Nishant Patel

The visionary behind Contentstack, Nishant Patel pioneered “headless CMS” over a decade ago. Nishant is a serial tech entrepreneur and CTO, and currently co-founder and CTO at Contentstack. Under Nishant’s leadership, the company builds enterprise software products that power digital transformation and further the rise of the API economy. Nishant previously founded and led the digital solutions consultancy Raw Engineering and integration and automation platform, which was acquired by Software AG. For 20+ years, Nishant has shaped the future of the API-first, cloud native industry and made Contentstack the Content Experience Platform (CXP) category leader.

Posts by Nishant Patel

Nov 21, 2023 | 3 min. read

How IT leaders can champion developer-led innovation

Outside of IT, our role can look like we're just the "fixers" for the organization. Got aproblem? Call IT. But what's becoming increasingly evident in a post-pandemic, AI-driven world is that our IT teams have a massive role in shaping how the organization pursues innovation and creative customer experiences. So, how can IT leaders support the growth of developer-led innovation? As the CTO, I must lead the way for what I want the team to do. One of our Contentstack values is "we are curious trendspotters and brave trendsetters," so I intentionally embed curiosity and exploration into my own – and our team's – processes. We also discussed this in our "People Changing Enterprises" episodes with the team that engineered Sky Websites: Senior Product Developer Richard Mace and Lead Software Developer Oliver Cavanagh. The more we can set the scene for developer-led innovation, the better the products and experiences we can offer our customers. Give the team a box to dream inside It's hard to set anyone free with the vague directive, "Go think of some great ideas." So, Mace and Cavanagh discussed that every idea their team comes up with should align with their guiding principles: "This should be a platform that anybody can use. We want to keep it simple and user-friendly. We want things to be quick from a developer's point of view and scalable and automatable. We're happy with it if it fits those guidelines and principles." For Contentstack, our guiding principle is centering the customers we serve. Whatever makes our customers' lives' easier so they can help their customers is something we want to pursue. Of course, that can often get incredibly vague, so we've developed persona profiles that break down the needs and complexities of our roles, like the developer, the marketer, and other stakeholders. We check in with the right persona profile when we want to know if an idea aligns. The idea must also be feasible to develop and fit nicely with our excellent product roadmap. The team understands that if their vision checks all these boxes, I will say, "Let's go for it." Facilitate the relationship between your developers and customer-facing teams If you need to see a continuous exchange of ideas within your team, you might evaluate the distance between them and your customers. There needs to be more connection between SaaS developers and their customers today, which is a problem. It's much easier for your team to innovate when they're close to the need. In practice, it's more practical for developers to get close to customer-facing teams versus the customers. To get these teams together, the leader must lead. Mace acts as the bridge between the editorial team and his developers. The editorial team brings their ideas, needs, and concerns to Mace, and he facilitates discussion among the developers. That's similar to how my developers and our customer success teams interact. At least every two weeks, I try to meet with Greg Luciano, Contentstack's Head of Customer Success, to talk about his top 10 customer success "wish list." From there, I take the priorities to the team and discuss them. We share our engineering sprints — part of a sprint is dedicated to customer success fixes and feature requests, and the other part goes to our projects. How can you be the bridge between your developers and customer-facing teams? Provide the space If you want your teams to prioritize innovation, it's up to you to set the expectation to go above and beyond and provide the space for them to do it. Too often, developers can get bogged down in the day-to-day - bug fixes, upcoming feature requests, and the next big thing on the roadmap. I experiment with a revolving door of tools and discuss my findings with the team. It's a clear expectation that I want them to do the same. As a company, we set an objective of 40 hours per person per year (at a minimum) for learning about things that might improve our work and product. That means I'm also held to 40 hours a year, at least. We provide space in other ways. We carve out a few days a year to host hackathons like DevFest so we can all collaborate and present new product feature ideas. We're also in the middle of our Contentstack AI Immersion program, challenging everyone to learn about how AI can impact their daily roles and present their findings to the team. We'll send the teams with the best ideas to an AI conference in New York. For the team at Sky, their expectation of trying new things and pursuing innovation was initiated by a director. Mace said she "wanted us to have that attitude of being bold and brave, and operate in a way that a startup would, and push ourselves." That's why Mace and Cavanagh block time on developers' calendars on Fridays. They call it "Boost Time," and their team has only one priority: to learn something new that they are interested in that will help them in their job. During that time, they cannot take meetings or work on sprints. If innovation is a priority for your team, it takes creativity on leadership's end to make it possible. What we do at Contentstack and what Mace and Cavanagh do at Sky may not fit your organization. Ultimately, it is up to your leaders, culture, values, and team to decide what will best pave the way for ideas and collaboration. But prioritizing it will pay off for you, your team, and your customers.

