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Mark Polly

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Digital Transformation is All Around Us…Again

The phrase “Digital Transformation” has re-emerged as a new phenomenon. Google tells me there are 49 million (49,000,000) search results for the words Digital Transformation.

First, why do I say it is a phenomenon? It seems that many of our leading think-tanks are talking about digital transformation. Here are some examples:

But is Digital Transformation new?  Not really. The idea of digital transformation goes back many years. My guess is that it first arrived as a concept back in the 1990s when we were going through our first dot-com bubble.  In fact, way back in 2000, Keyur Patel and Mary Pat McCarthy published a book titled Digital Transformation: The Essentials of E-business Leadership.

Back in the day, companies like Amazon, Priceline and others were redefining business models, business processes and customer engagement using digital as the mainstay.  Many of these early digital transformation pioneers crashed and burned in the dot-com bubble burst in 2000, but several have become powerhouses.

So why is Digital Transformation re-emerging as a new phenomenon now?  Or why, all of a sudden, are we talking about Digital Transformation again?

In my opinion, we now (finally!) have several important technologies that have matured enough and when combined together have the capability to be truly transformative.  I’ll mention a few of the technologies or concepts below and then talk about how a combination of these technologies can lead to an even higher level of customer engagement and can improve business outcomes.

First, let’s talk about big data. In the early days, our systems could not handle the amount of data or provide timely analysis of what we captured.  We had to wait until the end of the day, week or month to really analyze large volumes of data. Now we have platforms and systems capable of processing massive amounts of data and we have analytics systems that can sort through the data to provide us meaningful insights within seconds. Companies are using these capabilities to understand customer buying behaviors as fast as trends start to appear.

Second, we have “The Cloud”. Before the cloud, companies were tied to limitations of hardware buying practices.  When you wanted to build a new system, you had to wait for the servers to be acquired and installed, physical space has to be developed, network firewalls configured, etc, etc.  If your site started to get overloaded it could take weeks to add the required capacity.  “The Cloud” has enabled companies to create systems quickly and now can react quickly to changes in demand without tying us to those infrastructure buying cycles. Its becoming ever easier to connect systems and “things” together around the world.

Third, mobile.  Mobile, mobile, mobile.  As one person recently said, if you don’t have a mobile optimized web site, you are already behind.  Mobile was not a factor in the early days of digital transformation. Thanks to smart phones, anybody can now participate in the digital world any time of the day.

Fourth, we have new technologies for creating excellent customer experiences. Web Content Management Systems, Portals, and eCommerce platforms have tooling to create great sites, can be mobile ready, and can take advantage of analytics to tailor each user’s experience.

Combining all of these technologies can lead to the digital revolution we are now undergoing. Here is an example:

A customer enters a store carrying a smart phone.  A beacon system in the store monitors the customer’s movements. This data is relayed through a cloud-based system and combined with other store data from around the world.  Two transformative things are happening simultaneously:

  1. The customer stops in front of canoe on display.  Our beacon tells our content management system that the customer has stopped near this particular canoe.  Our CMS sends a notification to the customer’s smartphone with information about the canoe and a link to a video showing how fun it is.  After the customer buys the canoe, we connect their phone with the registration information in our CRM system and use that data to begin offering the customer additional content on our website.
  2. Data from all customer movement in all stores are combined into our big data system.  Analytics on that data reveals that our customers are tending to move toward a certain display area.  Using that information, we reconfigure some stores and move the display toward the front.  After monitoring the new layout, we can continue to make adjustments to optimize the store based on our customers’ behaviors while shopping.

In the early days of digital transformation, this example would not have been possible given the technology available at the time. Now this example is real and has been implemented in the U.S.

This example shows why Digital Transformation is so important. Companies that align their businesses to take advantage of all these capabilities will be more connected to their customers and will have better insights into their customers’ expectations.

Dreamforce: Community Cloud for Healthcare

All this week I’m at Dreamforce, the annual Salesforce conference.  Salesforce has come a long way with their platform and they’ve recently introduced Community Cloud.  Community Cloud is an evolution of their portal product and includes many features that we see in other enterprise-class, horizontal portals.

