): Don’t Learn Lessons the Hard Way
Never take the implementation of enterprise technology lightly, nor with a mindset geared towards over-simplification. Today’s technology landscape is anything but simple, and in a climate of intense pressure on digital transformation, a lack of planning or requirement definition can set you on a painful and delay-ridden path. The Gartner Hype Cycle does a brilliant job of visualizing the inevitable experience many companies have encountered in facing high-cost/high-impact technology decisions.
Today businesses are under pressure not just to modernize their digital marketing automation, but to establish a roadmap that will deliver a competitive advantage and a thoughtful plan for driving digital marketing maturity. This is a tall order, especially amidst a tech landscape that is bafflingly complex in the types of technology, the players and the rate of change. Adobe is a key player who continues to lead the consolidation and integration game, one acquisition at a time. They have invested millions to build the platform and clouds that can serve the demands of today’s enterprise businesses. Many marketing and IT organizations have found themselves embarking on their own Adobe journeys and learning very important lessons the hard way. This article aims to help you avoid the “Trough of Disillusionment” by specifically evaluating lessons learned while implementing Adobe Experience Manager (AEM), the content management foundation to Adobe’s stack. We are purposefully avoiding the phrase “Best Practices” here, as its overuse (and the phrasing itself) has brought all too many customers to think of them as optional. The lessons we are expanding upon within this post are real – learned through the labor and pain of your peers – and worth your deep consideration and planning before you embark upon implementing AEM. You will thank us later.
What is Adobe Experience Manager (AEM)?
Adobe Experience Manager, commonly abbreviated AEM, is a comprehensive content and digital asset management system used for building websites, forms, digital communities, mobile applications, and on-premise screen experiences – as well as publishing and managing content globally across those experiences on any screen. AEM is highly-customizable and offers flexible features and functionality. It is arguably the most “open” commercial platform on the market.
Many top Enterprises choose AEM because it simplifies the management and delivery of website content and reduces the complexity of delivering online experiences. AEM was named a leader in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Digital Experience Platforms 2018 research and was also recognized as a leading the pack in the The Forrester Wave™: Web Content Management Systems, Q4 2018 report.
AEM is a component of the Adobe Experience Platform, which is a suite of solutions that integrate with AEM such as Adobe Target, Adobe Analytics, Adobe Campaign, Adobe Social, Adobe Primetime, Adobe Media Optimizer and Adobe Audience Manager. AEM can be used alone, or integrated with other Adobe products for a complete digital experience and marketing solution.
AEM is actually comprised of five elements: Sites, Assets, Screens, Forms, and Communities. Each element can be used individually or collectively to create the content management platform of your dreams. In the end, if you’re betting on who will win world domination of the Experience Platform and Digital Marketing Transformation business, Adobe is a safe bet (according to the analysts). Click here to watch Adobe’s video overview.
Who Uses AEM?
Historically AEM has been most popular with large enterprises, primarily due to its sophistication and commensurately high cost. Adobe has made major strides over the last 24 months to develop product configurations that make the product more accessible and affordable to mid-market customers and we anticipate market share growth in the coming months.
How to Implement Adobe Experience Manager: Lessons from AEM Pioneers
Do Your Design Homework
Prioritize Change Management
Plan Ahead for Integration
Align Your Teams
Anticipate Time & Cost of Configuration
Capitalize on the Opportunity to Improve UX
Consider Managed Hosting
Do not neglect to educate your organization on a shift in web and mobile design philosophy – AEM offers enormous efficiencies to drive process and publishing speed and agility. But it also helps you control brand and design consistencies, and enforce standards. This requires designers to think differently, and understand specifically how to design for AEM. Some designers end up seeing it as a creative limitation – it’s not – but if you do not create stakeholder alignment on the goals and education required, you’ll slow yourselves down and struggle with objections from stakeholders or agency partners who are not experienced with AEM.
KEY TAKEAWAY: Build consensus for this shift in design mentality before you purchase the product or the product (and your decision-making) will inevitably be blamed for delays.
Be careful not to underestimate the change management that will be required of your development and content management teams. DevOps and Governance matter immensely when it comes to AEM. It is absolutely critical that you understand what you will have to do differently, including the roles, skills, collaboration, process and governance you will need to build and maintain content and experiences. This is particularly true if you are in pursuit of a distributed publishing model.
KEY TAKEAWAY: Do not procrastinate important change management work or discount its complexity or criticality for the successful adoption of AEM. Ensure you’re working with an experienced partner that you trust to help you achieve your specific desired outcomes.
