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Nov 28, 2022

How 3 content creators changed Icelandair’s approach to customer experience

When faced with the unexpected, the best solutions often come from the people who simply have to adapt quickly. No one knows this better than Óskar Völundarson, Edvardas Paskevicius and Hallur Þór Halldórsson, the three-person content team at Icelandair that quickly stepped up to create a content strategy to handle the chaos of the pandemic shutdowns and beyond. Völundarson, Paskevicius and Þór Halldórsson recently spoke with us about how they took on authority, created a center of excellence and changed the way Icelandair approaches the digital customer experience.Project to product mindset Dealing with rapid changes and limited resources during the pandemic made it clear that the old way of looking at content requests as one-off projects wasn’t going to cut it anymore. “We started thinking of new features in terms of how we can use them in the future,” said Völundarson, UX copywriter at Icelandair. “Thinking more about the broad structure of the web rather than just this particular page, this feature, for this individual project.” This big-picture view helps the team prioritize where to allocate resources and gives them a better understanding of their arsenal of digital tools. This means they are often able to handle requests for new features quickly by repurposing existing capabilities.  Being guided by long-term, high-level outcomes of a product rather than a project checklist also makes it easier to adapt to any change along the way. It allows for a more flexible environment that welcomes feedback and new ideas from all levels of the organization.  “Every project gives an opportunity to find new insights, or new ways to approach things, and to improve the way we work and collaborate,” said Paskevicius, content manager at Icelandair.“The important thing is that you understand what you’re trying to achieve; the way you achieve it doesn’t really matter,” explained Þór Halldórsson, digital product manager at Icelandair. “Just make sure that if it isn’t working you acknowledge that, and go back and revisit what you were initially trying to do. Be curious and learn from everything.”Proactively manage expectationsBecause Icelandair is an international airline, many of the projects the content team is involved in are complex operations that involve multiple departments, global translations, tight deadlines and rapidly changing customer needs. The team has worked to create a “no drama” approach to keep these projects running smoothly under pressure and a major factor of this is clear, up-front communication about what they can deliver. “Conflict often tends to stem from different expectations around what the web can deliver,” Völundarson said, explaining that people often think of the web as a blank canvas without understanding the systems that guide content creation. The team handles expectation management in three main ways. First, by defining the responsibilities of the content team. As there is plenty of material that needs editing and translation, but only a subset that falls under the “user experience” material that the team has the capacity for. Second, by aligning new requests with the technology and design process already in place. Third, by communicating what is achievable in the time frame when taking into account the design, development and editing resources available. “Being aware of the expected outcomes is really important as a first step in becoming empowered enough to have authority,” Þór Halldórsson said. Transparent decision making Decisions aren’t just guided by what is possible in a practical sense, but also by content goals and brand guidelines. Being able to communicate these standards, and the purpose behind them, makes it easier to handle conflicting priorities. “You can say this new idea is in line with the policy that we have for this area of the web, or it isn’t. That will be the deciding factor, rather than what might seem like a personal decision,” Völundarson explained.  Taking on the responsibility of defining standards for user experience, tone of voice, brand design and other aspects of content creation has also allowed the team to grow into a more advisory role. “Creating ownership and certain authority within the company helps you to take the necessary steps to become that center of excellence,”Paskevicius said, “where you become someone who can guide others and help them deliver the expected outcomes.” Through this center of excellence the content team has been able to gradually change how the organization thinks about communication, going from using the website as a bulletin board for what the company wanted to say to making decisions based on the customer experience.“It’s really hard to shift the mindset from company to customer,” Þór Halldórsson said. “One of the key roles that the content team has played is to bring about that view, to keep the customer at the forefront.” Processes that simplify success Driving change within an organization is not only about setting high standards, but being able to reliably and quickly deliver work that meets those standards. “I think our biggest asset is, and will always be, that we’re a small company which gives us the ability to move fast,” Þór Halldórsson said. “At the same time, we’re working in a really big market and we need to keep up with the competition.” “We have to be innovative and find ways to deliver at the same pace,”Paskevicius said. “This is where our technology gives us a key advantage.” The team leverages technology to put processes in place that allow them to run projects efficiently, across multiple departments, while minimizing risk. This can be as simple as having a file naming system or being able to roll back changes with version control, as well as creating templates with mandatory fields and granular levels of access that allow other departments to manage their own content independently.  Of course, technology alone isn’t enough to guarantee efficiency. A key role the Icelandair content team plays is to translate business ideas into practical technology capabilities, working closely with developers at every stage of the process to create solutions that are intuitive for everyone that needs to work with them.“In my experience, things always tend towards complexity,” Völundarson said. “If you want to have things clear and simple, you have to specifically aim for that and keep that at the back of your mind in making decisions.” 

Nov 17, 2022

How to do more with less — and turn it into your greatest strength

At some point in our careers, we’ve all heard this phrase: “We’re going to have to do more with less.”We don’t have enough people. We didn’t allocate enough budget. That deadline is coming up pretty quickly.It’s a response that can make our stomachs sink and our palms sweat. But on the other hand, more is not always better. More does not always guarantee a successful outcome. It’s what you do with the “less” that matters — something that became even more important during the pandemic for our customers, Icelandair.While Icelandair services several markets, their team is still quite small. When the pandemic hit, their content team – Hallur Þór Halldórsson (digital product manager), Edvardas Paskevicius (content manager), and Óskar Völundarson (UX copywriter) – had to figure out how to create and update more content with fewer resources in a way that would make a measurable impact. Airlines were, after all, one of the hardest-hit industries in 2020.As we head into a time of further uncertainty and possible recession, studying how this team used the resources they had to see them through the pandemic is something we can all learn from. Outline your constraintsIdentifying your constraints is important. These tend to be absolute. You cannot get rid of them; you just have to find a way to live with them. But what if you could find a way to use them to your advantage?I’d recommend adding “A Beautiful Constraint” to your reading list. One thing the book underscores throughout: If used correctly, your constraints can lead to bolder, more innovative solutions.When the pandemic hit, our Contentstack team in India and I were in the last stages of a complete user interface redesign. This was a major release for us and suddenly we had to send our team home to finish remotely, despite not even having the equipment in place to continue. Our constraints to overcome were the product release date — we could not push the release back — and the remote work environment. We could not change these, so we had to figure out a way to work around them.Icelandair’s constraints were that they were a very small content team in a pandemic that constantly changed the path ahead of them. But rather than let that defeat them, they looked to technology to help them move faster and become more innovative.Understanding the constraints you have to work within will help you overcome them. It’s only once you know the rules of the game that you can figure out how to hack them.Set your goalsNow let’s shift. What are your goals?Think long-term. Your goal shouldn’t be to survive the recession. Stretch your horizons a little — what do you want your product to look like in three years? What problems do you want to have solved by then? What kind of process efficiencies do you want to create?Using the same Contentstack example, of course we wanted to release the new user interface in our new, remote environment. But the point of the release was to make content creation, publishing and experience development easier. Once we did that, our customers could execute their visions more easily. The more we could help enterprises do that, the bigger we could grow and prove ourselves to be the category leader, which was our goal.Icelandair needed to create and update content for 11 languages, but in a way that was quick and sustainable. Airlines were really struggling, so they needed to be able to pivot their strategy to whatever was necessary for that moment.Of course, there will always be more immediate goals to accomplish. My suggestion: Ruthless prioritization. Make a list of your short-term goals. From there, figure out which will deliver the greatest impact. Once you achieve it, measure the result and then adjust your list based on where to go next. Ruthlessly prioritizing, measuring and revisiting goals and priorities was what helped Contentstack during the pandemic.Your goals will help you pinpoint the “more” you want to achieve. Now you can look at the in-between part.Get scrappyIt’s time to figure out what you have at your disposal to overcome your constraints and deliver on your goals. Ask yourself a series of questions like:How much budget am I working with?How many team members can work on this?What are their skills?What technology tools do I have to reach my goals?This is also a good time to get scrappy and show some creativity. For example, let’s say I’m trying to deliver a product feature that our customers are asking for and I can’t put it off any longer. But, at the same time, my team is moving the needle on other, equally important projects and we’re in a hiring freeze. What can I do? I have to figure out the best ways to use what I have. I could get a group of development interns together. I could spend some of my time supervising them and get the project into a good enough place that I can get my full-time employees on the project to finish it.Icelandair already had a Contentstack headless CMS in place, so they decided that was where they could get scrappy. They looked at all the components, content types and workflow capabilities available to them through the CMS. They used these capabilities to enable their content teams to become more independent, so developer time could be spent creating new business capabilities, like self-service FAQs, instead of helping to publish regular content updates.  Doing more with less can be stressful, especially in a period of uncertainty, but with the right strategy and the right tools, you can make it pay off. I like how the Icelandair content team said it at the end of the “People Changing Enterprises” episode:“Our biggest asset is and will always be that we’re a small company, which gives us the ability to move fast. At the same time, we’re working in a really big market and need to keep up with the competition, so we have to do a lot of things very fast with a small team. So we’ve been using technology that enables us to do that.”Understand your constraints. Know where you’re trying to go. Get creative with the resources you have. No matter what the market looks like, this framework will get you to where you want to be. 

