Adobe Experience Cloud
Adobe's welcoming image at its technology exhibition hall during its Adobe Summit last week at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas. PHOTO: Dom Nicastro

LAS VEGAS — Adobe defended its cloud-hosting capabilities for web content management and the integration story of its marketing cloud, telling CMSWire it embraces microservices and APIs for development and integrations.

Tim Waddell, director of product marketing for advertising solutions at Adobe, told CMSWire during last week’s Adobe Summit at the Venetian Hotel here that Adobe focuses on integrating its acquisitions.

“We’ve had our struggles and we’ve learned from our mistakes here and there," Waddell said. 

"But the focus is on making sure advertising works with analytics, for instance, and how truly simple or turnkey it is for a customer to do it. That’s been the No. 1 thing. It’s, ‘Hey, I buy the story completely but just make it work.’ We’ve had to push hard on that to make sure we’re truly doing the right thing for the customer.”

The centerpiece of the Adobe Marketing Cloud is Adobe Experience Manager (AEM) Sites, Adobe’s web content management system and the “backbone for driving digital experiences,” according to Chris Nguyen, group product marketing manager for Adobe Experience Manager.

Nguyen said customers want a combination of hosting and deployment. Adobe embraces this by providing flexible architectures, he added.

Chris Nguyen
Chris Nguyen

“There are certain things,” Nguyen added, “a customer may want to significantly customize such as a CMS.”

Adobe customers may want certain parts hosted as managed services and certain parts as a Software-as-a-Service-based (SaaS) solution.

They can find flexibility through microservices, an architectural style that is an "approach to developing a single application as a suite of small services, each running in its own process and communicating with lightweight mechanisms, often an HTTP resource API," according to Martin Fowler.

“The idea,” Nguyen said, “is to combine applications to create a composite application. Microsoft lends some advantages in terms of things that they can do from their infrastructure.”

Microsoft Cures All?

Nguyen, asked by CMSWire to respond to a reported “weakness” in its cloud offering, said AEM Sites will benefit from the new Microsoft Azure partnership because it gives customers hosting flexibility for managed services. Adobe also deploys on Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Nguyen said Azure deploys infrastructure in 38 regional data centers, while AWS includes “availability zones” that feature multiple data centers within regions. Adobe is not pushing one type of deployment over another, he added.

About 80 percent of customers last year alone purchased Adobe’s managed services offering. They do not necessarily ask for a complete SaaS solution, he added.

Ann Lewnes
Ann Lewnes

“Microsoft is clearly a very well-suited partner for Adobe,” Adobe CMO Ann Lewnes told CMSWire in an interview at Adobe Summit. “They have a huge footprint in the enterprise, and we’ve partnered with them in many areas for years. This is a big announcement for us to go in with their customers, and for them to come in with our customers. And it extends just beyond the cloud to Dynamics and Power BI.”

Adobe's Cloud Offering Lags

Tony White, CEO of Boston-based Ars Logica, still sees Adobe’s cloud offering as the prime area the company lags competitors. Forrester agreed in its January WCM Wave report. Hippo led the way with a perfect 5.0, the top rating. Acquia scored 4.0. Episerver, Crownpeak and SDL all earned 3.0. Adobe and Sitecore each earned 1.0 — a weak rating.

White said Adobe’s architecture is not API-first nor microservices-based, telling CMSWire the architecture modules are highly dependent on each other.

“And if you don’t subscribe to their managed services,” White added, “you really can’t leverage in the cloud.”

We reported last fall one Adobe CQ user’s move to a component-driven system, including a move to the open source CMS platform Hippo and the open source search platform Elasticsearch.

“Many of Adobe’s core CMS feature sets are now a commodity,” Mark Grannan, Forrester analyst and Wave WCM report author, told CMSWire. “And as a result being a premium product within that category can be a burden because your premium price point drags the whole conversation down. Folks look elsewhere for a cheaper, lightweight offering.”

An Adobe official said the company does not see this trend.

Adobe Partner Frenzy

Adobe made $1.63 billion from the Adobe Marketing Cloud last year.

And there's no shortage of kudos for AEM Sites. It's routinely the leader in the major industry reports on WCM. Adobe was a leader in leader in 17 digital marketing analyst reports in 2016, according to Adobe.

Gartner WCM analysts called it “cutting-edge technology” in its Magic Quadrant on WCM published last September. Forrester in its Wave report cites strengths such as embedding digital asset management (DAM), analytics and targeting features by default, supplemented with modular add-ons.

