How to drive content velocity with Adobe Experience Manager

As a Customer Experience leader, we know how challenging it can be for you to ensure you have the right framework and principles to drive content velocity–components essential to unlocking the true value of your Adobe Experience Manager platform. In this article, we’ll review what content velocity is and its value within enterprise organizations. Next, we’ll dive into four principles of effective implementation and the pitfalls to look out for along the way.

Defining content velocity

Content velocity is not just a tool. Nor is it a feature.

Content velocity is the gas that powers the personalization vehicle. Content velocity is about simplifying and becoming more efficient, to be able to deliver personalized experiences at scale. - Monique Misrahi from T-Mobile

It is an overriding philosophy of content that embraces an enterprise-level framework touching every part of an enterprise organization–from creation, through management, to distribution.

It involves developing an underlying “people architecture” that can be harnessed to reach maximum velocity, craft rich experiences, and achieve powerful efficiencies.

Why it matters

Oftentimes, when a new enterprise solution like Adobe Experience Manager (AEM) is brought in, the goal is simply to stand up the solution and only focus on the technical foundation. Much of the work that would ultimately transform the organization is deferred.

This is a mistake. Ignoring the necessary business and functional changes can severely limit value realization and lead to a cycle of customization, dragging velocity and limiting the explosive power of AEM.

So, how do we get started on this journey? What are the parameters to focus on? How can you change the paradigm of your company to align content to vision?

Let’s look at some principles to follow to create your own organizational blueprint toward value realization with AEM.

Four principles of content velocity

Realization

The first step is realizing that change is necessary. Many times this comes from the stakeholder familiar with the tactical day-to-day.

Problems you may encounter include:

  • New product features that can’t be implemented due to customization
  • Siloed workstreams
  • Lack of communication
  • Creative frustration with technical guardrails

Tackling these simultaneously is daunting. On the other hand, trying to solve each piece-by-piece creates frustration, as each of the workstreams within the content lifecycle inevitably overlaps with the other.

How does an individual stakeholder–from the creative, the technical, or the functional side–wade through the multiple layers of management, strategy, and administrative objectives? How does one abolish silos based on nascent and peripheral strategic objectives that might inform each other? How can they do so when this overlap might not be visible to the appropriate stakeholders?

The answer: an individual stakeholder can’t. When aligning the organization to the solution, the decision must be taken as a whole because it affects the entire team.

More importantly, the spark of transformation has to fundamentally come from leadership. Only when leadership is invested in organizational change and can envision the tangible benefits of it, will the appropriate organizational design and processes–which are critical to harnessing an enterprise-level solution–be created.

This is because driving speed in enterprise-level CMS is ultimately about content. Content is intrinsically developed through a lifecycle, which touches all parts of the organization, and remains visible to leadership at all times.

Over and over, we’ve seen that the journey from a siloed model to a flexible and fast one comes from that initial and powerful voice in leadership. An understanding that to approach content lifecycle in a way requires a re-imaging of it through the team–from creator to tester. And that decision point–that realization–that driving content is not a question of what tool, but how we’re conceiving it.

“When you start to think about content in a different way, you bring different groups to the table that may not have been together. From product and development to customer led experience design, you innately have different parties to build those things. For us, internally, leadership support and buy-in was the single greatest factor for our digital transformation.” - Monique Misrahi, T-Mobile

“Leadership support, direction, and vision was a critical factor. The fantastic thing was that our leadership was inclusive and open to input. They listened.” - Amy Bergstrom, Deloitte

Foundation

After the initial realization is made, the question becomes how to drive the organizational change needed for implementation. In this, there is not a singular answer, because you don’t know what you don’t know.

The creation of content in an organization, from design, marketing, technical implementation, testing, and authoring spans multiple departments and processes. Many of these are based on ‘tribal knowledge’ that spans years.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to solve all the problems at once.

To illustrate this point, let’s look at an example of an enterprise organization with various brands. Brand A might be using AEM in multiple, if ultimately inefficient ways. Brand B might not be using AEM at all.

The question is, are you going to hold off on re-imagining content until all the brands are operating in a unified manner? Is it wise to solve for change for all of them?

The answer is no. This would increase complexity. Additionally, many of the stakeholders will get frustrated with never-ending conversations around the old, thus frustrating attempts to build the new. One will get locked into a conversation about change, instead of making it.