Nov 10, 2022

Thriving in complexity: organization, process, clarity

I’ve worn out the repeat button on this video. It features Duke women’s basketball coach Kara Lawson being straight with her team: “If you have a meaningful pursuit in life, it will never be easy. What happens is you handle hard better.” As Lawson explains, waiting for things to get easier means you're never conquering the next challenge. You’re just waiting for a shift outside of yourself to happen. And that may never happen. The shift has to come from within. In a lot of ways, thriving in complexity is a mindset shift. I've worked hard at that myself by building resilience, learning from rejection and purposefully celebrating big and small wins. But I also know that leaders can help their people and partners thrive in the “hard.” They don’t have to go at it alone. Complexity is a given for growing companies. We see it every day as we scale, innovate and support partners through change. For example, a recent survey we conducted showed less than half of retailers believe they can effectively manage their digital operations over the next 12 months. That’s proof that complexity can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be.I agree with what the Icelandair content team — Hallur Þór Halldórsson (digital product manager), Edvardas Paskevicius (content manager), and Óskar Völundarson (UX copywriter) —  said on our “People Changing Enterprises” podcast. “We love processes, organization and clarity.”Helping people thrive in complexity requires those three things. I’ll detail them below.Organize teams to give people authorityAt Contentstack, we use the RACI methodology to get clarity on roles and responsibilities. At the onset of big, collaborative projects, the leads outline who is Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed. Everyone signs off on that document so there is no question down the line who has the authority to make decisions. What I love about the methodology is that job titles don’t come into play — a junior person can have more authority than a senior one depending on the specific initiative.One thing Icelandair did to establish authority was create a Content Center of Excellence. Before that, Hallur described it as “a bit chaotic.” He explained: “There were a lot of good people contributing even though they weren’t brought up within content…. We also relied on a lot of third parties that didn’t always see eye to eye.”In other words, lots of complexity.The Center of Excellence moved Icelandair from chaos to organized by building authority. As a unit, they developed expertise and made changes to easily recognize it across the organization. One move they made was to update titles from Content Manager to to UX Writer. “It gave us more leeway into actually working on the copy we got, not just receiving content and making it ‘live.’ We had the authority to say this needs to be better and we can improve it,” shared Hallur.Build processes that simplify complexityWhen you’re swimming in a sea of complexity, the waters can seem rough. Processes can help calm them. If the next step or the point of contact for tasks are clearly defined, people don't have to guess. Guessing leaves room for error.Icelandair largely focused on minimizing the possibility of error. Not in a way that stifled scalability or innovation, but instead in a way that removed doubt. For example, the content team made certain fields mandatory and limited access to specific areas of the CMS so web management didn’t run wild. Using Contentstack also gave them a level of freedom knowing, as Edvardas explained, that “when things break or hiccups come up — like issues with third-party integrations — we know we can always roll it back easily.”We help build structures and processes outside our organization to help customers take on the challenge of moving from legacy CMS systems to composable ones. This includes our Community, where users interact with each other and our experts to share experiences, answer questions and offer inspiration. It also includes being one of the founding members of the MACH Alliance, an industry-wide organization that helps enterprises shift from tech stack to suites to meet — and even anticipate — consumer demand.Clarify desired outcomesWe use #OneTeamOneDream as a rallying cry at Contentstack for a specific reason: It unifies people around a common goal. For us, that goal is to make Contentstack indispensable in helping enterprises tell stories and connect with customers.Explicitly communicating a desired outcome is critical when working with people and teams with different perspectives across the globe. When it works, that difference is a plus; the perspectives help illuminate diverse ideas tied to achieving an outcome. The organization moves from us vs. them mentality to every team for the greater goal. That minimizes complexity.When it doesn’t work and teams keep strictly to their perspectives, they can become blockers to the end goal and complexity spreads.Icelandair’s content team became outcome oriented — shifting to a customer-first content lens — instead of department oriented. As Hallur said, “It became about what the customer needs to hear instead of just what the company wants to stay.”That outcome serves as a lighthouse in the sea of complexity.Coach Lawson said it best: “Hard will not go away.” It’s tough for me to even think back to a day over the last decade as an entrepreneur when I didn’t experience one or several complex challenges. But processes, organization and clarity help. I know Icelandair would say the same.

Nov 09, 2022

How to avoid the pitfalls of a composable architecture

Digital content management is in a state of perpetual evolution. Consumers have come to expect robust, seamless digital experiences when interacting with brands, and organizations that fail to meet those expectations can quickly find themselves left behind.It’s tempting to think the solution is to build a digital experience that satisfies the expectations of today’s consumer; unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Every day brings new channels and new competitors, and the digital experiences consumers want today might not look anything like the one they want tomorrow.A composable architecture gives businesses the speed, flexibility and scalability they need to deliver digital experiences that meet the expectations of current and future customers. However, there are complexities in the implementation process that enterprises need to be prepared for in order to ensure a seamless transition to composable architecture.What is a composable architecture?Content management systems traditionally have relied on monolithic architecture: an all-in-one system in which the front-end and back-end layers are handled by a single codebase. That approach served us well for decades; that is, until 2014, when mobile internet usage supplanted desktop usage. Since then, consumers have grown to expect a seamless omnichannel experience that a traditional monolithic CMS was never designed to deliver. “There are a lot more requirements on the customer [or] end user side,” said Jeff Baher, head of product marketing at Contentstack. “Content that once resided solely on a website is now in a lot of different places.”Monolithic architecture offers a suite of functions that can be managed from one codebase, which makes for a fairly simple implementation process. But what happens when an organization’s needs surpass the capabilities of a legacy CMS?“Can any one single vendor get their arms around it and solve for all that?” Baher asked. The answer is increasingly no. Enterprises are instead often forced to rely on clunky plug-ins to deliver the functionality they need, and with each new plug-in, the site gets a little slower — and the digital experience suffers as a result.Organizations that wish to avoid plug-ins can update their CMS, but that’s a time-consuming and expensive process. With monolithic architecture, even minor front-end changes can require significant updates to back-end code. And, of course, that process inevitably needs to be repeated every time consumer expectations change or new channels emerge.A composable architecture breaks down the large and complex functions found in monolithic solutions into smaller, more manageable pieces. An application programming interface (API) acts as the go-between for these smaller pieces, allowing them to communicate and transfer information more efficiently. In a composable CMS, the front-end and back-end layers are decoupled, so changes can be made to the front end independent of back-end functions.The result is the same functionality found in monolithic architecture, only more efficient, more flexible and with more freedom to build a customized or modular solution to meet an organization’s specific needs — once the new architecture is up and running, that is.Common pitfalls of implementing a composable architectureA composable architecture allows organizations to build rich, omnichannel digital experiences on their own terms, free from any of the limitations imposed by monolithic architecture. But, a wider range of possibilities also means more potential challenges.What goes where, who’s on first?A monolithic architecture has a variety of inherent shortcomings, but monolithic solutions do offer a clear benefit: simplicity. Although notoriously difficult to update, legacy architecture is fairly easy to implement, which may be attractive to some organizations depending on their needs. And since monolithic solutions are typically created and sold by one vendor, organizations benefit from a one-stop point of contact for any issues that may arise. A composable solution brings together capabilities of different vendors, Baher said. This is undoubtedly a positive in terms of flexibility and freedom, but if one element doesn’t work as intended, it can affect the entire digital experience. With a monolithic solution, the vendor handles the process of identifying and fixing the problem, but with composable, the organization has to manage the diagnostic process. On top of that, if the issue is being caused by two elements from two different vendors; which vendor is responsible for the fix?The ‘kitchen sink' problemThe main selling point of a composable architecture is its flexibility; there are few limits on what your organization can do with a composable solution. But just because you can do something doesn’t necessarily mean you should. A composable architecture is “similar to Lego pieces, allowing you to build a lot of different things,” Baher said. “But that’s also the challenge: What do you build? How do you do it?”Assembling, or integrating, the available pieces is only half the battle. The other half is making sure each component selected is necessary to create the digital experience you have in mind. Remember, there’s “must-have” functionality and there’s “nice-to-have” functionality — and the more you have of the latter, the less time your IT team has to focus on the former.Disconnects between teamsAs the old saying goes, “a camel is a horse designed by a committee.” The flexibility of a composable architecture is useless if nobody can agree on the best way to use it. In organizations accustomed to monolithic architecture, it’s not uncommon for siloed teams or departments to form and operate independently of one another.Under these conditions, each team may develop their own idea of what “best” means in terms of functionality, user experience and so on, which can make for a rocky transition to a composable architecture. In order to overcome this challenge, and to maximize content re-use, organizations need to break down those silos by clearly defining cross-team goals and making sure departments work collaboratively to achieve them. If not, the digital experience you deliver to consumers is likely to resemble a camel.The people problemUltimately, an organization’s ability to successfully implement a composable architecture rests largely on its people for it’s not only a technology shift, it’s also a mindset shift. With a monolithic CMS, all the features are included in the software, but a composable solution is essentially a blank canvas — and it’s up to your people to think through and feel comfortable and confident with how to fill it in. Eliminating disconnects between teams is a key part of success in this regard, but organizations also need to have the right frame of mind and  right resources on the technical side to build everything out.Overcome the pitfalls and go composable with confidenceMoving to composable architecture is more complex than many organizations realize initially, but the pitfalls are all surmountable. The following considerations are the key ingredients for success, according to Baher:Choose the right component technologies.Select vendors who view going composable as a partnership, not a dealership.Invest in automation technology to simplify integrations and automate routine tasks.Seek expertise and support to help you along the way.Run the numbers and a proper ROI analysis.Learn moreLearn more about the benefits of a composable architecture in our blog post, “Why a composable CMS is right for you.”Schedule a free demo to see how Contentstack’s headless content management platform and industry-leading, cross-vendor support can help your organization make the transition to a composable architecture today.

