Last month, in a report on “The Integration Imperative of Digital Experiences,” Forrester analyst Mark Grannan suggested the top three barriers organizations face in delivering experiences to customers are organizational rather than technological.

There are four very big words in that title, all of which are, to varying degrees, metaphorical. Not comprehending these four words is, in itself, an organizational rather than technological barrier.

(Editor's Note: Mark Grannan will be speaking at CMSWire's DX Summit 2015 conference on Nov. 3 in Chicago.)


First, the big one.

The biggest mistake that “thinkers” make with respect to the concept of “experience” is to presume it refers to anything businesses may be producing now.

Second biggest, therefore, is the notion that “digital experience” is the portable version of “experience,” not unlike the boxed home game that “Jeopardy!” used to award as a consolation prize.

Unfortunately, there are multiple definitions of “digital experience” (DX) in current use. The most effective definition of the concept I know is this:

Digital experience is the principal criterion that customers use to judge the value of engaging with an organization electronically.

DX is not the interface. It is not the content. It is not a database or a CMS or an ERP, nor the products of any of these. It’s not a platform. 

It’s not the verbiage you’re reading from me now.

It is the culmination of what customers take away from their exchanges with businesses: their inspirations, their motivations, their incentives to act, purchase and invest.

(Don’t agree? Email me.)

Failure to comprehend the true nature of “experience” could be the cause of the problems that organizations in Grannan’s study are facing. In Forrester’s discussions with 127 decision makers in 31 organizations, the firm learned that these companies tend to attack the problem of delivering “mobile experiences” by first investigating how their existing technologies, and their management, may be bypassed.

Then they tend to consider whether to invest in an “end-to-end solution” that, on the surface, would appear to replace their existing technology, but which in practice may end up sitting alongside it in parallel.

It’s logic like this from which silos spring forth.


“What we need here is to up-level the conversation on integration,” Grannan said in an interview with CMSWire.

“This isn’t plugging systems into each other. This is unifying the organization around the customer. It’s a much more strategic use of the word, and its implication ripples down through multiple layers of the organization, down into technology and especially down into data.”

There is a part of the IT industry whose cornerstone is integration — at least, that’s the word used for it. But that’s data integration — the process of taking the products of various databases, and the applications that use them (such as CMS) and enabling them to be accessed through a single source.

As Grannan made very clear, that’s not what he’s talking about here.

“Part of this miscommunication is actually symptomatic of what the industry is doing,” he said, “trying to use the old version of integration — our means of plugging systems into each other to make stuff run. That’s actually a little bit outmoded in and of itself.”

The integration Grannan’s referring to is more of a strategy, addressing the issues that Forrester’s clients say they’re having with initiating, if you will, digital initiatives.

That strategy, he suggests, begins with businesses’ core value propositions. The systems built around those propositions should be constructed in such a way as to “embrace integration,” rather than concentrate on maintaining their own self-serving data stores.

The obstacle Forrester clients say they’re facing is shaped like a monolith. There would be an appropriate saying here about something that walks, talks and quacks like a monolith, except that it’s too monolithic to be doing even those things.

Monolithic applications are constructed with the notion that they’re the very first inhabitants of their own brave, new worlds. Thus Grannan suggests, vendors who address customers’ interests with the aim to sell an “end-to-end solution” are actually trying to push their monoliths into places they’re not designed to fit.

“This new mentality would ripple down from a kind of integrated customer journey,” said Grannan, pointing to the type of integration he truly means here: one where the customer perceives the business and its brand as a single, holistic entity, regardless of the digital platform the customer uses to engage with them.

Learning Opportunities

Since platforms evolve independently, but also since people also evolve independently, it becomes necessary for businesses to implement flexible, reusable components, as opposed to “end-to-end solutions.” “Components designed from the get-go,” said Grannan, “to work heterogeneously.”


It is one thing to say that content, or the systems that manage content, are “designed around the customer journey.” If we’re being too literal here, we forget that customers, like every other type of people (except for certain political candidates), evolve.

“In the instance of banking,” explained Grannan, “you’re going to have a lot of applications that are a decade or more old, and that are not going anywhere soon.

“We now need to take those systems — maybe a loan application approval service — and expose them in a way that is consumable for a mobile app and a website and a kiosk and a sales rep app, to all consume, so that we can enable self-service.”

Grannan is discussing systems designed to fulfill a customer’s journey, not by mapping itself point-to-point like a flowchart, but rather by exposing content in the abstract sense.

This is a difficult concept to picture, especially for folks whose experience with digital services stems from centralized knowledge management, or folks with “CMS” in their names.

But the beauty of the API, as an element of this new architecture, is that it decouples the provider of service from the consumer of it, making different modes of consumption possible.

Imagine how simple the adoption of mobile content delivery would have been had it been a matter of re-factoring how clients (consumers) would rearrange that same content. Web management systems designed around the customer journey, circa 1999, would not be the monolithic obstacles they are today.

“These technologies are adopted with a singular use case, or set of use cases, in mind,” said Grannan, “and they’re built and executed that way. If you look at it with that narrow lens, they’re a success.

“But if you look at it from, ‘I’m going to go pick up my mobile phone,’ and expect to be able to cancel that stock trade just as I’d be able to on my desktop app, or if I was going to call my stockbroker, I can’t, because the technology was only designed to work with a web front end, or only designed with a customer service rep in mind.”

Being “focused on the customer journey” is a nice thought, at least at first, when we hear it from vendors. The proper role of technology is to enable customers and businesses to take that journey wherever they need it to go, whenever they need it.


This Nov. 3 and 4, at CMSWire's DX Summit in Chicago, we are hosting two full days of digital experience discussion and introspection.

DX Summit 2015 will feature Forrester’s Mark Grannan, plus numerous other industry leaders in the DX space including: eBay Senior Director Tami Cannizzaro, Nielsen Company Director of Globalization Bruno Herrmann, Narrative Builders CEO Deb Lavoy, IDC Vice President of Content Melissa Webster, and Marriott’s director of digital data strategy Meghan Walsh.

And we hope to feature you as well. We promise not to have built a monolithic customer journey around what we think you need to hear. Part of engaging the customer, after all, is listening.

(The Forrester report, "The Integration Imperative of Digital Experiences," is available for a fee.) 

DX Digest is a CMSWire feature that will explore the concept of digital experience and share insights from the experts affiliated with it in advance of the DX Summit.

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Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by  fauxto_digit.