Aug 25, 2023 | 3 min. read

The world is your oyster: using AI to support your content ecosystem

Every few years, the world is faced with a massive technological shift. In the 90s, it was the dot-com boom. In the 2000s, it was the cloud and mobile and omnichannel experiences. Now, we’re in the middle of the AI revolution. It’s been brimming under the surface for a while but transitioned into a full-blown movement with the rise of ChatGPT and DALL-E. How enterprise leaders handle this revolution over the next few years will determine how successful they will be at understanding and guiding their customers. At Contentstack, we’re making massive strides to learn about and test AI tools responsibly and seeing how our customers embrace the change, too. One of those customers is Informa, a global business-to-business events and information services company. On our “People Changing Enterprises” podcast, we heard from Narisa Wild, who spearheaded Informa’s digital transformation, about how the company uses AI to support its content ecosystem. Because it’s such a new and powerful category of tools, it’s worth discussing some of the options Narisa discussed. Reduce time on the simple stuff This seems obvious and is often the number-one tip floating around for AI. However, some interesting use cases might serve as inspiration for how these tools can support your unique content requirements. At Contentstack, we test tools like Jasper to support our content teams. Buffer, a social media marketing tool, wanted to create a social media glossary to help their customers learn terms that might not be fully known or understood. Instead of giving one person a very time-consuming task, they used AI to help them define and collect the terms they wanted to include. In their own words, it took half the time in a move that helped their customers greatly. Narisa discussed how she's been testing AI to quickly and more easily compose content creation briefs, offering writers a framework to follow and doing some initial research for the piece. It saves them up to two hours of work — think about how many hours in a day (and how many of them we spend in meetings). It’s valuable time back. Think of all the big ideas you’ve put on hold because you didn’t have enough manpower or time to pursue them. Is there anything you can optimize with AI to pursue those other opportunities? Push “data-driven” to new heights “Data” is one of those buzzwords that permeates every facet of the business. We often use multiple sources of data in a siloed manner. For example, marketers use GA4 for website and ad traffic. They might use a social media tool to schedule posts and dig into more complex analytics for each platform. Yet another tool might be used for newsletters, podcasts, or any other type of content.  But what if you could use AI to pull together each source and create a bigger, more strategic picture of your content ecosystem? In this week’s podcast episode, Narisa discussed the application of this data aggregation and analysis to inform content migration prioritization and taxonomy. In Narisa’s words, “It’s not impossible in Excel, but it would take us a long time.” Our Contentstack engineering teams use ChatGPT to help gather relevant data and information so we can assemble and understand requirements to build new products. We all know data is important to pull and analyze, but AI can bring depth and color to “data-driven decisions” we’ve never had access to. Take the time to do it differently than everyone else My biggest advice for figuring out how to best support your content ecosystem with AI:  Challenge the entire organization to test and learn.  On the podcast, Narisa highlighted that all these use cases are still experimental for Informa and many other enterprises. Testing and learning ultimately determine where AI fits into our unique content ecosystems and how to differentiate our brands from competitors.  Don’t limit testing to individual content or tech teams; pull everyone in to learn together. At Contentstack, we’re learning how to use AI together responsibly. We all decided on the first and number one rule: protecting employee and customer data. While we may use it for other tasks, we don’t feed that information into AI. On the lighter side, we’re also in the middle of an AI “hackathon” for every department in every region at Contentstack. We’ve charged HR, marketing, IT, customer success, and everyone in between with one goal: find AI tools that help you in your daily tasks and assess the benefits. We’re incentivizing “winners” with a trip to an AI conference. It is not cliché, but we all win when the organization learns together. We all get one step closer to serving our customers more efficiently and pursuing bolder, more imaginative experiences. What is your brand’s version of doing it differently? We’re beyond the point of questioning whether or not AI belongs in our content ecosystem and enterprise teams. The question now is how will your brand leverage AI?  In Narisa’s words, “the world is your oyster, " the possibilities are endless.