Nov 02, 2022

Why a composable CMS is right for you

The average digital user spends 54 seconds on a page. That may seem like a short amount of time to formulate an opinion about your site, but from the user’s perspective, it’s practically an eternity. According to the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab, 75% of consumers decide whether a company is credible based solely on their experience with the company’s site. And research from Google found that 1 in 4 visitors will abandon a site if it takes longer than 4 seconds to load.Your site has a very small window of opportunity to make a good impression. A composable content management system (CMS) can help your organization meet the needs and expectations of today’s consumers while remaining agile enough to adapt when those needs change. (And they will.)Here’s how.What is a composable content management system?Content management systems are traditionally built using monolithic or “legacy” architecture. With the monolithic model, entire applications are designed as a single unit: a monolithic CMS provides a suite of functions, all handled by a single codebase.This model worked well when the digital experience only had to be delivered on desktop browsers, but that changed 15 years ago with the release of the first iPhone. Monolithic was slow to adapt to mobile internet usage; since then, a slew of new channels has popped up, from smartwatches and gaming consoles to devices like Google Home and Alexa.Today’s consumers demand a seamless omnichannel digital experience, and monolithic struggles to keep up: a legacy CMS can be upgraded to fit new channels, but those upgrades are reactive, not proactive. Monolithic is slow to adapt to existing channels, let alone anticipate new ones. In addition, the inherent complexity of legacy architecture makes for a lengthy publishing and launch process, which affects the time to market on any upgrades. That’s not just inconvenient — it’s a genuine risk to an enterprise’s long-term success. That’s why more organizations are moving to composable architecture.How does a composable CMS work?A composable CMS is built using a collection of smaller, more manageable pieces, instead of the single large and complex unit found in monolithic solutions. With a composable CMS, organizations choose the individual systems and services that best suit their needs and allow them to build a custom digital experience. These pieces are tied together using an Application Programming Interface (API) that acts as a middleman for these smaller pieces to communicate and transfer information in a more efficient way.What are the benefits of a composable CMS?The modular approach of composable architecture offers a variety of benefits for both businesses and consumers.Innovation forward Because monolithic is so large and complex, most of the development time and resources are spent on upgrading the CMS just to keep up. Unfortunately, that leaves less time for developers to take a more forward-thinking approach. The rapid development time of updates and upgrades to a composable CMS means your team has more time to focus on innovation.AgilityWith monolithic architecture, even minor front-end changes can require significant updates to back-end code, and that means developer involvement — even for something as simple as updating site fonts or a carousel. With a composable CMS, the front-end and back-end code are decoupled, so front-end changes (i.e., changes to the presentation and delivery of the site to users) can be made without having to update the back end. This flexibility is crucial in the age of digital disruption, when organizations that are unable to adapt to new channels and behaviors can get left behind.Composable CMSs allow you to swap out modular components on the fly. This cuts down on development time and allows organizations to experiment with changes to a site or application before fully committing to them.Scalability A growing user base for your site or application is a good thing, but if you want to maintain that growth, you have to scale. Both monolithic and composable CMSes can scale horizontally by adding more instances of a high-demand function or feature. But in a monolithic CMS, everything is interconnected: if you need to run five instances of a specific feature of your site or app to meet demand, you have to run five instances of the entire application — even if you could meet demand for all the other features with just a single instance. Therefore, ensuring the performance of that one function could mean having to pay for five times more server or cloud storage than you really need.Composable lets you scale individual functions according to demand. It’s a more efficient and budget-friendly way to consistently deliver the digital experience users expect from your business.Enhanced capabilities Every monolithic CMS has its own unique pros and cons: Adobe Experience can handle a lot of site content, but it’s expensive and requires significant IT support throughout its lifespan. Sitecore can be scaled easily and is more secure than most other CMSes, but skilled developers are hard to find and transitioning to Sitecore is a lengthy and expensive process. With a monolithic CMS, the digital experience is limited by what that particular CMS does well. Composable lets you choose the best applications for each function and build a limitless CMS experience. Reduced talent costsTo maintain and upgrade a monolithic CMS, you’ll need developers and engineers who are experts in that specific CMS’ proprietary framework. Those specialized skills mean organizations have to pay more to attract and retain talent. In addition, it’s difficult to learn these complex and highly specific systems on the job, so organizations usually have to hire more top-dollar talent every time a member of the team leaves the company.With composable, organizations can access a much larger talent pool, making it easier to find the right people to handle each individual function — for the right price.Improved user experienceA composable CMS can make a major difference in the user experience. A monolithic CMS can usually only be customized via plug-ins, which negatively impact site loading and speed. This can affect your bottom line: recent research from Portent found that an e-commerce site with a one-second load time had a conversion rate 2.5x higher than a site with a five-second load time. Composable allows for as much (if not more) customization, but without sacrificing speed.Learn moreLearn more about composable architecture in our guide, “What is composable architecture?”Schedule a free demo to see how Contentstack’s content experience platform can deliver the benefits of composable to your organization.

Oct 24, 2022

Danielle Diliberti helms multiple market leading brands. Here’s how she empowers teams to make big changes

If there’s anyone that fully understands both the technology and business challenges of leading a modern enterprise it’s Danielle Diliberti. She is the CTO of the wellness brand and health club, The St. James, the CEO of the fast-growing marketplace, Sommsation, and Senior Director at the investment firm, Eldridge Industries. All at the same time. Danielle recently spoke with us about how she gets it all done, how she empowers teams to move fast, and the advice she has for other leaders making waves in their industries. Invest in alignment Putting a strategic plan in place requires balancing the goals of the organization, ideas of different stakeholders, data insights, and the practical aspects needed to execute it. As well as thinking about the order of operations along the way to make sure you’re not breaking one thing to fix another. The level of alignment and communication needed to do this can be especially challenging for companies with a diverse audience, a multifaceted business model, or a remote workforce.  One initiative that Danielle has found to be successful in getting everyone on the same page is internal summits: multi-day, in-person events that focus on a particular aspect of business such as engineering, sales, data and analytics, marketing, or operations. Dedicating time to dive into one area, as opposed to high-level status updates from every department, helps people better recognize where small adjustments to their own processes can make life easier for colleagues in other areas of the business. “When you step into the room and know that you’re talking about marketing, the accountant can take off their accountant hat and think about it from a marketing lens,” explains Danielle. “That creates not only some continuity between different business groups, but I’ve also seen that it really helps the culture because people can connect in a different way.”Pass the torch As a company changes and grows it’s important to make sure individuals also have the opportunity to evolve. Giving people the time and attention to develop skills requires investing in knowledge transfer instead of doing it yourself. “If it’s something that I’m confident we know how to do, I usually step back and empower my team to move it forward and hone in on their skills,” says Danielle. “If it’s something that I have experience in, then it’s important for me to understand where people are on their learning curve and set them up for success in that specific situation.” Throughout her career, whether learning a skill or teaching it, Danielle has approached knowledge sharing with the “3-3-3 rule”. To teach a skill or transition a task you must first have done it at least 3 times yourself, then have the learner shadow you 3 times, then shadow the learner 3 times. Setting the 3-3-3 rule as a company standard encourages people to speak up if they feel stuck with tasks that aren’t in line with their skill sets or goals, and makes sure that responsibilities are transferred in a way that gives the learner time to feel confident in their new role. “Passing the torch really does help everyone,” says Danielle. “The whole team gets smarter, the business becomes more valuable, and you can move a lot faster. That investment up-front will really pay dividends in the long run.” Find partners to grow with Enabling an organization to move quickly is not only about developing the right skills in the team, but also making sure they aren’t spending time reinventing the wheel. Leaders should have a good awareness of what’s happening in the market, which organizations are interesting to partner with, and how these partnerships could best serve the business.“Really leverage them in a way that makes you feel that you’re letting go of some things internally in your organization,” says Danielle. “Especially in the technology space, there’s so much out there and we’re moving so fast that trying to do everything internally doesn’t make a lot of sense anymore.” With a background in investment, it’s no surprise that Danielle evaluates potential partners with future value in mind.“Understanding the management team of our vendors and our software is really important to me,” says Danielle. “Knowing what their roadmap is and making sure that there is alignment long-term as opposed to just looking at the features that you can deploy right now.” Finding partners that have similar goals to your organization ensures that you have a network of tools and support that can grow alongside you as your business needs evolve. Make your toolkit API-first Part of what makes leaning into the partner ecosystem so attractive is the rising availability of modern, agile technologies. Instead of having one large platform with a suite of interdependent capabilities, a stack of best-of-breed tools can be easily integrated via APIs and swapped out as needed. Companies can leverage solutions from multiple partners while keeping their processes technology agnostic, removing the risk of becoming too reliant on any single vendor. “You won’t be able to compete as an organization if you don’t have API-first, cloud-based tools. That’s just the reality of where we are in the world,” says Danielle.An API-first, cloud-based toolkit allows organizations to quickly change directions when new priorities arise.  Danielle’s team at The St James had built out their API-first technology stack with the intention of digitizing the member experience, making it more convenient to book classes and amenities across the health center. A year into that transformation the pandemic hit, safety was suddenly the number one priority, and the team was able to use the new architecture to quickly spin up solutions for equipment reservation, contact tracing, and capacity management.  “Customers entered the doors knowing they were safe,” explains Danielle. “Had we not had an API-first infrastructure that would have never existed.” 

