Kerry Bellerose the Senior VP of Product Management at Sitecore (news, site) led this technical discussion of the engagement automation features in the newly announced Customer Engagement Platform at Sitecore's Dreamcore conference here in Boston.
Kelly's session was ostensibly on the technical track but, in a real-world example of how business-user-friendly Sitecore is making their freshly branded Customer Engagement Platform (CEP), the bulk of the session was spent on the non-technical configuration, tracking and reporting options available in Sitecore, with a small wander into the technical weeds at the end of the session.
Engagement Automation, Per Sitecore
Engagement automation empowers business users to configure automatic actions based on visitor behavior. Bellerose jumped into what this means in the context of CEP.
The process of engagement automation starts with a user-friendly flowchart where the business user will define what's called "their engagement plans". An engagement plan flowchart consists of the following elements:
- State -- A state is defined by a simple name and description. A State holds a collection of visitors which have been added to that state either through an action (clicking on an ad, signing up for a webinar or even by not doing something for a period of time). Visitors can also be added to a State manually or programmatically.
- Conditions -- An engagement plan can have multiple conditions. A condition is just a test that produces either a true or false response based on a rule. If the condition is true then the plan either goes on to the next condition or performs one or more actions. CEP comes out-of-the-box with approximately 80 rules in 12 different categories that can be used to create conditions.
- Actions -- Once the conditions of the plan are met then the engagement plan proceeds to the action. The actions taken can include any number of things. Customized emails with the collected visitor data can be fired, website content can be personalized to fit the visitor's state, data could be sent to a 3rd party CRM system. The options are many.
All of these elements are built visually using the flowchart system, as well as easy-to-manage "Outlook-style" wizards and menus. It's all very non-technical. If you're comfortable setting a filter in Outlook or building a dead-simple flowchart in Visio, you'll be right at home here. It really is a massive improvement in function and usability over Sitecore's earlier Online Marketing Suite (OMS) v1.0.
After digging into the details of constructing and using engagement plans in the CEP Bellerose backed out a few levels to give a quick survey of the new tools available in the platform:
- Marketing Center -- Gives a tree-based view, familiar from other Sitecore tools, of all the defined engagement plans and allows the user to dig into the details of each in a simple way.
- Engagement Automation Supervisor -- As the name says, this is where the business user goes to check running engagement plans and determine if they're working properly or start a new plan based on the data collected from another plan. Also, the tool allows for testing of engagement plans in pre-production scenarios where you want to test the plan but not yet release it into the wild.
- Engagement Automation Monitor -- Essentially a read-only version of the Engagement Automation Supervisor, giving users access to the engagement data without allowing changes to be made.
Digging into the Code
Now Bellerose switched to more technical ground, looking at both the code and the data storage model -- critical for a system that generates and relies on a large visitor and interaction data set. We won't go into too much of the detail here other than to mention that the CEP and the underpinnings of engagement automation share a development DNA common to the other parts of Sitecore:
- The API and internal system pipelines are completely open to developer modification, allowing for many possibilities for customization.
- The CEP leverages Sitecore's configurable content types (Templates) for management and storage of engagement plan data. So, the engagement plan data can be accessed via the API in the same ways that any other content within the system can be accessed.
CEP is available as a preview now to members of the Sitecore Developer Network. The official release of the new software will occur on June 8, 2011 at Sitecore's London Dreamcore conference and be released as Sitecore 6.5.
The Customer Engagement Platform is a significant step forward for Sitecore and much of that has to do with a consistent focus on business utility and general usability for business users. Customer engagement automation is at the core of this new strategy.
In the following video Sitecore's SVP of Product Marketing, Darren G, discusses the company's customer engagement strategy and some of the highlights of the latest release.