Jul 19, 2023 | 3 min. read

The power of documentation for innovation

What does innovation look like to you? Raise your hand if you think about paperwork. Nobody?  You probably thought about scribbles in journals, crazed hours working on your computer by lamplight, intensive brainstorming sessions, or even getting into the field and talking to potential customers, partners, and investors. I doubt you thought about documentation.  But that can be your organization’s biggest ally in creating something new and unlike anything on the market.  Documentation was useful for REI, the outdoor retail brand, as they implemented their new digital composable experience. Kat Valdre, engineering manager for REI’s platform organization, and Jason Greely, Solutions Architect for REI’s content and experience management platform, came on our “People Changing Enterprises” podcast to discuss it. It got me thinking: Documentation is often one of those overlooked, even annoying, parts of the business. But the benefits are clear: collaboration, clarity, and iteration.  Collaboration When we think about documenting our processes, we primarily consider it a safeguard for when people – and the knowledge in their heads – leave. Kat made a great point on the podcast: the people who start a project aren’t always the ones who finish it. If you’ve documented your processes, it’s easy to introduce new people into the mix. While that’s a valid reason to start documenting how organizations do things the way they do, it’s not the only reason. One of the most powerful byproducts of documentation is collaboration. No matter how hard we try to break down silos, it’s still second nature for separate business departments to stay separate. Ongoing documentation can actually blow up those invisible boundaries.  We’re constantly building things at Contentstack. Here’s how we kick it off: when our product managers begin working on a new product request, they fill out a product requirement document (PRD) that lists details like the problem it solves and different scenarios it will use. They send that PRD to our engineering team and create a technical specification document – the features and how we will build them – with that information.  Once these two baseline documents are complete, they are broken down into tasks and assigned deadlines in Jira, our ticketing system. That process works the same way every single time. Why? Because we’ve documented it, everyone is on the same page, answering the same questions and working with the same expectations. Clarity If you haven’t guessed yet, we capture all our knowledge and processes at Contentstack. If that sounds grueling or repetitive, stay with me — there’s a reason for it. That reason is clarity. The organizations that move the fastest and deliver high-quality results are the ones that work toward extreme clarity with their teams about their roles, responsibilities, and expectations. Never assume that everyone knows every process's details and role in them. Most of the time, that’s not true.  I love a quote about leadership: “It’s equally vital as a leader that you speak with your people in a way that not only can be understood by them but, just as importantly, cannot be misunderstood.” When processes and roles are on paper, it’s pretty hard to misunderstand who is doing what and why. That’s why, during their digital transformation, the team at REI held meetings and made sure they wrote down: What they discussed  What they decided and agreed upon The reasons behind those decisions Not only did it hold everyone accountable for the decisions and the execution, but it made sure everyone was on the same page. Ensuring everyone knows where they stand and what they’re doing produces remarkable speed and agility. It also produces confidence; over time, the combination of all these elements becomes something even more valuable: trust. Iteration Documentation sounds complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. It doesn’t have to take twenty pages — it could be a bulleted list. My team uses Confluence to capture our processes; it integrates with Jira and makes async collaboration simple with tagging and more. The REI team even talked about moments where Excel comes in handy. And just because a process is down on “paper” doesn’t mean it stays the same forever. In fact, it’s actually the opposite. It's easy to see where things can be improved when you’re staring at what’s being done and why.  My teams’ processes are constantly changing. We always look at what we do and give feedback on what we can improve. This brings me to another good point: not everything needs to be made from scratch; sometimes, it just needs to be tweaked. Sometimes, the saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is wise. If a process is working above 60% effectiveness, salvage it. Innovation doesn’t always trump iteration. Documentation is not the most glamorous part of innovation, I’ll admit. But it’s simple and effective. All we have to do to take advantage of the benefits is make it a habit.

