Adobe is keen to exert its influence on a few industry paradigms during its time on Earth; let us not forget the company's corporate mantra - Adobe Flash Player is the world's most pervasive software, reaching 99% of Internet-enabled desktops in the world's mature markets. So as the company now targets the "customer experience management" market with its Adobe Digital Enterprise Platform, what challenges does it face?
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- What is customer experience management?
- What is user experience management to Adobe?
- Write once, optimise for everywhere
- User experience components for personalised content
- Will Adobe establish a new customer management paradigm?
- Video: Adobe Digital Enterprise Platform
Customer experience management is the process of proactively identifying application content and manage its best delivery to users according to device, platform and application. "Users" in this sense means both consumers and commercial personnel of all types; it is an equal-opportunity content delivery challenge.
Some experience management specialists talk about identifying (mainly web-based) application performance issues before they arise and rectifying problems before they impact end users. This stretches deeper, into such areas of customer management as service level agreement (SLA) compliance and onward analysis of user productivity, but let's stay higher level for now.
The Adobe Digital Enterprise Platform sets out to provide so-called "immersive multi-channel digital interactions" aligned towards social and mobile technologies. The company prefers to use the term customer experience management as its de facto defined reference here. Adobe says customer experience management (CEM) also embodies customer management considerations such as customer service and field worker automation; basically it's about putting the right information, in the right hands, at the right time.
At a more technical level, the Adobe Digital Enterprise Platform platform (ADEP) aims to coalesce mobile (and other) applications by employing the multi-channel nature of HTML5, as well as Adobe's AIR, Flash, Flex 4.5, Flash Builder 4.5 and Adobe Reader technologies. The platform integrates with Adobe's own Online Marketing Suite product to optimise the content across marketing, sales and service delivery channels.
Adobe evangelist for customer experience management Ben Watson hints that this product sees the company targeting the new "experience management" market, which is not yet clearly defined. With this in mind, ADEP is about bringing in mobile applications from the edge of the business and integrating them into the full application stack, to a point where all customer relations content and applications can be managed.
But ADEP is equally about providing a foundation for applying intelligence to customer relations, so individuals access the services and content that make sense to them. All of this must be delivered regardless of the device or channel a worker might be using, and depending on (for example) the customer's purchasing and browsing history, current promotion campaigns and so on.
"This is not a write once, run anywhere concept. Adobe Digital Enterprise Platform is focused on the opportunity to write once, then optimise for everywhere," says Adobe's Watson.
Watson explains ADEP's mechanics as two sister servers deployed on the same platform, working in harmony. The Experience Server holds rich internet applications, web applications, cloud services, data stores and real time messaging information. The Document Server on the other hand looks after processing tasks and document management, as it examines which user has which applications and what content they contain.
Inside Adobe's ADEP universe, all data is meta-tagged so it can be managed and properly controlled. This functionality is brought about as a direct result of Adobe's acquisition of Day Software's digital asset management expertise back in July 2010.
There are several factors at work here. We now need to know which chunk of data is being used by which application, on which network and on which device, as all of these factors will impact the way content is delivered. Segmenting users into logical groups - so that delivery of information at runtime can be executed in the most acceptable way - is the cornerstone of Adobe's customer management proposition here.
"Forrester defines customer experience as the analysis of how customers perceive their interactions with your company. Managing this activity starts with setting expectations with customers, expectations that are reasonable and achievable and from that point we can then cover the whole gamut from marketing through to loyalty programs, and so on. This process is inclusive of communications, service, support, sales, social communities and basically every touchpoint an enterprise has with their customer," says Watson.
"What is special about our offerings is that while for the most part we are focused on managing digital experiences and the user experience associated with those, we extend to employee and agency tools that both help with the physical task of working with customers on other channels and the actual creation of the content and experience itself," he added.
So what makes a user experience component? How does it manifest itself in the real world? Put simply, Adobe is talking about things like design templates for pushing information towards multi-channel information delivery. These could be simple electric forms, modular application design fragments or more complex composite applications that feed towards building a user interface.
Using ADEP's dynamic application services and tools for connecting with existing applications, data and infrastructures, the product aims to combine and present rich content as personalised data in a variety of formats, including SWF and HTML.
In Adobe's words, this is rich content services for creating and sharing "personalised dynamic content" gathered from a variety of sources. The whole proposition rests on a standards-based content repository and scalable application platform for web 2.0 generation applications.
Analyst Neil Ward-Dutton of MWD Advisors suggest that Adobe's new platform will enable the company to sell its services to address a broader range of customer scenarios than ever before.
"Adobe has had a strategic goal to build its enterprise business for some years now, but historically it's struggled to really define its niche in a way that also plays to its strengths. ADEP, and the solutions that sit on top of it, are a way for Adobe to potentially pull together a lot of its existing capabilities and explain to enterprise buyers how they work to solve key business challenges.
"The company has a lot of strong relationships with creatives, agencies and marketing departments; and one of the big things that it's trying to do with its current enterprise strategy is to make links between these marketing-focused relationships and its solid developer community. Part of its challenge is that the whole concept of customer experience management is still quite poorly-defined: by focusing more on immediate customer challenges and less on grand visions, though, it might have a good chance of developing significant new business.
"Of course, in this space it's competing against behemoths like IBM - which is sinking a lot of effort and money into developing a market in what it calls "smarter commerce" - and it's going to have to be very clear and clever if it's going to distinguish itself," he added.
Adobe may not be exactly about to establish a paradigm here, but the company's reach is undeniably broad in certain channels. Sure Adobe will face competition from the likes of IBM and others, so it needs to fine tune its approach and take a long hard look at its monetisation strategy (something the company has been accused of overlooking in the past) before it starts to leave any major footprints on this market.
Is all this talk of "customer experience" all just a bit too touchy-feely? Yes, but get used to it, it's happening now.
Read more Buyer's Guides to customer relations