Adobe has a lot of tech to support. It has 10 components in its marketing, analytics and advertising clouds alone. Adobe has more than 3,800 partners, including 10 of the world’s largest agencies and eight of the 12 largest system integrators.

To boost its integration story, Adobe announced Launch, its tag management solution built on the Adobe Cloud Platform to allow third-party developers to build their own integrations with Adobe Experience Cloud, which encompasses all Adobe's enterprise clouds.

It also announced new enhancements to Adobe I/O, its cross-cloud developer portal that includes new APIs for developers access to Creative Cloud assets and events. 

Adobe Exchange, which supports add-ons, also includes new partners such as AppDynamics, Dun & Bradstreet and Mastercard.

But do more partners signify more integration challenges?

Ray Wang
Ray Wang

Ray Wang, principal analyst and founder of Cupertino, Calif.-based Constellation Research, told CMSWire in an interview at Adobe Summit the company’s seen a partner feeding frenzy.

“The big thing is three years back the integration wasn’t that good,” Wang told CMSWire. “They have done a better job now at integrating common objects and common models and are trying to get there.”

Keeping up with Acquisitions

Adobe’s acquired technology for its enterprise marketing suite so quickly it led to integration challenges. A company long known for its consumer technology had to quickly learn to build enterprise software for businesses through acquisitions like Day Software (AEM, 2010), Omniture (analytics, 2009) and Neolane (campaigns, 2013).

Wang’s seen many partners drop others to come to Adobe because there is “a lot more opportunity to build bigger projects.”

“We see Adobe,” Wang added, “trying to improve integration because they’re building integration exchanges.”

Skepticism, Praise

Jeriad Zogbhy, managing director and global lead for personalization for Adobe partner Accenture Interactive, agrees, saying Adobe is “one of the best” at integration.

“It’s hard as hell to do,” Zogbhy told CMSWire about integrations in general in an interview at Adobe Summit. “A few years ago people were complaining that they acquired all these things but integration wasn’t quite there. But they had the vision. You see a lot of companies buy this stuff but it sits in silos and it’s pretty poor. They go for where their next gap is and try to fill it. But Adobe’s vision in the stack is fantastic, and integration is always a thing that continues to move forward.”

Adobe recognized the significance of digital experience to businesses well ahead of the market, and had the capacity to deliver on that vision at scale, said Andrew Frank, Gartner vice president and distinguished analyst.

“They’ve built up a great deal of momentum and loyalty in the creative community and leveraged that to reinforce its position on the marketing side of WCM and DX,” he added.

However, Frank added, there's still a gap between the ideal vision of a simple system to deliver one-to-one marketing at scale across all channels and devices, and addresses the complexities involved.

“I think all the marketing cloud providers could improve in managing client expectations,” he said in an interview before Summit.

Customers should be skeptical about plans for Marketing Cloud integration, according to Tony Byrne, founder and CEO of Olney, Md.-based Real Story Group.

“Adobe has written checks here in the past that they weren’t able to cash,” Byrne told CMSWire.

Implementation Complexity

Carl Agers
Carl Agers

AEM Sites naturally comes with complexity, integrators and analysts told us. It’s known for deployments with huge shops, such as T-Mobile, which touted its Adobe Marketing Cloud case study on the main stage at the Venetian last week.

Nguyen noted Adobe very much has a mid-sized story for AEM; 45 percent of AEM clients are mid-sized companies, which Adobe defines as those with between 500 to 1,000 employees and $200 million or below in revenue.

“Anything that purports to be able to do the kinds of things most brands try to do with any experience platform comes with a level complexity,” said Carl Agers, senior vice president of marketing services for Adobe integrator Hero Digital, based in San Francisco. “You don’t have to be in this space for about a week to figure out its complex.”

Some businesses show a lack of respect the talent level — and infrastructure — it takes to implement and maintain Adobe AEM, Agers told CMSWire in an interview at Adobe Summit. Ars Logica's White backed that contention, saying customers "drastically underestimate" implementation, deployment and maintenance of AEM.

Gartner said in its Magic Quadrant report last September some Adobe's WCM customers fail to realize the advertised benefits of the high-end features, due to associated customization complexities.

“You need real architects that understand real systems and real DevOps processes to be successful,” Agers said. “People see these amazing experiences at these showcases and they get a directive from upper management to get this up and running with an artificial date.”

People often mistake page versus component thinking with a system like AEM, building pages with hundreds of templates without thinking through a component strategy.

“Then you see a spiraling of ridiculous code and code base," Agers said, "that is difficult to manage."