We are seeing a lot of interest in portals from our healthcare clients.  At Dreamforce, I attended a session on using Salesforce Community Cloud in healthcare.  I blogged about this on our Perficient Salesforce Blog and I encourage you to read Dreamforce: Community Cloud for Healthcare post to see how organizations like Health Leads are being innovative with portals using Community Cloud.

Salesforce Community Cloud Roadmap for 2015

Salesforce Community Cloud can be used for a variety of applications, including sales communities, customer self-service, marketing campaign management, or anywhere you need portal, content and social combined into one experience.

At Dreamforce 2014, Salesforce has been having a lot of sessions related to communities and I’ve seen a lot of communities focused on partners.  That is if you are company that has sales partners, dealers, etc. a partner community would be relevant to you.  

The Community Cloud sits on top of the Salesforce1 platform and Site.com, so it takes advantage of all the features of that platform and the mobile version as well.   For example, if you need to expose sales leads to a partner, you can use the Salesforce CRM capabilities and display that data on your Partner Community.  You can also incorporate Chatter and get instant file sharing, social networking and group features in your application.

Salesforce shared their roadmap for communities today at the Dreamforce Conference.  Here are some of the items I captured that are on the roadmap for the Winter 15 release:

  • Self Service Templates
    • All templates are automatically responsive for mobile devices
    • Topics are used to organize content on the site
    • Feature topics can be used to highlight special content on the site
    • Discussions are available for public users and are separate from Chatter. When you add a new discussion item, the system will try to automatically add topics based on your content.
    • Login pages are already templated.  You can also use Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn
    • There is a personal news feed that shows all your own posts.
    • Profile has been simplified and you can also include gaming in the system
  • Community Console
    • A community moderator has access to community management features
    • Case management can be integrated and a case can be started from any discussion topic.  From their service console a case manager can respond through the community to an individual user or to everyone in that community.
    • Community Management now has more tools to manage community.  They can see analytics about the community – there are about 160 additional reports available to the moderators.
    •  There are reputation levels and points so you can drive adoption. You can also use these points in other applications through custom APEX objects.
  • Community Designer
    • The designer is in beta right now and is targeted at a Salesforce Administrator.  You can modify some parts of the UI.  If you need more than what’s in designer, you can get under the covers too.
    • The designer lets you change the branding with a new header image, different fonts and colors.
    • Each of the features within the community are going to be Lightning components when Lightning becomes fully available.
    • There is a preview feature to show you how your design changes look on different devices.

Future themes for Community Cloud include:

  • More templates and allowing administrators to create their own templates
  • Increasing the speed of delivering a community and more analytics
  • Improving adoption techniques for communities

Community cloud is clearly a highly viable horizontal portal that can be used to satisfy a lot of business needs.

 

Successful Partner Communities with Salesforce

Zero Motorcycles needed a way to consolidate multiple partner-facing systems into a simplified user interface, track sales and monitor participation programs and automate workflows. As we’ve seen from other customers, partners had to login to multiple systems. Using Community Cloud, Zero was able to provide one interface for the partners to login into and get information and process leads and improve sales.

Zero’s original model was B2C, thinking that consumers would order electric motorcycles on the net. But that didn’t work out and Zero found out they needed dealerships to provide test rides and provide customer engagement. (more…)

Creating Customer Happiness with Salesforce Communities

Community Cloud is Salesforce’s newest and fastest growing cloud (until tomorrow). IDC has seen a huge jump in using social media to communicate with customers and respond to customer inquiries. The top 3 technologies that are planned to be used include discussion forums, public social networks, and online communities, which is where Community Cloud comes in.

Constant Contact

Constant Contact, an all-in-one marketing platform, has over 600,000 small business customers. Constant Contact uses over 9,000 partners to grow their business.  They have built a partner portal on Community Cloud to support their partners, which will hopefully increase revenue. (more…)

Seeing Shifts: Gartner Magic Quadrant for Horizontal Portals 2014

Gartner has released its Magic Quadrant for Horizontal Portals 2014 and it contains some interesting surprises.  For the first time in several years, Gartner has moved IBM and Liferay ahead of the other vendors in both vision and execution ability.