Oct 19, 2022

Choosing which mini digital transformation is right for you

If you think about it, the concept of “mini” is very popular today. Mini donuts, mini candies, MINI Coopers…Even “mini transformations.”On the newest People Changing Enterprises episode, Danielle Diliberti talked about taking on a mini transformation right before the pandemic as CTO at The St. James.The St. James is an upscale health and wellness brand for athletes, including gyms. If you know the health and wellness space, you know most of the industry still runs on desktop-based, legacy systems. At this time, The St. James was like every other company in their space.They yanked out the old, clunky desktops and on-premise servers, replacing them with cloud-based, interoperable technology.Everyone thought she was crazy — they had only been in business for a year. Then, the pandemic hit, and that move allowed them to continue serving their customers and growing the business by spinning up new digital offerings that would have been impossible with their old technology.Which got me thinking about mini transformations compared to the bigger beast we call “digital transformation.” What is a mini digital transformation?Digital transformation can be daunting — it seems expensive, slow, and challenging. But its bite-sized counterpart is more digestible and can bring quick gains when it comes to internal buy-in and customer satisfaction.Danielle Diliberti and The St. James team replaced any technology that wasn’t cloud-native and API-first. It could be accomplished on a fairly short timescale and quickly improve their customers’ experience.That’s not to say that a bigger digital transformation doesn’t have its time and place — it definitely does. Just listen to what Bob Howland and the team did at Dawn Foods. Their transformation involved a complete switch from legacy systems to composable architecture. They moved from pen-and-paper methods to launching a product catalog from scratch, optimizing people processes, and evaluating strategic opportunities for their customers. Within six months, Dawn Foods published six major releases and transitioned over 50% of their customers to online buyers. That’s big.The St. James’s transformation gave them the speed and agility to meet their customers’ needs like they never had before. It was smaller, but it was a win that eventually led to other wins.If you’ve decided the “mini” route is right for you, here are a few guidelines that may help you choose a direction. The right one will…Clearly deliver a great outcomeRisk is always present where change is required. However, your mini transformation should have a high probability of success. If it doesn’t deliver what you promised, securing buy-in for future projects will be that much harder.Moving from legacy to cloud-based systems was something Danielle knew would be a win. By that time, cloud technologies were not new and partners had a portfolio of experience in mitigating risk in that area. She knew that if she told stakeholders they were going to see ROI from moving to the cloud, she could deliver.Even better, moving to the cloud increased the St. James's ability to better serve its customers. Customers no longer had to come into the facility or call for appointments at the spa or their restaurant; they just had to go online.Create value for the wider businessSomething else to consider: the mini transformation must impact internal stakeholders outside your team. Ask yourself: if we complete this project, will other departments also succeed? Will that success help overcome any resistance to change?I was talking to a prospect the other day at a massive organization. At any time, about one hundred developers are working on their 1.6 million pages of content. A mini transformation on that stack would be noticed in a big way. For example, moving their landing pages to an API-first, cloud-based solution would shorten the time to publish for marketers and developers. Speed is an invaluable advantage, especially when it comes to 1.6 million assets.When we develop Proof of Concept (POC) projects for customers, we often have one or two champions that are fully committed to the transformation. You always have the doubters; it’s human nature. But when they see the results, they’re sold on the value. After they replaced their old systems, the team at St. James catapulted business productivity. They were now able to create content and launch new initiatives much quicker than ever before. Serve as a stepping stone to the next miniOne last thing to think about when choosing a project is whether it will serve as a stepping stone to another mini. If the answer is yes, map out the best next step beforehand and the desired end objective. Think about what each mini should accomplish and how that helps achieve the end goal.The more mini transformations you complete, the more confidence and knowledge you gain to solve the next problem. Look at areas where the organization is obviously struggling: think bottlenecks that affect customers. Search for alternative options and see if you can get rid of the bottleneck. After Danielle’s team replaced their desktop-based tech and went cloud-native, they were ready to adopt other microservices focusing on personalized content experiences. This made the business more efficient and customer-centric. For the first time, they could make digital coaching available online and recommend workouts based on the customer’s previous preferences.Danielle said in the podcast, “You can’t fix everything at once. You have to think about the order of operations and what audiences you can serve, and build on that.” That’s the beauty of the mini transformation. It can be accomplished quickly, internal stakeholders and customers can reap benefits sooner, and it provides a solid foundation to jump to the next project. And then the question becomes: What can you accomplish next?

Oct 19, 2022

What is Agile content marketing?

Does your organization clamor to keep up with requests to create more relevant online content? Does your marketing team work tirelessly spinning content for different personas and managing content for multiple channels?Because the enormous demand for digital content continues to grow, these problems are very real for marketing teams at organizations of every size. According to Pew Research, in 2021 one in every three U.S. adults reported being “almost constantly” online.This heavy online presence produces a plethora of data, from geolocation tracking to Google Analytics to consumer reviews and much more. Yet much of this data is overlooked or not fully utilized when making marketing decisions, especially with the traditional waterfall marketing approach. Yet many organizations still handle their marketing this way — the same way it’s been done for decades. This is not all that surprising given the lightning speed at which technology creates new ways to communicate with customers. Trying to outpace or even just keep up with the constant flux of change is challenging at best for most organizations.An increasing number of organizations, however, are realizing there’s a better way to manage their marketing with an Agile approach based on the abundance of real-time data and consumer insights that are available virtually 24/7.  We’ll tell you more about this shortly. But first let’s look at some of the main issues organizations experience with traditional marketing.Why traditional marketing doesn’t work in our data-driven worldFor most organizations, decisions about the type of campaigns to run and when to run them have traditionally been made months or even a year in advance. While these decisions may be made thoughtfully based on available insights at the time, there are clear disadvantages to marketing this way.Lack of flexibility: Firstly, there’s little room for flexibility when trends like customer expectations and sales change between the time decisions are made and when marketing campaigns launch. There’s no process in place to let marketing teams change their prioritized content or goals based on data or even current events.Difficulty producing content for multiple channels: Another key disadvantage of traditional marketing is it doesn’t provide an intuitive, easy process for repurposing content for multiple channels including websites, social media channels or e-commerce platforms.Lack of personalization: Savvy customers today expect content that relates to their lifestyles and needs. With traditional marketing, there’s no easy way to personalize content for specific customer segments with user stories of other tools. Instead, personalizing content becomes a laborious process that burdens staff with repurposing content and then making sure it gets to the right channels.Overburdened, frustrated staff: All the above issues affect the marketing team. From writers to project managers, team members may feel stressed, overburdened and sometimes disheartened because, despite all their efforts, the results they’re seeing are not optimal.What Is Agile content marketing?The Agile  methodology was first used by software developers who wanted to reduce the time it took to create new products and updates while retaining flexibility. Agile was designed to break projects into manageable chunks, and at every step of the process, provide a process to implement necessary changes as they arose. Because of this built-in ability to pivot when needed, finished software products could be more up-to-date and relevant when released.Agile has since been heavily adopted to manage projects in the corporate world and government agencies. The methodology is used in a wide range of industries including financial services, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, engineering, aerospace and others.Desiring the same speed and flexibility, the Agile methodology has more recently been leveraged widely for content marketing. This is especially true in forward-thinking organizations looking for better strategies and technologies to help them accomplish their goals.To understand why the Agile approach is a perfect fit for content marketing, let’s briefly think about the onset of the pandemic. Whether B2C or B2B, every organization had to move fast to reach their audiences with content ranging from text messages and social media posts to website alerts and relevant articles and blogs. The world was changing rapidly and content needed to keep pace with the changes that were occurring from one day to the next.In an Agile content marketing workflow, cross-functional teams of writers, editors, designers, and other content experts collaborate on manageable tasks over a period of time called a “sprint.” Other cross-functional teams may work in parallel on separate but equally important tasks that may be part of the same larger project.Each team’s tasks are assigned based on priority by analyzing data, consumer feedback, recent trends, current events and other inputs. At the end of each sprint, content is sent to another sprint for improvement or launched with a specific goal in mind. Then both the work and the process are reviewed for possible improvements.In real life, an Agile marketing process might look like this:A marketing lead gathers data and customer requirementsThe data and user stories are prioritized by the marketing team and then broken down into actionable tasksThe team organizes tasks into one or more sprints based on content typeA cross-functional team works in tandem to execute their work during the sprintAt the end of each sprint, the work and the sprint planning process are both reviewed for possible improvementsThe next sprint to implement improvements and new tasks are assignedAgile content marketing: a game changer for your businessOne significant feature of Agile content marketing is that it involves a consistent cycle of producing content, then testing it to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Then simply do more of what works or what your audience wants and less of what doesn’t work. The benefit is more relevant content engaging audiences in meaningful ways.For instance, let’s say a marketing team created a blog post for one of its buyer personas. The post doesn’t drive a wide audience to the organization’s website. However, the social media post on Facebook to promote the blog got hundreds of responses and likes. Based on some of the comments, the marketing team gained some valuable insights into the products that potential customers wanted to learn more about. With Agile content marketing, it’s easy for the marketing team to prioritize more of the desired content in the next sprint, while deprioritizing content on a different topic that didn’t garner as much interest. Pushing successful content to other channels would be another available option with Agile marketing.Social media comments and shares, website page views and conversion rates, and video views are some of the many types of data that can be leveraged to influence Agile marketing strategy.Creating high-quality content not only engages audiences and helps to convert new customers, it provides a steady stream of new ideas for the marketing team so they know which strategies or topics to focus on next. 5 benefits of Agile content marketingAgile content marketing has many benefits. Here are the five that we believe are the most important. Greater success: Several research studies have proven that Agile marketing content is more successful than content created using the traditional waterfall approach. This includes the Standish Group Chaos Report 2020, which determined that Agile projects were three times more likely to succeed.Speed: The Agile approach enables marketers to launch content faster, especially when sprint lengths are tailored specifically to different content types.Efficiency: Agile marketing teams are able to do more with less because they can focus their full attention on the content that’s prioritized at any given time. The content creation process also becomes more efficient over time because it’s evaluated after every sprint for ongoing improvement.Greater flexibility: With Agile marketing, there’s a built-in process for changing content strategy or the content itself based on data, consumer behavior, current events and other insights.Happier marketing teams: Not only do Agile marketing teams report greater productivity, they’re also happier. Research has shown that they have improved morale.Learn more  Learn more about Agile marketing in our guide, “How to get started with Agile marketing.”Schedule a free demo to see how Contentstack’s composable content experience platform can help jump start your agile content marketing strategy. 

