Arjé Cahn, CTO of BloomReach

Arjé Cahn: Use Machine Learning to Humanize Digital Experiences

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Hippo co-founder and current CTO of BloomReach Experience Arje Cahn discusses the changes in CMS over the years

Over the years, Arjé Cahn has observed a cyclical pattern in how the content management system market responds to change and the emergence of new technologies. Often, the initial response results in the creation of a new system silo which only later becomes part of a larger unified CMS.

“You see the same things coming back over and over again,” Cahn, CTO of BloomReach Experience said. “You see the market changing and evolving and going full circle again.”

Like CMS Déjà Vu All Over Again?

Cahn gives the example of the proliferation of mobile CMSs as a means to get content onto smartphones after the debut of Apple’s iPhone. “The problem was you ended up with two silos — Web CMS and mobile CMS,” he said.

He sees the same issue happening today with the appearance of virtual reality CMSs and chatbot CMSs. “What people are struggling with is truly understanding the importance of content for their business and how and why to make content the central point of their business strategy,” Cahn said.

Cahn first began working with content management systems while studying artificial intelligence at the University of Amsterdam in the late 1990s. He built a mini-CMS in conjunction with a stop motion animation app he’d created. The CMS and the team Cahn worked with on the project formed the basis for what became Hippo. Cahn co-founded the open-source CMS vendor in 1999 and served as Hippo’s chief technology officer until it was acquired in 2016 by BloomReach.

Cahn will be speaking at CMSWire’s Digital Customer Experience (DX) Summit taking place Nov. 13 through 15 at the Radisson Blu Aqua hotel in Chicago. He will give a session titled “The Modern Digital Experience Tech Stack” on Nov. 14

We spoke with him about becoming part of BloomReach, “head-optional” CMSs and his thoughts on which organizations are providing great digital experiences.

AI Can Help Bring Relevant Content to Consumers

CMSWire: It’s now a year since BloomReach acquired Hippo, how have the two companies and their cultures gelled together?

Cahn: We (at Hippo) were looking for the next step to move from being a relatively small Dutch company into a really big thing. The idea was to achieve that via AI and machine learning and I was building a team to do that. BloomReach came and said they had a lot of that technology already, so why not come together?

In terms of culture, our values matched. We had separately come up with five core values on each side — Hippo and BloomReach — and they were super similar. There was a clear cultural fit.

As a customer, as a human being, it’s become almost impossible to understand all that information that’s out there. So we need machines to help us figure out the meaning of content, what’s relevant to me and what’s not, and to find that content. AI can help bring relevant content to that consumer. What happened when we merged is being able to use machine learning as part of content delivery.

CMSWire: In May at the BloomReach Connect user conference, you said: “A great digital experience should actually be anti-digital. It should feel more analog. It should feel real.” Could you expand more on what you meant?

Cahn: That was really about my personal experience with the Harry website as the first Harry Potter movie came out. There were some games on there, you could send a postcard. The website was very well produced and beautiful. The feeling was of no obstructions — it was like one fluid experience.

Sometimes, I miss that if I look at the digital world with the continual stream of interruptions you experience today. I want to go back to that feeling when all the distractions are taken away and the experience feels more real and more human.

In BloomReach Experience, my aim to apply machine learning to take away the distractions so what’s left is the core of what you’re doing — giving the end user the right content in the right form at the right time.

CMSWire: In terms of digital experiences, which companies or organizations would you offer as good examples for their peers to emulate?

Learning Opportunities

Cahn: The companies I see that do very well are those which invest in their own digital teams and digital experience. What makes all the difference between companies that succeed and those that don’t are the ones who have have a chief digital officer or someone else — a CIO or a CMO — with clear digital expertise. They also see digital as a highly strategic aspect of their business.

I was just with one of our customers, FC Bayern Munich, a German soccer team which has recently expanded worldwide. They have 44 million fans, with their largest fan base in China. It’s just extraordinary. They’re totally focused on digital experience. Somehow, they are becoming more of a media company, while also almost transforming into a software company. We talked about a hackathon they’re doing. A soccer team hosting a hackathon — it blows my mind!

The level of detail and care that they show for digital experiences and elements is phenomenal. For instance, when they crop images taken on the field during matches, the football is so often at the bottom of the image where it may be obscured by a text caption that overlays it. We discussed how to use algorithms to determine the location of the ball in an image so text can be overlaid so it doesn’t distract from what the fans want to see — the ball and the direction it’s going in.

CMSWire: You recently laid out the case in favor of “head-optional” content management systems. Why you do prefer this approach over “headless” CMS?

Cahn: I think the term “headless” isn’t great, it’s the wrong analogy. Call it content as a service (CaaS) — that’s the headless equivalent. I very much believe in CaaS but the problem is it’s just like mobile CMSs in the past: CaaS is essentially a missing feature for many of the large CMS suite vendors. With the new headless CMS vendors, it’s just the same thing again, it’s a new silo people are putting content into.

Think about the developer at one end of a spectrum and the content marketer or author at the other end. In between the two extremes is a slider bar, which represents how much control you want to give to the IT side or to the end user.

With CaaS, the slider bar is all the way to the left to the developer side. We’ve always tried to put the bar in the center to give the end user maximum flexibility and control over what they’re creating digitally, while providing maximum flexibility for the developer as well. It’s extremely important that both sides are treated equally seriously.

CMSWire: What has been your best vacation so far? If you were encouraging someone else to do the same trip, what would you recommend they see?

Cahn: Since I’m spending a lot of my time in California this year, I took the whole family, rented a big RV and traveled around the state. We also went all around Oregon and had the opportunity to see the solar eclipse — my wife is a bit of an astronomy geek.

On the way back from Oregon, we were driving along the coast of California. You have the redwoods and all magnificent forests we don’t have in Europe. Nature in America is just incredible. Sequoia National Park is really phenomenal, just looking up at those massive trees. So, I’d advise someone doing the same trip to go and see those thousand-year-old trees and feel really humble.

Editor's note: Learn more about the DX Summit here.