Gartner MQ Horizontal Portals 2014

Gartner Magic Quadrant Horizontal Portals 2014

The leaders for 2014 are still the same leaders as in 2013 and 2012. For the past few years IBM, Microsoft and Oracle have been clustered near each other in the Leader’s quadrant, with Liferay and SAP barely making it into that coveted quadrant.  You can see my post about the 2013 version here: Gartner MQ Horizontal Portals 2013.

It’s clear that Gartner is seeing both IBM and Liferay as leading competitors. Here is Gartner’s take on IBM: “IBM’s long heritage of leadership in the enterprise portal market has brought it the broadest feature set in the industry. IBM has a long list of marquee customers across vertical industries, and it has demonstrated support for nearly every type of B2E, business-to-consumer (B2C) and B2B portal initiative.”

Gartner definitely likes what Liferay as accomplished in the past few years. “Even in the face of increasingly large, complex deployments, Liferay continues to build up a pool of satisfied customers. Liferay Portal has often succeeded where portal initiatives using other products were bogged down in cost and complexity.”

We also see several other notable shifts. First Microsoft has moved backward in the vision axis and SAP is moving higher on the vision axis. According to Gartner, Microsoft is being hurt by uncertainty around the future of SharePoint and Office365. Microsoft is definitely making a push to Office365 and many companies want to stay on-premise. Gartner says, “The future of on-premises SharePoint Server is in question.”

SAP has traditionally been viewed as a portal for SAP only.  However SAP has made a lot of investments in enabling better user experiences and can now be seen as a more broadly-based portal by companies. (more…)

A Day in the Life of a Social Media Manager

In the BufferSocial blog, Kevan Lee posted an article for Social Media Managers.  The post takes a look a “typical” social media manager’s day and breaks down that day into many different activities, represented in the info graphic here.   

Mr. Lee also provides several different views on how other people spend their days managing social media.  One person, Finola Howard, manages to compress all her daily activities into just one hour per day. Her tasks include:

  • Use SocialOomph to figure out which new twitter followers to accept
  • Measure which posts are performing the best so you can take advantage of them
  • Schedule tweets and posts for the day.  She uses Buffer for this, other use tools like Hootsuite.
  • Find content
  • Respond to others
  • Monitor engagement of fans and followers

In general, the post identifies 12 tasks of a social media manager.  The twelve tasks are shown here and the article does a great job of explaining each of them.

If you manage social networking within your company, say using IBM Connections, Yammer, Jive or others, you should also pay attention to the tasks.  Each of these 12 tasks apply to internal as well as external social managers.

In addition, Mr. Lee provides a series of checklists for the social media manager.  These lists come from places like Mindbrew Creative, HeroX, Hootsuite and others.  Even by itself, the various checklists are well worth your time to understand.

Overall, A day in the Life of a Social Media Manager is extremely valuable and full of great information.

How to Implement Lighter Weight Portals, Part 3: Knockout Portlet

In this series, I’m showing how Portals don’t have to be heavyweight.  In Part 1, I wrote about how to make the infrastructure lighter by using cloud or IBM’s Pure System.  In Part 2, I introduced the concept of using IBM’s Web Content Manager system to build very simple portlets.

Now in this final installment, I am going to extend the concepts introduced in Part 2 to show how we can build more complex portlets, but still keep everything lightweight.  To review quickly, in Part 2, I avoided the build and deploy cycle of building Java portlets by using the built-in content management system – WCM.  In that example, I used WCM to display a Reuter’s news feed from a simple Javascript widget supplied by Reuters.

My Appointments Portlet

Final Appointments Portlet

In this blog, I want to implement a more complex portlet using Knockout, which is a popular Javascript framework.  My example is to display in a portlet a list of my Doctor Appointments pulled from a REST service.  Our goal is still to keep this lightweight, so I shouldn’t see a lot of code.  The first screen shot shows you what the final version looks like in Portal 8.

A typical web page or application consists of several sections:

  • CSS
  • Links to external files
  • HTML body
  • Javascript

In WCM, we can create an authoring template that contains four HTML fields, one for each of the sections described above. The authoring template also has a workflow associated with it so we can control the publishing of our code.
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How to Implement Lighter Weight Portals, Part 2: Portlets

In part 1 of this series, How to Implement Lighter Weight Portals, I wrote about the infrastructure and installation aspects of Portals. To make the tasks of managing and installing portals, I recommended cloud solutions and for IBM, their PureApplication system both in the cloud and on-premise.