Be clear about your intentions for integration. Do not put off planning for integration – CRM, analytics and optimization are almost always critical requirements. Refraining to plan for integration in the design of your AEM implementation creates inevitable re-work and frustration. There is a seemingly siren-like, alluring path to “just stand it up” and get it running without this planning and every customer that does so, ends up regretting it.
KEY TAKEAWAY: Do not approach AEM as a point solution, define your requirements for integration upfront and include them in your project plan ensuring it includes both short and long-term planning.
Ensure you have tightly aligned marketing, content management, project/change management and IT teams who are held responsible for success. Set the expectation early that this group is expected to operate as a singular team with a clear, unified vision of success. Siloed operations, inability to affect change and lack of true ownership are the most common reasons value realization is delayed after investment in AEM.
KEY TAKEAWAY: Alignment starts in the c-suite and must permeate down to the responsible and executing teams. A crystal clear rasci and six-sigma-esque project management will make or break your success.
Establish realistic expectations of the out-of-the-box product. AEM is not as turn-key as new customers often expect and assume. Depending upon your requirements, it can require a significant amount of custom software development, as well as resources knowledgeable in designing and building experiences that align with your brand and marketing agenda. Don’t get us wrong – the juice is absolutely worth the squeeze – but underestimating the amount of customization needed to build your exact experience to meet your exact requirements has a tendency to leave Customers incredibly frustrated – and worse – surprised by the total cost of ownership long-term. The only way to avoid surprises is to deeply define your requirements and ensure your cost of ownership assessment is inclusive of your customization needs.
Avoid the temptation to hire “staff augmentation” architects and developers, as in this structure you will simply not have a clear understanding of the time and expense needed to meet your success criteria and desired outcomes. Also, believing you can hand AEM over to a development team lacking AEM experience will lead you to heartache and probably lost jobs. It’s a strong benefit that AEM is built on top of open standards and the Sling framework which makes developing RESTful web applications and services very simple. This simplicity allows novice developers to get up to speed on building components. However, the ease of development, relatively shallow learning curve and the option to approach a solution in more than one way, can result in ill-conceived, half-baked solutions, which are prone to raise both performance and security concerns. Trying to over-simplify the task at hand will open the door to poor quality implementation and costly re-work.
KEY TAKEAWAY: Think about execution in phases, but plan holistically. We recommend an upfront discovery with your trusted partner focused exclusively on defining and documenting these requirements and scoping the level of effort to implement both short and long-term needs. Be suspicious of partners that try to tempt you to quick wins without the long-term planning or who push a staff aug only approach.
Unless you have the utmost faith that your current UX is best-in-class and doing its job optimally, don’t put off optimizing or updating your UX design – you will get dramatically more bang for your buck and efficiency in your process if you are aligning your agenda to modernize content management technology with your quest to improve user experience and conversion. It’s the equivalent of buying a racecar that has the potential to be a champion, but then never leaving the neighborhood. You won’t get anywhere exciting. Put simply, if improving digital experience is important enough to invest in AEM, then be sure, at minimum, you’re viewing it as “Replatforming an optimized website”, not just a “Lift & Shift”.
KEY TAKEAWAY: No revolutionary business transformation has ever come from a “lift & shift,” so assess your business goals deeply to clearly define how you will measure success and what expectations you want to set within your organization.
Take the time to seriously consider managed hosting as a viable option – many Customers regret trying to manage and maintain the infrastructure for such a quickly evolving product. IT teams tend to jump to on-premise solutions due to their perceptions of security requirements, but it is not a rare occurrence for them to later discover that they were not equipped for this long-term commitment. AEM Managed Services takes the pain out of frequent updates/upgrades. That said frequent updates and upgrades are indicative of an innovation partner committed to constant improvement, new features and functionality. There are several options in the marketplace, and this possibility deserves scrutiny and collaboration with Adobe to evaluate your needs and the best product fit.
KEY TAKEAWAY: Don’t rush into an on-premise solution. Ensure you’ve clearly investigated the options and have the resources and skill sets in place should you decide to take on the long-term commitment of managing the product on-premise, especially if your organization has a high volume of properties and applications that will eventually migrate to AEM.
If this helps just one customer avoid these or similar pitfalls during a major tech implementation or update, we’ve done our job! We have seen it happen all too often and the value of powerful tools aren’t fully realized or, in the worst cases, disastrously reversed. Taking a responsible approach like the one we have outlined here will dispel the vast majority of potential issues and set you up for success in advancing your organization to a better, more technologically advanced digital foundation.