DX Leaders interview with AppFusions CEO Ellen Feaheny

For Ellen Feaheny, the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in 2009 helped to crystallize the importance of providing integrated experiences across technologies to solve the “connected enterprise” problems she saw many of her consulting clients encounter.

“The ‘work more openly and collaboratively’ theme was growing,” she said. “Physical data and interactivity between silos was required.”

Feaheny is currently CEO of AppFusions, a packaged enterprise integrations provider. She co-founded AppFusions in April 2010 to build a team to work on solutions for integration challenges across the customer digital experience and the digital workplace. The aim was to move away from integrations which were “one-offs” to a scenario where “common integration patterns could drive a better model” — one of easier integrations.

Learn From What Didn’t Work

Prior to AppFusions, Feaheny was a self-described “roving project manager/technical writer consultant.” She dived into contracting early as a way of gaining more responsibility and ended up juggling two to five contracts at a time, many with “fire-fighting-need-yesterday delivery expectations.” Feaheny found the speed and pressure exhilarating and picked up on similarities and differences across the organizations she worked for.

“But also, I gained a unique insight into what didn’t work in many product designs or environments,” she said. “Most notably, organizations were growing systems, data, and processes at very fast rates (nothing compared with today!) — but in most cases, the systems did not integrate, had clunky user experiences, and data synchronization and process redundancy was pervasive.”

Over time, AppFusions has evolved its models to meet the needs of changing technologies, most notably the proliferation of cloud and SaaS tools. Then, in 2017, the company developed AlohaDXP, a scalable integration digital experience platform aimed at all kinds of users “from CEO to warehouse worker.”

AppFusions is one of the sponsors of CMSWire’s DX Summit taking place Nov. 12 to 14 at the Radisson Blu Aqua hotel in Chicago.

We spoke with Feaheny about emerging digital experience (DX) technologies, the importance of an integration strategy and of adopting a single end-to-end DX platform design.

Take a Holistic Approach to Digital Experience

CMSWire: Which of the significant technology changes you’ve witnessed in the digital customer experience world so far should customers pay attention to?

Feaheny: The biggest technology evolutions that need to have a strong consideration in any modern digital experience system are:

  • Cloud and container infrastructures.
  • SaaS “shadow IT” or hybrid systems’ integration app support.
  • Business intelligence.
  • Machine learning.
  • Mobile supports (as a requirement).
  • Root API extensibility supports.

There are others — but without these six, well then the others do not matter much. These are some of the many key “devil in the details” areas that are too often minimized in one way or another.

Admittedly, this list is also tricky, requiring niche expertise in each area, but despite that, it is a requirements roadmap list for just about every modern IT organization today.

CMSWire: What’s your take on the current state of emerging technologies such as machine learning, AI, bots and sophisticated personalization?

Feaheny: Personalization in any serious experience platform is no longer a “nice to have.” There is not a single personalization feature that a platform vendor can implement in a platform, and then “call it done.”

Each one of these technologies has their own nuanced characteristics, but, it is an ongoing joint technology strategy applied and implemented continually, based on compounding insights from user interactions (that they fuel) which make them collectively powerful.

I call them “platform nurture features” because the point is about strategy, not one technology over the other as the silver bullet.

CMSWire: Where do you see the primary gaps today in the digital experiences (DXs) companies are delivering to customers and the DXs those customers expect? How should companies work to close those gaps?

Feaheny: In my earlier responses about recent evolutions and emerging functionalities, I identified a number of technologies or deployment requirements. At the center of all this is an integration strategy, which, more often than not, is a minimized requirement in platforms. (Perhaps this is because of the external dependencies that vendors classically shy away from).

What is also critical is understanding that, the meaning of the word “integration” is a mighty cloudy one which is stretched a lot.

To navigate the market, customers need to do their homework more than ever. Customers need to have a “spidey sense” in their research and questions. They need to understand that marketing is not always reality and to challenge marketing claims.

Hype is pervasive — so ask questions, get PoCs and demand proof. Find the experts who really understand the “devil in the details” so the underestimated details do not bite you downstream.

CMSWire: Where do organizations tend to struggle the most in trying to reinvent or refine the digital experiences they provide to their customers?

Feaheny: They tend to struggle with context, finding information, and meeting their desire to deliver integrated and patterned, yet adjustable, digital experiences that scale and are mobile. Security and deployments are just assumed to work, but can that always be assumed?

Collectively, these points alone suggest a strategy and framework in a lot of key enterprise architecture design areas — and so it’s easy for organizations to get caught up in the weeds, or worse, politics.

This results in expensive digital experience one-off projects versus a holistic end-to-end strategy and platform design. The benefit of the latter holistic approach is that it can be developed and grown over time, iteratively, especially if via a sustained platform that includes a modern framework and strategy.

For instance, our AlohaDXP is a strategy about bringing the systems, information and analytics all together in common user experiences in secure but joint spaces or portals.

CMSWire: Are the causes of organizations’ DX struggles solely technology-based or do they also involve other more organizational issues?

Feaheny: The holistic end-to-end strategy is not just for a single digital experience — it’s for unlimited DXs, because EVERY department needs to digitalize their worlds more optimally, whether internally (for employees) or externally (for customer and suppliers) or a mix of both internal and external worlds.

Lack of engagement is also a challenging pain point, but if this requirement is built into the technology via notifications, alerts and shared context incentives, this issue can also be resolved.

Breaking old habits is the hardest of the challenges. Even if you had a perfect technological approach to solving long-running process and experience problems, without C-level support, the chances of failure grow exponentially.

CMSWire: Which creative works do you think have helped shape you in your career? What have been your key takeaways from these creative works?

Feaheny: In the '90s, dating a Grateful Dead taper was highly influential early on to my career. We’d go to many three-night concert runs, night-after-night. In a run, the Grateful Dead would never play the same song twice. What other band does that?! Answer: None!

From this, I learned to really appreciate the magic of the band’s innovation, both in the music and in the uniqueness of the experiences each night. They always brought pure delight to everyone in attendance.

I believe the best technology is similar. It offers innovative and unique experiences and delight. Technology matters a lot, but the invisibility of the technology (to the digital experience) matters more.

Learn more about the Digital Customer Experience (DX) Summit here.