Oct 18, 2022

How to choose an omnichannel marketing platform

Omnichannel marketing allows businesses to create customer-centric experiences that are personalized and consistent for each consumer across all channels. This modern way of thinking about content management can help your business build stronger relationships with customers and increase sales.Today's marketing professionals need to pursue an omnichannel experience that customers can use whenever, wherever they want. This approach means creating a consistent experience across all devices, whether customers use a desktop computer, a mobile phone, a tablet or a smartwatch. By designing an omnichannel experience, companies can ensure that their customers have a positive and seamless experience no matter how they interact with them. This article will explore what marketing professionals should look for when considering an omnichannel marketing platform.What is an omnichannel marketing platform and why do you need one?An omnichannel marketing platform allows you to connect with customers across all channels, including online, offline, and mobile. Using this customer-centric marketing approach, companies can provide a consistent customer experience no matter how the customer interacts with them. An omnichannel platform can also help businesses to better understand customer behavior and preferences, which can help to improve marketing strategies and ultimately increase sales.Omnichannel marketing is similar to multichannel marketing. Both of these strategies involve engaging customers across different channels. However, there are some critical differences between these two approaches. Multichannel marketing promotes a unified message using various channels. In contrast, omnichannel marketing takes a customer-focused approach. It adapts to the customer's cross-channel preferences, allowing them to move between channels seamlessly. This capability means omnichannel marketing is better equipped to provide a personalized experience. Benefits of using an omnichannel marketing platformAn omnichannel marketing platform can provide many benefits for your business. The products and services you offer, the customers you serve and other characteristics unique to your situation will determine the advantages that benefit you most. Here are the most common omnichannel use cases.Add virtual inventory to your store: Omnichannel marketing allows you to promote the idea of an endless aisle. You can use this virtual merchandise presentation to complement your real-world store's physical inventory. This type of shopping experience is nearly impossible to achieve without an omnichannel marketing platform.Recurring payment model: Recurring payments are becoming an increasingly popular way for consumers to pay for goods and services. This payment model allows customers to regularly authorize a merchant to charge a designated amount to their credit card or bank account. This can be a convenient way for customers to pay for monthly subscriptions, such as Netflix or Spotify, or for larger purchases spread over time, such as a new mattress.Recurring payments help your business build stronger relationships with your customers by making it easy for them to continue doing business with your company over time. Omnichannel marketing helps your customers move seamlessly between making an in-store or online purchase and establishing continuing services.Buy online for in-store pickup: This omnichannel feature has quickly become a staple of e-commerce. For many types of goods, if customers can't shop for items from the comfort of their homes, they will shop elsewhere.Increasing customer loyalty: A well-designed omnichannel strategy can help your business better understand customer behavior and preferences. You can use this information to improve relationships, fortify customer loyalty, and ultimately increase sales.Improving customer experience: By using an omnichannel platform, businesses can ensure that they are providing a consistent customer experience across all channels. This consistent experience can improve customer satisfaction.How to choose the best omnichannel marketing platform for your businessWhen choosing an omnichannel marketing platform for your business, the most critical consideration is finding one that is truly focused on the customer, not just brand-centric, using multiple channels. Brand centricity is all about promoting a unified message across various channels. At the same time, customer-centricity considers the customer's preferences and needs. Adopting this paradigm can be challenging for some marketing solution providers that cut their teeth on multichannel marketing. It's not enough to provide the same branding message across your customers' channels. A customer-centric solution helps you tap into your customers' historical behavior to understand their needs better. To provide your customers with the best possible experience, you will also want to consider how user-friendly and easy to navigate a potential solution is. The platform's ability to integrate with other software applications used by your company is also an important consideration. Once you have considered these factors, you can compare the different omnichannel features that are available. Reading reviews and comparing attributes is essential to ensure you choose the best platform for your business.Features of the best omnichannel platformsHere are some of the top features to consider when choosing an omnichannel marketing platform:The ability to provide a personalized customer journey across all channels: An omnichannel marketing platform should allow you to manage your marketing activities efficiently and effectively across all channels. This approach can save time and money.The ability to connect with customers across all channels: An omnichannel marketing platform should allow you to connect with customers across all channels, including online, offline, and mobile. This can help to improve customer loyalty and increase sales.The ability to understand customer behavior and preferences: An omnichannel marketing platform can help businesses better understand customer behavior and preferences. You can use this information to improve marketing and ultimately increase sales.What to avoid in omnichannel marketing platformsWhen considering an omnichannel marketing platform, it is essential to know the available features and choose the platform best suited to your business. However, there are also some things to avoid when choosing a platform.Be sure not to choose a platform that is too complex or difficult to use. The platform should be easy to navigate and use so that you can manage your marketing activities effectively.Also, avoid platforms that are too costly for your budget. It is crucial to find a platform that offers good value for your money.Finally, avoid platforms that do not offer good customer support. The platform should be easy to use, but if you encounter any problems, you should be able to get help quickly.Learn moreLearn more about omnichannel content management in this informative guide.Is your CMS holding you back from creating the omnichannel experiences your customers expect? Schedule a free demo to see how Contentstack’s headless, composable content experience platform can transform your digital marketing strategy.

Oct 12, 2022

Creating a culture of empowerment

Most people would say a CEO's primary responsibilities are things like "maximizing profits" and "building operational efficiencies." I believe my job is about rallying, unblocking and getting out of the way. It's simple: We focus on hiring people with skills that make us stronger and more diversified. Why wouldn't we want to unleash those skills and see where it takes us?But a culture of empowerment doesn't just happen, despite everyone's best intentions. Leaders have to enable it with systems and structures. In our latest People Changing Enterprises podcast, Sommsation CEO Danielle Diliberti shared her employee empowerment tips. Here, I also share mine. What I loved most was how she boiled it down to "being a good team member." It really can be that simple.Make the transfer of knowledge a priorityYou will grow nowhere if one person is the designated collector of knowledge. What happens when that person leaves? Their absence leaves a gaping hole, and everyone else starts at zero.As you grow, there is more work, and you have to move quicker within a more complex environment. Any barriers to speed must be removed. Spreading knowledge is one way to remove those barriers. Transferring knowledge gets your organization to the next level.Danielle shared an awesome framework she's used as she's scaled: the 3-3-3 rule.The first three: As a leader, if you want to train someone, you must have done something 3000 or three times. (In a hypergrowth company, new challenges present themselves every day. I get it!)The second three: At this point, you move on to having that person shadow you in that role three times.The final three: Here, the leader shadows the employee to ensure that the full transfer of knowledge loop is closed.As Danielle said, "Passing, the torch really does help everyone. The whole team gets smarter, the business becomes more valuable, and you can move a lot faster. The investment up front will pay dividends in the long run."Build cross-functional connections It's easy for everyone to "stay within their lane." In our location-neutral world, it's become even more of the default. But if you want to build a culture of empowerment, leaders must break down that default bit by bit.Within organizations, empowerment comes from what you know and also who you know. We incentivize cross-functional and cross-geographic connections. We enter anyone at Contentstack who sets up a 30-minute zoom call with somebody in a different department into a gift card raffle. What has made it even more special is that participants started sharing pictures of the conversations on Slack with some fun facts about the other person. It has become an awesome way to build connections.  Those connections come in handy. If you've ever wanted an answer at an organization that nobody around you is equipped to give, you understand. If someone unexpected from across your organization has ever called you for your experience and input, you also get it. Connections build confidence in your position and contributions at a company. Confidence is required for real empowerment to break through.Danielle hosts "Summits" at Sommsation, bringing together cross-functional groups in person to align on roadmaps for different areas of the business. We do quarterly, in-person meetings with our executive team ("The Dreamguard") and more.These efforts also make our hybrid and remote cultures more tangible.Create an open-door policySometimes it's nerve-wracking for leaders to "get out of the way." You can be left wondering if things will get done well. You know the way you would do it.But the truth is "getting things done well" and "the way you would do it" are not the same. There is often more than one way to reach an end goal. Believe me, this is coming from someone who bootstrapped one company for 10 years and exited without a banker.Fight the urge to do. Instead, assess everyone's level of skills and confidence and then create an open door policy as they do.Not everything will go off without a hitch. That's okay. Encourage your team to come to you with questions, concerns and potential solutions. Hear them out, and work with them on those solutions. I always start my open door policy conversations with: “This is a place and space with no judgment.”Part of the open door policy is spotting when you may need to step in. In Danielle's previous experience as the CTO at The St. James, she realized the legacy CMS was hampering their agility. Their marketing team relied on developers to make updates to content, which could take weeks. It wasn't sustainable for a business focused on delivering customers personalized, of-the-moment health and wellness experiences. She stepped in to usher in a new MACH-technology era at The St. James. Without that transformation, her other people empowerment strategies wouldn't go far.We say it often: Innovation will come from your people. It's probably more accurate to say: Innovation will come from your people only if they are empowered. Focus on transferring knowledge, building connections and creating an open door policy as a leader, and the skills you hired for will be the skills that take your organization into the future.

Oct 06, 2022

5 first priorities for business change

Bob Howland has helped drive business transformation in over 27 companies in industries ranging from retail to pharmaceuticals to software. In 2019 he joined Dawn Foods, the global bakery supplier, to do it again. As chief digital officer he took the 100-year-old company from a completely paper ordering process to a market ready e-commerce solution in just 22 weeks. We spoke with Bob about how he did it, why changing mindsets is often more important than changing technology, and what advice he has for other business transformation leaders. Turn executives into advocatesMoving a company to a new way of working is going to require high-level support and prioritization. Involve key stakeholders early in the process to close gaps in knowledge, collaborate on a plan, and ensure the executive team is confident in and excited about the changes ahead.For Bob, an early priority at Dawn Foods was to meet directly with the chief financial officer to create a business plan. Giving the CFO full, transparent access to the expected costs and intended outcomes makes it possible to fast-track difficult conversations and align on the right metrics for the project.The CFO can also recommend a trusted team member to act as the financial representative for e-commerce. By working with a finance partner to make estimates and approve any cost presented, you can build credibility within the organization as well as create a strong advocate in the finance department. Bob also recommends meeting with each board member individually to introduce the plan, address questions, and gather recommendations. These conversations give everyone a comfortable amount of time to get up to speed on e-commerce and, when it’s time to ask for approval, you’ll be able to present a plan that the board is already familiar with and has contributed to.Take a crash course from customers Internal sources can get you up to speed on past and current priorities of the business, but answers about its future are found out in the field. Speaking directly with customers can help you identify internal blind spots, validate the need for change, and allow you to truly speak to the customer experience when making decisions.Coming into Dawn Foods, Bob was well versed in e-commerce but not as knowledgeable about the bakery industry. So in his first two months he had “30 donuts in 60 days” as he visited dozens of bakeries to learn about the market, what customers valued most about the company, and what needs were going unmet. These market visits made it clear there was an urgent demand for e-commerce among customers and gave Bob a level of credibility with internal teams that helped get everyone on board with his recommendations. Prioritize people over paceOnce business transformation has customer validation and executive approval, you’ll need to work with people across departments to figure out the work it will realistically take to make it happen. Keep in mind that while the eventual maintenance of a new way of working might easily fit into a team’s responsibilities, the initial lift of the project can require a substantial shift in priorities, which can be met with resistance.“In many cases, these are muscles that people that have never been in an e-commerce company don’t have,” Bob said. “So to come at it with a mentoring, a sponsorship, a teaching and training perspective is very important.” Change requires long-term objectives that will take long-term business relationships to achieve. After decades in the business, Bob said he’s learned to give people the time and space to come around to new ideas on their own terms. While this might slow down progress for the first few months, it builds the trust needed to move faster in the long run.Make an MVP ASAPTaking e-commerce off the whiteboard and putting it in front of the business is a way to quickly highlight the work that needs to be done on data, data structure, pricing, images and other assets to enable e-commerce. Bob and his team created the first minimum viable product (MVP) in six weeks, with the goal of showing the best possible commerce experience the company could put out without making any changes to business. “That MVP, the beta project, was one of the most embarrassing things that I have ever put my name on,” said Bob, “but it did show the company the gap between where we were today and what we needed to do quickly to enable an e-commerce business.An MVP can also make it clear that the new way of working will affect many functions in the company. A visual, explorable product makes it easier for people to see how the change will relate to their own role and accelerates conversations about the collaboration needed from each department to bring a great experience to market. Remember, you’re just getting startedGetting the solution built is just the start. Transforming the organization and its mindset to one of continuous improvement is key to ensure you live up to customer expectations and demands.Bob knew he wouldn’t have all the right answers by launch about what e-commerce should look like at Dawn Foods because that information would come from customer feedback and user behavior. So the team first focused on speed, launching a market-ready solution in 22 weeks. “On the quality side, however, I knew that I needed to have the team and process in place to do an amount of development work post-launch so we could quickly address all the feedback from the customer,” Bob said, sharing that more developer hours were used in the six weeks post-launch than used to get to launch. To this day, the team continues to commit to that cycle of improvement, releasing new features every two weeks and rolling them out to customers monthly. “I built a whole army and process and protocol to get to launch, but before I launched I had already built the governance, the process, the protocol to run the business,” Bob said. “I think those two things combined are why we’ve been so successful as a company.” 