Jul 17, 2023 | 6 min. read

Unleashing the power of composability with Contentstack

The birth of the Composable Hero A few months away from South by Southwest® [SXSW] 2023, a Contentstack account executive had an idea to host an experience during the event that would capture the attention and imaginations of the attendees. A joint team of composable technology experts from Contentstack, Aprimo and EPAM was assembled to create an unforgettable experience around the platform. Considering the rich history of SXSW, they knew they needed something truly engaging that would showcase the endless possibilities of composable technology and the digital experience platform (DXP). This is the story of how the Composable Hero came to be. "We aim to inspire companies to transcend conventional implementations and experiment with composable architecture and artificial intelligence to engage their target audience. The Composable Heroes project embodies the limitless potential of forward-thinking businesses that want to redefine routine technology applications. By pushing creative boundaries, embracing AI technologies, and leveraging MACH principles, we are able to showcase the transformative power of innovation through a fun and imaginative experience." said Zamir Thind, Sr. Solutions Architect at Contentstack. "GenerativeAI is set to completely disrupt how our clients work. As we already have one of the most advanced applications of AI for digital asset management and content operations, we wanted to continue to push the envelope of possibilities with our cutting-edge partners at Contentstack and EPAM," said Erik Huddleston, CEO, Aprimo. "We collaborated with our partners to incorporate generative AI platforms into the content creation process, illustrating how seamlessly our companies work together to address our client's content scarcity challenges and prepare for their content abundance challenges of tomorrow." “Through our partnership with Contentstack and Aprimo, we’re committed to bringing innovation to the forefront by developing this unique and interactive AI-fueled app,” said Yury Bialykh, CTO, Digital Engagement Practice at EPAM. “By investing in MACH technology, our main goal is to support our customers in their business transformation journey and help design, build and deliver engaging digital experiences at scale.” Conceptualizing an AI-powered interactive experience The team was faced with a few fundamental questions:  How could they maximize the potential of Automation Hub? How could they harness the power of new technologies, such as AI-generated content? How could they create a unique omnichannel experience? Out of these questions, the initial concept took shape. Inspired by the idea of a photo booth, they envisioned an interactive experience where users could have their photos taken while providing additional input, such as their name, work title and job duties. This data would then be sent to Automation Hub, which would seamlessly communicate with AI generators. In a matter of minutes, the AI would work its magic, transforming the individual's photo into a personalized superhero image and generating a captivating superhero story to accompany it. Using this data-driven model, the team would create a digital superhero card for each user. Dubbed the "Composable Hero," this experience aimed to demonstrate the true power of composability.  Unleashing AI: Choosing the right services With a clear vision of the end product and experience in mind, they began planning the development cycle steps. For the text portion, selecting OpenAI’s ChatGPT (gpt-3.5-turbo) was an obvious choice. Its powerful API and remarkable generative capabilities made it the perfect fit for creating personalized superhero stories based on user input. The next challenge was AI image generation. Real-time transformation of images alongside text prompts required an image generator capable of consuming image files and delivering the desired results. However, building models for generative AI is a time-consuming and resource-intensive task. They explored various options and found that Midjourney (V4) produced the best results, despite not having an available API. To overcome this limitation, they took matters into their own hands and developed an API to interact with Discord, which is where Midjourney hosts its services, enabling them to generate the images seamlessly. To complete the experience, they needed a design templating engine that could effortlessly combine the generated image and story into an elegant, cool and fun trading card. The product manager for Automation Hub discovered Placid during a quick Google search. Its API-friendly nature and easy reconfigurability made it an immediate contender, swiftly earning its place on the whitelist. The components required were all ad hoc, and the need for Placid as a design templating engine only became apparent after they had selected the generative AI services and needed a way to bring everything together seamlessly. This exemplifies how, with a simple idea and the right vendors that meet your project's needs, you can move at MACH speed to create something innovative.  