In Part 2, I turn my attention to applications and how to make task of developing portal applications more lightweight.

The goal of a portal is to combine applications and content at the glass for a user.  By this definition alone, we should always think of how to make lightweight portlets.  If you have a larger application to build, break it down into core components that can be built into separate portlets, rather than one large portlet.

Even if you can get to smaller, bite-sized applications or portlets, you are still faced with the underlying framework imposing additional layers on your efforts.  We’ll focus on Java-based portals to make the discussion simple and I’ll use IBM WebSphere Portal as an example.  Say we want to simply display a feed from Reuters as shown in our first picture here.

Reuters News Service

Reuters News Service


Reuters provides the javascript, so all we need to do is put it into a portlet for display on our page.

To create a portlet for use in IBM WebSphere Portal, a developer is going to use IBM Rational Application Developer (already a heavy-weight tool), create a new project using a wizard, fill in some details about the portlet, like name, Java version, etc.  and then hit go.  RAD will do a nice job of building the portlet shell with all the right components set up.  These components include xml files, TLD files, libraries or references, file folders and start JSP files.  Already, we have a lot of code to manage.

Once I put in my custom code, I then have to build the project, create a .war file, and then deploy it to WebSphere Portal. After its deployed, I can create a portal page, and my new portlet and I’m all set.  In most IT shops, build and deploy to production can take weeks or months just because IT has to control the changes to production very tightly.

If I’m a business guy who just wants a very simple portlet, this makes portal look heavyweight to me, but its likely the process than the technology.

So how to fix this?

(more…)

How to Implement Lighter Weight Portals

One of the complaints we often hear about horizontal portal systems is they are complicated and feel “heavy”. What makes a system feel heavy and how can we lighten the load?

In a typical portal application we have to integrate multiple applications, content and document management systems, security, search, personalization, page management, etc, etc. is it any wonder why a portal would feel heavy when you try to bolt together all these systems? Some vendors have taken the approach that they will build all of these components into their horizontal portal, which makes them seem heavier out of the box. Other vendors go lighter out of the box, but then put the burden on others to integrate the missing parts.

Given that portals are naturally heavy, what can we do to lighten them up or make them appear lighter?

First, let’s talk about requirements. Do you really need all these systems integrated to accomplish your goals? If not, maybe simpler web pages built off simpler content management systems maybe all you need. For example, if your site is going to be content only or mostly content, then you probably don’t need a full blown horizontal portal.

But let’s assume a horizontal portal makes sense. Then you’ll likely need the portal software, an application server, a database server, an http server, a security system like LDAP, and maybe a few other servers just to get started. From an install and infrastructure point of view, that is a lot of heavy lifting to install all those servers and get them to work together.

To make this infrastructure lighter or appear lighter, we can turn to cloud vendors, or in the case of IBM their PureApp system. Let’s look at cloud vendors first.

IMG_0203.JPG

If you’ve kicked the cloud tires yet, you know it is fairly easy to get individual servers up and running. You can request a database instance, an http server, security, and an application server and have it running in minutes. In the portal world you may still have to install the portal server separately, but some vendors are able to have that provisioned too. In most case you still have configuration steps to take to get all of those servers to work together. Still the cloud makes the portal infrastructure feel lighter because you didn’t have as much work to do to get it running.

What if you can’t go cloud and have to stay on-premises? IBM has tackled that problem with their PureApplication System. With PureApp, IBM has defined system patterns and has created the tooling necessary to implement the patterns automatically. For a portal environment, an IBM pattern looks like this: two portal servers clustered, an http server, a db2 server, and a Websphere Deployment Manager. That’s a lot of servers and configuration and feels heavy.

In PureApp, with this defined pattern, the system can install and configure a complete WebSphere Portal production environment is less than an hour. Five servers, fully configured and operational in less than hour. Now that feels much more lightweight. My colleague Kate Tuttle just posted an article on our Healthcare Blog about how Blue Shield of California used PureApp in their portal implementation project.

In the next part of this post, I’ll talk about how to make portlet development lighter weight. Here is a link to part 2: How to Implement Lighter Weight Portals, Part 2: Portlets