Oct 06, 2022

GraphQL vs. REST API: Which is better for querying data?

GraphQL vs. REST API: Which is better for querying data?Choosing the best API for compiling data can seem overwhelming if you don’t know how well they perform on a larger database. Developers typically use them to exchange data between programs and build functionality for their web apps. This makes it possible for the front-end and back-end teams to communicate better and develop products for consumers. The top two APIs are GraphQL and REST, each with its own pros and cons for sending a request and retrieving the result. GraphQL is considered an open-source data query and manipulation language for APIs, whereas REST is defined as an architectural standard for interacting with localized software services. As a developer, you might be curious about the potential use cases of both, as they provide a seamless environment for testing new features. Ultimately, this comes down to the scope of your project and what problems you’re trying to solve. This article will explore how they compare on multiple fronts, from fetching relevant information to sorting entries by category. Properties of REST APIREST diverges from GraphQL in that requests are grouped via endpoints and mutations can have any format besides string. It relies on a GET command to fetch resources (JSON response), which requires making multiple API calls to grab separate search results. Likewise, it is server-driven rather than client-driven architecture stacked into layers of hierarchy. Here are the key features of REST API:Each HTTP status code points to a unique response The server determines the shape and size of resourcesAbility to cache on the browser or server with a CDNHas a uniform interface that decouples the client from the serverPlenty of flexibility since calls are stateless and do not depend on each otherBenefits of REST APIREST works best on media files, hardware or web elements, mapping a linear path to those resources. A REST API will boost its performance by scaling to client demands and is capable of locating resources by name. It is built for storing common data types in memory and can be deployed from several servers in one sitting. With REST API, you get the opportunity to develop apps in all kinds of environments, due to how it integrates with a wide range of frameworks. It has been implemented in languages including Python, Java, PHP, and Ruby, enabling you to perform operations or create object instances explicitly over the protocol. On the bright side, you can easily migrate from one server to the next, or even build a portable UI across platforms and OSes. REST is ideal for automatic HTTP caching, reporting on errors, and has you covered against DDoS attacks. Nonetheless, its simplicity has some merit, being that it’s easy to extend and modify for connecting to other apps or services. Properties of GraphQLOn the other hand, GraphQL overcomes the hurdles presented by REST, as it allows the user to make targeted queries using a POST request. This is directed toward a single URL endpoint and returns the matching result if it exists in the database. GraphQL is instead arranged by schema, so the identity won’t match its fetch method. To validate queries, it will scan the cached metadata, an option not supported by REST. Here are the features that define GraphQL: A self-documenting model that conforms to the client’s graph dataThe server dictates which resources are open to the userReduces overhead communications with API providersSelects the type of operation using a keyword on the schemaA request executes multiple fields that converge at the same endpointAdvantages of GraphQLGraphQL brings many benefits to the table, shaping JSON data into a readable syntax. It expresses more consistency across operating systems, boasting faster development speeds on all platforms. It is capable of decoupling the front end from the back end to encourage work done on independent projects. To drive productivity, front-end iterations are no longer tied to back-end adjustments, placing less burden on the server. It’s also strongly typed, limiting queries to certain data types based on context. This API is designed to help you with query batching and caching by merging SQL queries to prevent a session timeout. You can look at what each function does and create custom requests to meet your users’ needs. In terms of upkeep, GraphQL will sync to updated documents and maintain version control without manual input. One advantage of GraphQL is the removal of excess data to prevent over-fetching on the fields you specify. On the flip side, you could run into under-fetching and not extract enough JSON values from an endpoint. This doesn’t happen on GraphQL because once a query is sent, the server reveals the exact data structure. Examples of When to Use GraphQL GraphQL is suitable for creating cross-platform apps that customers can access on a mobile phone. Its schema is designed for chaining longer query objects on the client side, helping you gain a better understanding of how data is extracted. GraphQL is used to enhance mobile app performance by reducing load times with fewer calls. It expands your API functionality to remedy issues reported on older versions.Schema stitching is quite convenient for modifying the client side since multiple schemas are combined into one to complete a data source. Let’s look at a few sample queries:Type Novel {    id: ID    title: String    genre: Genre    author: Author}Type Genre {    id: ID    published: Date    genres: [“Fantasy”, “Science Fiction”, “Non-Fiction”, “Adventure”, “Mystery”]    novels: [Novel]}While this example describes the fields under a Novel type, it does not give away how the object is fetched from the client. You still have to construct a Query type to access the values of a novel by its author or genre. Many applications require you to add, delete, or update data on the backend. This is achieved by utilizing three types of mutations.  Here is how you declare a mutation:First, use the mutation keyword to create one that resembles a standard query. For each field, it can take any number of arguments. mutation {    rootField(arg1: value1, arg2: value2) {        arg1        arg2    }}This root field passes in two parameters that return a specific output. Next, you’re able to assign different properties to the mutation object which will show up in the server response.Disadvantages of GraphQLGraphQL isn’t without its problems. Its single endpoint lacks caching, which is possible with a GET request, meaning that you have to implement browser caching for non-mutable queries. In some cases, GraphQL mutations can become buried under a flood of data types. Although you can pull up exact queries, you have no say over third-party client behaviors. Search operations like joining queries are more complicated than on REST microservices that route requests over a web host or URL. By default, GraphQL’s rigid queries are difficult to model for advanced aggregations or calculations. As for security, monitoring on GraphQL is practically nonexistent because only a few SaaS contain those API analytics.Examples of When to Use REST API A REST API is your best bet if users need to submit requests as separate URLs to retrieve data from microservices architecture. For projects smaller in scope, you can save memory space by importing its tools on your desired framework to designate unique ids on a handful of calls. If you’re not too fixated on collecting insights or dealing with backward compatibility, REST will do a good enough job. Generally speaking, a REST request comprises of the header, body, endpoint, and HTTP method for managing the standard CRUD operations. To initialize a basic call, you should do the following: response = requests.get(“https://siteurl.com/path.json”)print(response.json())The output to the body section: {    “parameter 1”: “value 1”,    “parameter 2”: “value 2”,    “parameter 3”: “value 3”}A successful request will return code 200 and display the types of fields (strings, integers, dictionaries) stored in that library. REST resources are distinguished by their URLs, which are recovered by delivering JSON to the server (i.e. GET, POST). To illustrate, we will perform an API call that reaches the endpoint of a user profile. Let’s jump into posting JSON to the server:{    “Id”: 529387,    “Name”: {        “First”: “John”,        “Last”: “Brown”    },    “Age”: 24,    “Occupation”: “Research Associate” }In the above example, a response returns the output of an employee who works at a biotech company. To update these fields, you also need to set the MIME type for the body to application/json. Drawbacks of REST APIAfter mobile’s rise to popularity, REST was deemed too inflexible to address network issues. Simply put, it struggled to convert app data to a graphical form by attempting to scale its unstructured parameters. If you want to grab a specific attribute, you have no choice but to create new resources and modify them across multiple roundtrips. Because REST is server-driven, clients are entirely dependent on network conditions. It often leads to nested N+1 queries, chaining API calls on the client, and making the returned URI harder to read. It introduces delays in the development lifecycle where front-end teams must wait for back-end teams to deliver the API, thereby pushing back product release dates. ConclusionThe main takeaway from all this is that GraphQL and REST API serve different purposes in the app development lifecycle. GraphQL gives the data you’re looking for without over- or under-fetching and is compatible with advanced techniques like transforming fields into different values. REST is easier to implement on JS frameworks if you plan to locate a precise resource or design an interactive website.An important thing to remember is they both have advantages and disadvantages depending on the product specifications as well as the user requirements. GraphQL may have the upper hand in an agile environment, but it still has room for improvement. REST has more existing tools and integrations; however, it can be affected by poor network conditions. 

