There's no two ways about it: Your technical team needs to participate in your marketing plans from the get-go -- that is, if you want your Web Engagement Management (WEM) strategy to be successful.
Remember the first time you logged into your shiny new Web site’s CMS? The confusion and almost overwhelming feeling of dread that came over you was probably not the experience you wanted. In today’s Web 2.0 world of CMS, social media, blogs, online communities and more, the idea of Web Engagement Management has arisen in an attempt to harness and unify the seemingly infinite number of marketing engagement tools.
An oft forgotten crucial element of this strategy is the technologists -- they hold the key to creating an intuitive experience and leveraging the proper technologies to make business users’ and marketing managers’ lives, er, manageable. Engaging your technologist from the beginning of your WEM strategy, through to implementation allows you to optimize all elements of your engagement strategy seamlessly.
Engineering a Technology Experience
How does a technologist fit into the world of user centric design? In this author’s opinion, prominently is probably enough of a descriptor.
But the technologist has to redefine that role as more than simply implementing the platforms and tools in order to realize the intended Web experience. The technologist must be fully involved throughout the process from definition to realization.
The technologist should understand the business needs and objectives, work closely with the Information Architects and Designers to align solution design with solution implementation -- which effectively includes defining technology use cases, determining appropriate tool-sets, architecting and implementing a technology experience that suits those use cases and tool-sets.
The ability to realize proper User Experience Design is reliant on the proper planning, analysis, and understanding that the technologist applies to the solution at hand.
Crafting the Technology Experience
While not an exhaustive list of what a technologist does, all of the above listed elements, with the possible exception of the last one, should be familiar to anyone who has ever been the technical lead on an implementation project.
What is a technology experience and why is it important?
The public website, intranet, or application being built has hopefully undergone extensive analysis and understanding of strategic content placement as well as user research, user testing, usability analysis, and the exercise of creating use cases to determine its effectiveness and usability.
But what about the usability of the tool-sets from the business side? Did the technologist take the time to build a system that is easy to use and simple to update for the marketing team that manages the site on a daily basis? What steps were taken to ensure it is flexible and maintainable over time?
Many of us have dealt with difficult systems. You know the ones, they're a set of cobbled-together services and differing administrative interfaces -- and they're no damn fun to work with. On top of that, the implementation of an amazing user experience can be very difficult to maintain if not thought through carefully.
How many objects must be touched, published, updated, and approved before a simple home page update can be published? Is the system that shows those amazing data sheets on the front end super slow to input data, then collate, and preview prior to publishing for the public?
How long does it take to fix a typo on your website? These are all general questions that must be answered in order to provide a technical experience commensurate with the overall user experience being offered on the front-end for public consumption.
A simple example of this type of thinking is Single Sign-On (SSO). Companies spend enormous amounts of time and money investing in the ease-of-use that comes from an SSO user experience. Not forcing your site users to sign into the many disparate systems that make up your seamless web experience has shown to be necessary for many reasons.
What about your internal business users?
Many companies take the extra steps to invest in systems like LDAP or Active Directory that offer an SSO experience when logging into company networks or computers. But often, extending this to Content Management Systems, Customer Relationship Management tools, Analytics, Search Engines, and Social Networking platforms goes ignored or is undervalued and left to future, never-to-be funded phases.
Selecting tools that have SSO plug-ins or even requesting more integration from the vendors that have these types of SSO capabilities is important to your internal business users as well. Options like OpenID could be used to mitigate the distaste of having so many logins, but only for some sites and applications.
The trick to making these decisions is to understand when it is appropriate to use these types of technologies and when to stay away from them. Your geeks are essential.
Facilitating the Business User
Having the up front understanding of the different needs is the first step. Selecting the appropriate technology or planning the architecture that addresses the needs is the next -- often forgotten, but key, step in the process. This is where the technologist has to become more than an implementer and step up as the voice for the everyday or casual business user.
The requirements and constraints around system integration and implementation aren’t always sexy, but they should definitely have something to say around user interaction with the systems themselves. One of the first questions I ask when someone wants a new feature or tool is: How will you use it? This will help refine your selection process and thoughts on how it will be integrated with your overall platform or product suite.
Reality must come in to play.
As a technologist, we’re often faced with product suites and selection criteria that are completely out of our control. In other cases, budget and schedule limits restrict our ability to select the best tools for the job, or to customize the solution for a more intuitive technology experience. Even in those cases, any influence we can bring to bear will have lasting impacts.
In the end, technologists need to be aware that the decisions made in selection of the software or tool-sets, implementation, and architecture, all have a direct result in the usability and success of the project.
In many cases, entire sites and engagement strategies fail or deliver sub-optimal results due to technologists not looking through business user’s eyes and consequently not acting to facilitate their critical daily operations.
Bring your geeks along for the WEM adventure, it's not only more fun -- it's the only way you'll succeed.