Simplifying the user journey The remarkable thing about this initiative is its simplicity and adherence to the core principles of everyday web services. It all boils down to a straightforward process: collect user data, transform the data and present it back to the user in its new form. The first task was to define the user story. The team wanted to ensure that users could easily navigate through a form that provided intuitive suggestions for constructing their hero. Simultaneously, they had to ensure that the data they provided was valid for processing. One crucial aspect they initially overlooked was that users would primarily use their phones, specifically iPhones, to submit and view their heroes at the event. Consequently, they discovered an obstacle: if users captured a picture with their iPhone, the file would be in HEIC format, which Midjourney/Discord did not accept. The team devised a solution to compress these files into a more suitable format. Additionally, it became imperative that the website was mobile-first since that would be users’ primary mode of interaction. The art of prompt engineering To ensure an exceptional user experience, the team developed a system of prompt engineering that stores specific prompts as metadata entries in the Contentstack stack. Each character choice corresponds to a prompt designed to elicit attributes and traits that align with that particular character type. Simultaneously, these prompts provide ChatGPT with the user's input and the selected character type, allowing for seamless integration of personalized elements into the hero's story. Solving the name puzzle Another crucial aspect the team had to address was the generation of a Composable Hero name. While they could ask ChatGPT to include a name in the story, extracting and identifying the hero's name from the text posed a challenge. One approach was to instruct ChatGPT to add a special character next to the name in the story, which worked effectively when using ChatGPT in the browser. However, this method proved less practical when using the API. As a result, the team devised an alternative solution: after generating the story, they fed it back into the service to obtain a hero name based on the story. Additionally, they requested the service to provide us with the hero's powers. This refined approach allowed them to create a more precise flow diagram, outlining the interactions between various services and Automation Hub. The revised flow diagram served as the blueprint, guiding the interactions between the different components to deliver an exceptional result. Automation Hub: Streamlining the experience At the core of the unified experience lies Automation Hub, a vital component that optimizes various tasks, including API interactions, content publishing and email notifications. The main automation includes a Lambda function that plays a pivotal role in orchestrating the entire workflow. Here's a concise breakdown of its key steps:  Creation of hero image The Lambda function sends a customized prompt to generative AI services in order to create a hero image specific to the user. Image handling Once the image is ready, the image is retrieved and securely stored in an S3 bucket. Text content processing The automation sends the text content to ChatGPT. The hero's story is retrieved, incorporating personalized elements based on user input. Card creation The generated image and story are seamlessly integrated into a visually appealing trading card using Placid. Storage and management The final card is securely stored in Aprimo. The card's URL is stored within the initial Contentstack entry. Real-time display To enhance the user experience, the team leveraged Pusher to display the generated images in real-time on the front end. The magic of Composable Heroes with MACH and generative AI With the individual experience in place, the team aimed to make the event interactive and enjoyable. They set up a dedicated photo station equipped with a blank canvas and professional lighting to achieve this. Users had the option to have their photos taken (with their own phone) on the spot or upload their own pictures, including images of themselves or their pets. The live event proved to be a resounding success, showcasing the immense potential that can be achieved by adopting a MACH approach to generative AI.  Central to this success was Automation Hub, which played a pivotal role in executing complex tasks, such as interacting with APIs, publishing content, and sending emails. With a sophisticated automation workflow in place, triggered by user actions, the team was able to harness the capabilities of generative AI to deliver personalized hero images and stories. To learn more, click here to book a demo and learn how EPAM, Aprimo and Contentstack: Maximized the potential of Contentstack’s Automation Hub Harnessed the power of new technologies, such as AI-generated content Created a unique and immersive omnichannel experience As well as create your own personal Composable Hero trading card!