Sep 22, 2022

How to launch an online store in under 90 days

There are two absolutes in a digital economy: impatient, demanding customers and the need for an e-commerce presence. If you don’t have an e-commerce presence or the one you do have fails to meet customer expectations, you’re likely considering how to solve your problem.What’s been your experience with a software development effort? If you’re like many, it conjures images of:Rounding up the best qualified (and already overworked) team membersSlogging through endless team meetings on top of your other job dutiesWorking through months of coding, testing, refining and debugging to field a minimum viable product (MVP) e-commerce siteWe’ve all been there and have the T-shirts to prove it. But how would you react if we said it is possible to launch an e-commerce venture in under 90 days? Not a work-in-progress, bare-bones MVP placeholder, but a fully functional, customer-centric, remarkably agile e-commerce site built by a team of six people using four independent technologies in less than three months.Why build a working example?How do you address the incredulous responses to the “up and running in under 90 days” claim? As professional baseball player Dizzy Dean said, “It ain’t bragging if you can do it.” So, we decided to prove the power and ease of using composable commerce tools by building and demonstrating a working e-commerce site at ContentCon 2022, our annual conference.Why tie the project to the conference? A swag store was the natural choice to launch at a conference as attendees could access the store, select their items, create digital receipts and collect their items at the vendor’s booth.“We wanted to use this as an example to give you guys an application that you can actually interact with that we’ve built with our four technologies to show it’s really not that difficult,” said Piyush Patel, chief ecosystem officer at Algolia.The team planned the project as more than just a conference presentation, however.“This is just the starting point,” said Gary Ballabio, VP of technology partnerships at Cloudinary. While every business will have its own requirements, the team used their four technologies to create a proof of concept “but also [to create a reusable platform] for anybody to use afterward, for everybody to branch off and use really for a starting point themselves.”How do you launch an e-commerce store in under 90 days?How did we pull this off in less than 90 days? By partnering with three other industry leaders, BigCommerce, Cloudinary and Algolia. We each contributed part-time team members and our software to the project. Here’s a rundown of the platform software each company contributed:E-commerce enablement by BigCommerceImage and video management by CloudinaryHeadless CMS by ContentstackInstant searchability by AlgoliaThe next step was setting up our goals and success measures with the technologies chosen. The resulting project parameters were simple and to the point:Our working premise was that the four technologies working together would meet all project requirements.The site would include four pillars: content, search, commerce and media.Each technology partner would provide part-time technologists, not full-time developers.In a nod to the reality people face developing and deploying software today, all team members were remote, spanning time zones from India to California.Assess the ability of each technology’s integration framework to facilitate information flow seamlessly between platforms.Deliver a solution other e-commerce ventures could use as a starting point.We wanted the development effort to reflect the real world, not be an academic exercise. “This really mimicked what many of your organizations have to deal with on a day-to-day basis,” said Nick Barron, senior director of partner enablement at Contentstack. “We’ve got a lot of remote employees; we’ve got a lot of dispersed teams that live in little siloes, specialties and little centers.” So, a 100% remote team was an ideal test environment.The results? We met all our goals and delivered the e-commerce site in well under 90 days. The team became so enthused and productive that we finally called a hard stop as we had more than enough to prove our concept.Here are the project’s summary stats:How it worksHow do you bridge the integration gap between different technologies to deliver functional e-commerce sites and other applications quickly and easily? The short answer lies in using application protocol interfaces (APIs) to manage communication between technologies. Configuration settings replace software customization, allowing users to compose the processes and actions needed to make the application meaningful to customers and the business.Here's a high-level look at how the ABC Swag e-commerce site brings a new product to life.The product manager creates the product in BigCommerce, entering the required information like SKU, product name, product specifications and more.BigCommerce automatically creates the product detail page (PDP) in Contentstack, notifying the product marketer that it’s available for enrichment.The product marketer adds enriched content, including images, videos, 3D models and more, to the PDP from Cloudinary.Contentstack updates Cloudinary assets with metadata describing the location of each asset used in the PDP.When Contentstack publishes the product, it sends all the details to Algolia to index and prepare for searching.As the product manager or marketer makes changes based on analytics like sales, clicks and customer questions, the system automatically manages them, eliminating human error and increasing system responsiveness.Why it worksOf course, technology underpins everything, but people and a cooperative spirit are the two things that make technology valuable and usable. At Contentstack, we call this “Care Without Compromise™.”Here are some observations from the other team members about why the project worked:“The ability to reach out to the other vendors with questions made everyone’s job easier,” Patel said. “I think that’s the lesson we learned is, have help.”Ballabio said the team members were technologists, not full-time developers, working part-time with new tools and working full-time with the tools they were familiar with.“It is a testament to how well documented and how well set up those other tools are for them to pick it up and to create this proof of concept together,” he said.The project also illustrates the dedication of the companies leading the Microservices-based, API-first, Cloud-native, and Headless (MACH) evolution to solve their customers’ problems. This dedication extends to getting help from other technology partners when necessary.Powered by composable architectureWhat made it possible for our part-time team, working remotely in their area of expertise, to build this e-commerce venture in record time? Composable architecture. Composable architecture takes advantage of APIs and scalable web services to create a digital-first enterprise.A simplified definition, to be sure, but it’s more important how composable architecture helps enterprises than how you define it. According to Architecture & Governance, Gartner says, “supporting composable architecture means architecting your business for real-time adaptability and resilience in the face of uncertainty.” What business cannot benefit from adaptability and resilience?Acceptance of the MACH/composable architecture approach to e-commerce continues to grow. More organizations are finding they can no longer meet the demands of today’s consumers with traditional monolithic systems and dated development methodologies. To survive and thrive, they are making the move to composable systems. According to a recent Salesforce State of Commerce report, 80% of businesses that don’t currently have headless e-commerce technology up and running plan to implement it in the next two years.Composable architecture using MACH components enables teams in any size company to develop, deploy and maintain responsive e-commerce ventures in record time. We demonstrated that combining headless CMS, media enrichment, e-commerce enablement and instant search replaces monoliths with superior solutions.Connect Without CompromiseContentstack and our partners are taking Care Without Compromise™ to another level with Connect Without Compromise™. We want to assure our mutual customers that our tools will work as described. Should any customer experience issues, we'll work with our partners to find a solutionHow does this differ from our Care Without Compromise? Think of it as a combination of technology and best practices.Marketplace: An extensive ecosystem of features, services, apps, integrations and accelerators.Automation Hub: Simple, no-code, cross-stack business logic you can implement immediately.Blueprints: Extremely detailed best practices and implementation guides to get you from zero to operational in the shortest time possible.For example, if you want to set up a store using the same technologies we used to build our ABC Swag Store demo, we have a blueprint that will give you a jump start on creating a similar application for your business.The passing of the age of the monolithsIt’s fair to say that the age of the monoliths has passed, replaced by the age of composable architecture. Rather than waiting weeks for developers to create a simple integration in a monolithic system, businesses can model, evaluate and deploy them in minutes. We think that’s worth celebrating. If you agree and want to learn more to move your business forward, we offer these options:See the ABC Swag Store in action.  For a deeper dive into the building of the ABC Swag Store site, watch our webinar series, “The ABCs of Composable Commerce.”Want to build your e-commerce venture or headless CMS? Learn more and schedule a free demo. 

Sep 21, 2022

Why your company’s future depends on modernization

In the early stages of my career, I joined a “cutting-edge” software company as an architect in the IT department. I don’t want to spoil the story, but the company was not, in fact, cutting-edge. While the company purchased all sorts of tools it considered modern, its leaders didn’t stop to consider what successful implementation might look like, or how to educate and empower their people to use it well. Instead, we just accumulated new tech. I left the company less than a year after joining.I was reminded of this experience while listening to Chief Digital Officer of Dawn Foods Bob Howland share his story in a recent episode of the People Changing Enterprises podcast. He led the transformation of the 100-year-old bakery supplies company.I love his perspective: Don't modernize for the sake of modernization. Don't do it because there are shiny new tools. Do it because your organization’s future depends on it.If I could go back to that company and tell them why driving digital transformation is important, this is what I would say.You no longer have to compromise all three: speed, quality and costIn the podcast, Bob referred to speed, quality and cost as the triangle that all companies chase. I like to refer to that quest as the “Pursuit of Happiness.” Think of the elements as sliders on a mixing board. You are constantly adjusting the mix in response to your priorities at the moment and you can usually get a perfect sound with two of the three elements. The third hopefully is not far behind. A general rule of thumb is that all can improve, given the right circumstances.When we were a young startup, we bought certain functionalities of our technology rather than building them, for the sake of speed — for example, our rich-text editor. As we grew, we doubled down on enhancing every aspect of our product to our standards. That’s when we rebuilt our rich-text editor to be one of the most advanced available in any CMS today.But when you’re a legacy company with outdated processes and technology, speed, quality and cost tend to be:Unaligned with company prioritiesLagging far behind what they could beAs a result, the company suffers from unrealized potential and unnecessary complexity that limits them in some way. The quality of what you’re offering might be good, but the right technology could enhance it. While you might be able to operate with a level of speed that is good enough, there is a possibility to be quicker and more agile. Bob said it like this in the podcast: “Someone would say we're doing fine, and they would be right. And here comes this person that thinks about the world differently, and says, ‘We can still be that company, but we can be better.’ And when I say better, I mean better revenue, trajectory, lower costs and improved customer experience. That's how I define better.”Your employees will feel empoweredBefore their transformation, Dawn Foods’ sales team could better be referred to as order takers. The only way a customer could place an order was by writing it on a piece of paper and physically giving it to the rep when they were visiting their store. So when the company pitched the idea of an online ordering system to shift the team’s priorities to strategic growth opportunities for the customer, they were hungry for it. Modernizing your technology stack is not just to achieve speed, cost, and quality for the business — it’s for your people, too.One of my jobs as a CTO is not only to create the tech roadmap for the future, it’s to empower the people the vision is for. Whether that’s implementing a new tool, iterating on an old process or making space for innovation.For example, when my engineering team does “sprints” — meaning, working on development projects for two weeks at a time — we always allocate time for innovation. Twenty percent of an engineering sprint is dedicated to bug fixes and feature requests from customer success; eighty percent is given to their creative endeavors.One benefit of digital transformation is that your employees can shift their focus and skills to meaningful tasks that can have impact. Your customers will be happy, and your employees will be satisfied and motivated. You can deliver what customers need when they need itFor a customer, there’s nothing more frustrating than needing a feature to solve a problem and knowing that it might happen in the next year if it happens at all. One of the goals of digital transformation should be that you are able to respond to customers’ needs much faster. You become an agile organization, like Dawn Foods. In just 22 weeks, they delivered a world-class catalog to get their customers excited about their products and streamline their experience. They couldn’t do that without moving to composable architecture and upgrading their technology stack. At Contentstack, our head of global customer success and I sit down every two weeks and discuss what our customers have requested. We prioritize by making a “top 10 wish list” and we leverage our tech stack to deliver what they need. This is how we prioritize continuous transformation.And this is what I know: Transformation is a constant, iterative improvement. It doesn’t have a designated stop or start period. There is no before and after. You nurture the relationships, set up the systems and processes and onboard the right tools. When you do that, your business and its stakeholders will thrive.For 100 years, Dawn Foods was hugely successful. But when Bob came to them and showed them what they could be, the entire board agreed it was their only option to keep that success going for another hundred years. Any enterprise can benefit from modernization — especially if it has been around for a very long time.