What is needed is a tangible framework. A new paradigm to work for. Something people can see and feel. In the past, content may have been considered a page, a campaign, or anything imagined in the singular. The fundamental shift is to see content as content itself: to be repurposed, re-styled, and recycled back to the authoring team. Core new development should be utilized for target-rich experiences.

For many customers the best way to instill change is to create a mini site, a brand, or a separate section of the site that can be utilized as a test case for the new framework. Choosing one part of the organization to act as Proof-of-Concept will allow you to:

  • Create a built-in group of stakeholders dedicated to understanding the new framework
  • Reduce cyclical discovery sessions and build more quickly
  • Increase the likelihood and speed of stakeholder buy-in
  • Solve the tactical nuts and bolts, and alleviate the gaps before reapplying the changes to scale

“We changed our experience design organization to a more omni-channel view of the customer. We built a design systems framework team that is fully defining what our content components will be and how they’ll be used. This has helped us get to a level of content velocity we couldn’t imagine before.” - Monique Misrahi, T-Mobile

“We knew there was too much content coming out. So we did some research with our audience to find out if they were able to find our thought leadership pieces. It turned out there was confusion, so we took a unique approach, segmenting out all the best thinking in a pilot site and branding that content. We created a dedicated area for that content and cultivated a large audience for it. Several years later, we’ve now been able to reintegrate that into our broader website and now our thought leadership content helps carry people through the sales cycle.” - Amy Bergstrom, Deloitte

Execution

AEM, is an enterprise-level solution that touches many parts of the company or brand and its effectiveness, as a CMS tool, has upstream dependencies.

When building out the framework, there are some common paradigms for which you’ll need to find the right solution. Some of these elements might be challenging, but decisions have to be made—this is why the foundational paradigm above is so important. This framework that is being built will be the one that is leveraged to scale across the organization.

Here are four milestones to build out during the execution phase:

  1. Define the foundations of your organizational global taxonomy.

    When we talk about taxonomy we are not just referencing the folder structure, but rather an understanding of who will be authoring what and when. Additionally, we will need to consider the different permission structures that will need to be architected for each type of author.

    At this point, consider whether you want a centralized governance model or a decentralized one.On one hand, a centralized governance model creates a consolidated taxonomic strategy offering tighter quality control and process insights that would be impossible, or at the very least difficult in a decentralized framework.

    On the other hand, a centralized model, especially if coming from an authoring experience that is currently overly flexible, may be too big a hurdle for the team. The structure must allow for common language and regional differentiators as well as practices around quality control. Additionally, there may be less autonomy for each facet of the authoring experience–that is, only certain authors will be allowed to work on specific groups of pages and only limited authors have editable permissions.

    Although initially a centralized mode of governance may seem slower, in the end, with the process insights gathered, and the transparent accountability across business users that is instigated, the overall trajectory will be quicker.

    The decision on which direction to go will ultimately depend on the overall strategic goal of the organization. It may come down to choosing between enhanced flexibility for business users or a unified experience across brands. Aligning on the proper model is critical for a sound execution.

  2. Perform a content ownership audit

    Consider the following scenario:

    Interactive content (oftentimes located on the homepage) might require highly interactive experiences, and therefore, will require front-end CSS designers to work with business authors to update. Homepage maintenance would require a different permission structure and approval process than something like a reference page, which would be easier to update. Sound governance, efficiency, and quality begin with clear content ownership. Consider performing a content audit that answers these questions:

    • Who will be authoring what? And when?
    • What are the different permission structures that need to be applied to each kind of content?
    • What are the experiences on the site that will change, and which ones will remain relatively static?
    • Who is going to own what content?
    • Who is going to be involved in creating these experiences and what does that entail?
  3. Rationalize and simplify toolsets

    As the tools evolve, so should the process, and the teams.But this may not happen overnight. A transition period may be needed. Make time to sit down and define what the right tools are to deliver your content.

    Part of this process means looking at the content holistically, not just as pieces within a page or section, but how content operates across the site. Consider potential opportunities to drive reusability. Identify areas where content can be repurposed to drive efficiency. Think about how to leverage out-of-the-box (OOTB) functionality versus areas that require customization. Utilizing OOTB components will help enable quick rebranding efforts and drive faster aesthetic changes to the site.

    From a multi-brand perspective, moving toward “universal” paradigms (as opposed to page-specific ones) allows faster reuse and rebranding, driving iterative, quick experimentation with campaigns to create the best customer experience. Speed = creative flexibility and audience engagement.

