Arjen van den Akker is the product marketing director at Maidenhead, UK-based SDL, a global language and content software provider. His background includes experience in electrical and computer engineering and marketing. He's been in the IT industry for more than 25 years working for a series of international B2B software vendors.

Van den Akker believes microservices and a "best-of-breed ecosystem of interoperable MarTech solutions" are the clear winners in the digital experience space. A microservices architecture enables web content management (WCM) systems to act as the content backbone in such an ecosystem, linking up to any delivery tier — web, mobile apps, kiosks, e-commerce systems, etc.

CMSWire's DX Summit Kicks Off

Van den Akker will be speaking tomorrow at CMSWire's DX Summit conference, which kicked off today at the Radisson Blu Aqua hotel in Chicago with pre-conference workshops. 

His session will focus on the headless CMS and website delivery conundrum.

"We do not recommend a purely headless setup because enterprises often need to manage dozens or even hundreds of websites, providing day-to-day editors with capabilities such as WYSIWYG editing and personalization," van den Akker told CMSWire. 

"Our web delivery stack uses the same microservices to get the best of both worlds: regular website management and headless REST APIs to connect to other delivery channels."

CMSWire talked with van den Akker in advance for a preview of his thoughts.

How to Connect With Customers

Nicastro: Why are even large enterprises still struggling with digital experience?

Van den Akker: Technology is often not the main issue. Internal politics, departmental silos, the unwillingness to give up control or budgets and the wrong internal KPIs often are. Connecting the complete customer journey starts with internal alignment in the company, acknowledging there is only one ultimate goal: a well-served customer. Larger organizations especially struggle to execute on this. Smaller, nimble players and start-ups usually get it right as they don’t suffer from decades of organizational legacy.

Nicastro: You say organizations should construct an experience by combining content, customer data and in-the-moment data. But how do they do this? 

Van den Akker: The age-old adage applies here: start small. Quite often simple changes can have a massive impact. The trick is to find out where you maximize impact with the smallest effort. If you think about if from a customer perspective, try to identify where you’re dropping the ball in terms of understanding them. Go to your own website and consider you’re a new visitor. Where do you experience a hiccup in the customer journey? It could be as simple as having to fill out a form every time again and again when you want to download something. Perhaps the website doesn’t recognize your browsing device properly, or ignores your locale — presenting the wrong language content. 

An example in a broader context: ordering something on the website and then still receiving emails that promote that same product really puts me off. If you look at more advanced personalization, then accessing customer data is usually not the problem. Having enough content to truly tailor the experience to the individual is — and realistically most companies don’t have the editorial teams to create all that content. 

The exception is companies with lots of products, videos or other assets that can be tailored to the individual, such as Spotify, Netflix, Amazon, etc. They are in the best position to contextualize the experience based on the fact they have ample customer data and they can use their products as building blocks to craft a really personal experience. My advice when it comes to personalization is: start with language. If you don’t speak to your customer in the right language the rest of your efforts are pointless.

Nicastro: How important is it to be fast and agile today?

Learning Opportunities

Van den Akker: Companies need to be solid and agile. Their web presence needs to be global and local. Their message needs to be consistent and personal. These dichotomies differentiate a truly great digital experience from a one-size-fits-all approach. It’s complex to get there, but it’s achievable. However it requires a different mind-set. Companies should accept it’s complex, and then navigate the complexity rather than wanting to go for something that’s “easy to use.” The former will lead to sustainable competitive advantage. The latter will always end up in all sorts of compromises and subpar experiences.

Nicastro: While the cloud is on most practitioners’ minds today, problems can emerge when different groups in your organization try move to the cloud on their own. What kinds of problems?

Van den Akker: Marketing departments are moving to the cloud because they think IT is too slow in fulfilling their business requirements. Clearly adopting a hotchpotch of cloud-based systems leads to all sorts of issues: systems are not connected (leading to process inefficiencies); security and compliance may be compromised (does marketing know in which country their customer data is stored?); initiatives and costs are duplicated (one team uses Box, the other team Dropbox), etc. 

IT plays a pivotal role in the process of cloud adoption and should position themselves as trusted advisor rather than as a team that competes with cloud-based initiatives. If marketing goes to IT for advice and a validation of their choices, they can work together to create a solution that works across the board.

Nicastro: What advancements has SDL made with its Digital Experience Accelerator for Java and .NET, and what were the original goals when it launched two years ago?

Van den Akker: The Digital Experience Accelerator (DXA) is an open source community initiative with the goal of overcoming two common problems in any enterprise web project: 1. repetition of a lot of basic setup and web app development tasks; and 2. making the right choices (based on years of best practices) in terms of how to best deploy the technology to create consistent quality across implementations and make it easier to support.

Since launch, the DXA has been deployed as the basis for a number of very large web projects and we have seen a dramatic acceleration in implementation time (a large Chinese airline went live on our platform in less than 16 weeks). Because it’s an extensible framework we also use it to build extensions to third party systems, like our e-commerce framework that links up SDL Web to Salesforce Demandware and SAP Hybris.

Nicastro: What is your favorite city and why?

Van den Akker: I love Lisbon! It has such a relaxed atmosphere. Wandering around the areas of Alfama, Bairro Alto and Chiado is an amazing experience. And there’s nothing like enjoying live Fado music while having a drink or some delicious food (the inevitable cod fish) on a nice terrace.

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