Sep 21, 2022

What is an API?

For all its power and opportunities, the digital economy demands continuous adaptation and flexibility to satisfy evolving customer demands for unforgettable, personalized experiences. How do you rise to this challenge? By adopting a headless approach to your content management system (CMS), which separates a website’s visuals (the front end) from its content library (the back end).In this composable architecture, the logic and functionality are assigned to a network of application programming interfaces (APIs) that relay messages between applications aimed at reusing content securely across multiple projects.  As more and more businesses move toward composable architecture, you’ve probably heard of APIs but may not know how they work. Read on to find out what an API is and how it works in a modern CMS. What is an API?An API is a medium that allows two software components to communicate with each other. It transfers information from the client to the server via requests sent through an application.The internal parts are hidden from the user since the purpose is to connect various tools and services, initiating calls to the endpoints residing in another system or device. APIs are categorized into four types depending on the format of stored data: SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol): A standardized API that relies on XML texts and structured databases to send requestsRPC (Remote Procedure Calls): Compatible with distributed applications, which execute code on a server outside the clientWebsocket: Allows client and server apps to communicate by passing data through JSON files using callback messagesREST (Representational State Transfer): Responds to server requests by performing a function and returning its output data An API houses many microservices that your developers can implement into various programs, similar to a menu for selecting items. It lets them retrieve pre-made templates that improve existing content without reinventing the wheel for every web element.  If someone needs to upload groups of files, they can simply pull this feature from the source code that has the solution in place. Let’s go over the steps to processing a request from an app to the server. How do APIs work?APIs make it possible to connect cloud services, mobile devices, custom workspaces and real-time analytics, whenever you need to maintain, access and share large amounts of data on a single platform. They can restrict access to particular software and hardware, protecting your company records from users who don’t have permission to view them. First, a client app will fetch the HTTP request and transport it through the URI consisting of a header and body. Next, the API proceeds to call an option recognized by the program or web server. Then, the client will process the request and fetch the correct information. Finally, the data is transferred to the client app in JSON format to wrap up the session. An API interface optimizes the exchange of data throughout departments, software engineers and external vendors. This saves you time and money on product development or even managing web services, lending itself to flexible interactions between cross-functional teams, thus opening up opportunities for innovation. APIs are depicted as layers that translate what happens on both ends of the network. The same idea holds true for modern web browsers — when you visit a site, it may ask you about enabling cookies, which you can deny if you don’t want third parties tracking your preferences. What are some examples of APIs?APIs are important for developing and securing resources, giving you control over what assets are available to your partners and consumers, in contrast with those built for employees. For the most part, they blend into the background of the graphical user interfaces you come across. Here are several APIs you’ve probably heard about: Google MapsGoogle Maps has become the de facto GPS for planning car routes, supplying detailed street maps through satellite imaging. The map API’s geolocation tools provide users with traffic conditions near their destination along with the estimated time of arrival. PayPalPayPal processes payments beyond digital wallet transactions. In fact, the option to pay with PayPal is a staple of e-commerce sites that operate based on its REST APIs. This protects sensitive data from unauthorized entities after checkout. FacebookThe Graph API lets developers extract core functions directly from Facebook, using HTTP requests to share pages and posts from a user’s timeline. It has extensions to collect insights on marketing campaigns, video impressions, conversion rates and more. It’s likely that you’ve used APIs at some point when installing a website extension or downloading a phone app, but they exist in other spaces as well, such as when you add items to a cart while shopping online or when you have food delivered to your doorstep.  Advantages of using an APIThere are APIs on the market to enhance databases, operating systems and remote machines — classified into either private or public versions. An API offers many benefits that improve software solutions and overhaul IT systems, upgrading customer-facing apps to grab the user’s attention. Internally, there are APIs for database communications that invoke protocols, authorizing the end-user to write queries or upload new entries. These are inserted automatically under the relevant criteria to ensure the data is reliable and consistent across multiple verticals. Another type of API covers operating systems including Windows and Linux, with a set of developer tools for executing native programs stored in the hard drive. OS APIs govern the success of critical operations to keep the servers running at full speed. In the face of a changing digital landscape, companies at times have to rethink their marketing strategy to continue attracting prospective buyers. That’s why most social media outlets host external APIs to raise their brand visibility and pull in millions of users to engage with posts. Because connectivity is a driver of productivity, companies are now automating building-wide workflows to reduce the cost of labor. Additionally, APIs are drivers of innovation, transforming businesses while they expand into a diversified market and propose new product ideas. The Role of APIs in MACH architectureMACH stands for Microservices, API-first, Cloud-native, and Headless when discussing enterprise architecture. This principle states that technology should be modular, pluggable, and capable of evolving, shedding light on scalable and replaceable components at every turn, designed to improve API functionality for both your users and developers.MACH is focused on the best-of-breed approach to building enterprise-level SaaS while it introduces modularity to legacy systems. Above all, MACH constructs a centralized network that spans multiple channels with agile frameworks in mind. Microservices arrange applications as an assortment of deployable services instead of leaving the features on a single instance or database. As such, you can update apps on-demand without impacting other API functions. API-first suggests that your connected apps depend on the API to fetch, store, and receive information throughout various points of contact. It allows two or more apps to interact regardless of the status of other programs.Cloud-native defines the SaaS framework used for storage and hosting, with the ability to scale flexibly and update functionality on every available resource. The server is maintained by a vendor so you don’t need to manually configure individual apps. Headless is what isolates the front end from the back end, making it easier to customize the visuals on mobile and desktop. The code is decoupled to expand design options while still giving your developers room to write and test scripts. A MACH API strengthens the security of its intermittent layers: You never have to worry about data leaking from your phone to the server, knowing that packets of data only share what’s necessary to approve the transaction. A few lines of code can make a huge difference in extending API use cases. As a result, workplace collaboration is much better because of integrations on the cloud that communicate effectively with each other. APIs have a lot of potential for monetization if their capabilities are leveraged to gather consumer data, empowering businesses to personalize future customer experiences with valuable research derived from AI analytics. You can create digital experiences faster than you dreamed possible with Contentstack. Schedule a free demo and see why top brands are choosing our content experience platform. 

Sep 14, 2022

How to have difficult conversations with your CFO

I've heard CFOs described as executives who are "exceptional at finding the smartest way to say no." While there may be some truth to that, CFOs are also motivated by the smartest reasons to say yes.When that clicked for me earlier in my career, my approach to CFO conversations shifted. It wasn't about drowning them in data or trying to convince them my idea was the one; it was about painting a picture.That picture should tell a simple story: where the organization is now and where it could be if we make a change. As Chief Digital Officer of Dawn Foods Bob Howland said in a recent episode of the People Changing Enterprises podcast: "Everyone wants to be part of success. Everyone wants to be part of the future."Given the economic environment, many of us are having more conversations with finance than we're used to. So, I thought I'd share some of my strategies for fruitful CFO conversations here.Face Issues Early and Head-OnDawn Foods' Bob Howland calls this: "Be the bringer of bad news." Howland joined Dawn Foods in 2019 to propel the 100-year-old baking ingredients company into its next 100 years. Before Howland, orders were only taken by hand. His "bad news" was that their future wasn't bright if they didn't become an agile organization. Digital transformation hit the baking industry, too.And he told the CFO that within his first few days on the job. Talk about early. But he also came up with a solution: to release a beta ecommerce site in six weeks built on composable architectures and get some results. That eventually became a full-blown solution in 22 weeks.As Bob said, "If something is broken, tell the people that should know right away. Then figure out what's the action and who should take it?""Broken" to a CFO typically boils down to one of two things: something is costing us (or will cost us) a lot of money with no return in the long run or competition is eating our lunch. Know what the problem is going in and get rid of the noise around it to focus your conversation with the CFO. Noise can be anything from emotion, to office politics, to vanity issues that don't get you closer to the heart of the problem.Find a Common LanguageThere's a reason I'm CEO and David Overmyer is Contentstack's CFO: Finance is not my area of expertise. But, here's the thing. We share a passion, which is scaling high-performing organizations in sustainable and purpose-filled ways. So, when we talk about allocating money, the underlying question isn't how much it will cost, but where will that spend take us?We focus on a few key metrics for business-as-usual meetings. Those include ARR, CAC, gross margins, and customer retention. When new opportunities arise, we agree on the overriding KPIs together and then dig deeper.Come up with a common language upfront. Don't risk derailing a meeting with jargon. Once questions like "what does that mean" start springing up, you've lost your way.Let me challenge you with one additional perspective on common language: It doesn't have to be about words or numbers. Values can take the lead.When March 2020 hit, a lot of companies responded with layoffs. Since David and I agreed when we first started working together that taking care of our people was our highest priority, we came up with creative solutions — executive pay cuts, investing in training and development — to pandemic problems. For us, brains and heart matter.Find (or Make) an AdvocateIf you're as lucky as I was with David, you may make an ally out of your CFO. I would go so far as calling him a mentor. But for most people, that's out of reach. In the podcast, Howland shared the golden question that opened the door toward marketing/finance partnership and transformation: "Who is the most trusted person on your team?"Howland turned that person into an e-commerce expert and an advocate. It took time and education. Mostly, it took enablement — sharing information and allowing him to come to his conclusions. Author Bernard Desmidt called this mindset "win with" vs. "win over" in CFO Magazine this year.Allowing this slow journey to unfold builds trust, which improves the relationship and, ultimately, the organization in the long run.I was lucky early in my career to participate in Crucial Conversations training. A lot of that training is reflected in this piece. In Crucial Conversations, opinions tend to differ, and the stakes and emotions are high. Conversations with finance are often like this.But if handled properly, these conversations can create breakthroughs that unlock the potential of people and organizations.