    Additionally, utilizing a content-driven framework intrinsically allows easier adoption of content fragments and experience fragments. These solutions can be authored from a centralized framework from within Adobe Experience Manager, reducing inefficient siloed authoring. This will help drive unity in the author experience and emphasize strategically-driven content across the site.

  4. Establish a design system

    Look to create a team with clear usage guidelines as opposed to designing for the “edge.” Beautiful simplicity is at the heart of content velocity. And don’t forget to include Accessibility teams for everything that is designed and developed. A design system needs to find that balance between meeting a very particular experience and the flexibility to work in a systematic way within an enterprise CMS. Core Components and Style Systems are incredibly adaptive to a myriad of experiences and will allow more than enough freedom to meet the aesthetic ambitions of creators. Still, it is critical for speed and scale that a commonsense approach is applied when determining the execution of an experience. Some juggling of priorities is necessary. When designing a system look toward the fundamentals of reusability and speed.The vast majority of the experiences on a site should be executed using OOTB components and style systems.

    “Mindset shift is needed around content. Many content practitioners have worked through the lens of channel-specific, or brand-specific, or page-specific content for their career. It’s time to think holistically and allow time for that exploration.” - Monique Misrahi, T-Mobile

    “Having a centralized content strategy helps us avoid duplication. We’re not oversaturating the market, not saying different things on similar topics. It helps us optimize our full library of content, and speak with one consistent voice around the world.” - Amy Bergstrom, Deloitte

Generally, speaking it is best to follow these rules of thumb:

  • Aim to have no less than 80% of experiences driven through Out of the Box Components and Style Systems. Through customer testimony, this will not only create a more scalable foundation enabling you to take advantage of the product roadmap, but will also increase velocity by up to 50%.
  • Set-upeditable templates and move away from static templates. When setting up editable templates (which are required to use Style Systems), it will be required to assign a template author who will control the different styling available for a page or section of the website. These updates to the template itself are rather minimal in terms of everyday work.
  • Use Experience Fragments where possible. Although the general use case for experience fragments is for multi-channel distribution, they can also be effectively used throughout the site to populate content in one area at one time instead of updating content manually in multiple areas. This can save excessive time and effort and will free up the authoring team to work on more specific and rich experiences.
  • Create richer experiences. By utilizing the 80/20 rule (per above), an organization can utilize specific CSS and back-end development for select experiences instead of common maintenance updates.
  • Opt for a scalable foundation and quick rebrand. Style systems that are executed based upon a modern implementation can allow for an efficient rebranding across one’s platform. Updating wide sectors of content through changing CSS skins allows for quick testing and validation and increases the experiential quality of one’s site with a direct impact on ROI.

Organization modeling

There is no singular answer to what the staffing models of an AEM Sites implementation should look like. However, there are archetypes you should follow for a basic standard.

AEM SItes: basic run & operate

Technical role Technical responsibilities Business responsibilities Business role
CSS Developer
  • Web development (CSS or front-end)
  • Reuse components
  • Creating experience artifacts through repurpose or net new
  • Business owner of solution
  • Creates maintenance tasks and enhancements
  • Works with BU on marrying technical and strategic visions
Product Owner
Back end developer
  • Deep experiences not done through simple front-end CSS
  • Architectural oversight
  • Dynamic integrations/align with Product owner on strategic objectives
  • Assist content authors
  • Governance role
  • Coordinates launches, manages macro edits
Admin Author
Release Manager
  • Release management
  • Code deploys
  • Current Customer Success Engineer
  • Applies content (including pre-created styles)
  • Tiered ownership
  • Delivers and communicates issues and concerns as they arise with CSM
Content Author

Potential pitfalls

Here are a few potential pitfalls to avoid:

  • Not placing audience needs first - Answer the following questions for everything that is designed and developed:

    • Does this meet customers’ needs?
    • Can it be operational and efficient?
    • Are we maximizing organic reach?
  • Is the experience accessible for everyone?

  • Viewing solutions in a siloed manner. For example, focusing solelyon the technical aspect of AEM implementation will not realize the full business benefits. Instead, we recommendlooking at business use cases and scenarios, then pivoting to architecture and design, as this will provide a greater view of AEM capabilities. Anurandha Pentareddy from Adobe shares: “One thing I advise is to look at your value objectives up front for the platform you are implementing.”

For a more in-depth discussion of content velocity, listen to this one-hour panel discussion featuring Monique Misrahi (T-Mobile), Amy Bergstrom (Deloitte), and Adobe’s Anuradha Pentareddy.

Learn more about strategy and thought leadership at the Customer Success hub.

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