Jun 14, 2023 | 3 min. read

The beauty of a composable digital experience platform: It can be whatever you need

Have you ever tried designing a website from a template?  It can be challenging. First, there are so many options to scroll through (that all somehow look the same) your head will spin. When you do pick a template, you have to build it the way you want, meaning a lot of customization. When that doesn’t work — because inevitably, you always hit the end of what the template can offer — you have to puzzle your way through custom code.  That can become a tangled web very quickly. Imagine that process for an established enterprise like Sephora or even a fast-growing start-up. Think about the manual process of integrating each tool needed for e-commerce or inventory management. You think you are “done” building,  but wait — the market is evolving and you need to start selling on a new-ish platform like TikTok or BeReal. A traditional legacy CMS environment is tricky: Change one thing and you risk the entire machine stalling.  The beauty of composable architecture is that your website can become whatever you want, whenever you need it — easily. Jurre van Ruth, digital strategy consultant at PostNL, came on our podcast, “People Changing Enterprises,” to discuss how the company took that concept to heart and made their composable DXP work for them.  But to make it work for your company like PostNL did, we need to level-set definitions and expectations. There’s a lot of confusion in the market about composable architectures — like what is a “composable DXP” in the first place — that I want to clear up.  What is a composable DXP? I like how van Ruth said it in the podcast: “We see [composable] as an ecosystem of technologies that aim to create and offer a consistent digital experience for all our customer segments across all digital touchpoints.” I specifically love the word "ecosystem" he uses.  CMSWire describes a composable DXP as providing “integrated, consistent solutions that are modular and tailored to microservices and yet connect the gaps of digital experience. This is a unified and seamless approach that eliminates siloed user experiences and all-in-one solutions.” To further flesh out that picture, I often describe composable architecture as a Lego tower: Each block is a tech tool and they each function together to make up one, larger tower, aka the customer’s digital experience.  However, unlike a sculpture — or legacy enterprise suites — you can more easily change the look and function of the entire tower by swapping out each block within.  For example, if your next marketing goal is to target potential consumers with more personalized advertising and content, those tools are easier to plug into a composable environment than traditional suites. Creative teams get to pursue the digital experience platform of their dreams, and there is much less frustration, less custom code and fewer heavy integration requirements for IT to handle on the back end. Then where does headless — AKA a headless CMS like Contentstack — come in? It’s simply a cornerstone block in your Lego tower. For a marketing environment, the headless CMS acts as a foundation. Every tool — like e-commerce, automated translation, or SEO tools — can integrate into it to make content the central hub of your ecosystem. Moving beyond one-size-fits-all Every enterprise is different, which means that the capabilities they need will also be different. However, when it comes to traditional legacy martech systems, it tends to be one-size-fits-all.  The problem is that one size actually doesn’t fit all, and those environments are slow and difficult to change. It takes extreme customization via code, contacting multiple vendors for help, and a lot of inter-dependencies that aren’t always caught until something breaks.   One of the best benefits of composable is that integration is much easier and more natural with APIs inherent to a composable environment. Like clicking a Lego into place, that tool is now part of the environment. For PostNL, they invested in tools for headless content and digital experience analytics, which were easily plugged into their composable environment. An e-commerce enterprise can integrate all the tools they require, whether it’s an online storefront platform, a product catalog with elements like descriptions or visual assets, or any personalization tools it might need. But, for example, a hospitality service will need a different set of tools, and they can have them inside a composable environment. Enterprises are no longer satisfied with a one-size-fits-all approach. The beauty of composable architectures is that, in a market that changes like the wind, organizations’ digital experiences can also evolve just as easily.

May 24, 2023 | 3 min. read

3 ways tech and business teams can help each other through a transformation

Not all great tech transformations are brought to the table by a developer, engineer, CTO or other technical person.  We see great projects kick off because someone in marketing, sales or customer success raises the flag for change. Sometimes business people can see opportunities that aren’t as plain to the tech teams. That’s what happened when decided to transition off its old systems to a headless CMS. Juliette Olah, senior manager of Editorial, realized that her teams had produced thousands of pieces of content over the years — but the capabilities of their current technology significantly limited the value that content produced in their local markets and possibilities for the future. Listening to her “People Changing Enterprises” episodes, I admired the way Juliette united’s product and editorial teams from the beginning to pull off their transformation. Business and tech can either be each other’s biggest advocates or frustrating roadblocks. To avoid the latter, these are three examples of how tech and business teams can support each other throughout a transformation. Thoroughly debrief at the onset At the beginning of every project, we encourage organizations to sit down with their cross-functional teams and level set. Business and tech have their own KPIs and goals to achieve. In a project that bridges the two, there should be a frank discussion, ending in clear, written requirements of process and goals for both sides. Once Juliette realized a tech transformation was the answer to the editorial team’s needs, she became the living bridge between the editorial and product teams. Sitting down with tech stakeholders, they talked through what Juliette called a “comprehensive 360 view of the benefits to the technical side of the platform”: The editorial team’s strategy and the justification behind the new technology Real-life examples of what execution would look like The business value of a central headless CMS would bring to each local market Opportunities they were currently missing out on because of their current tool Because she had clearly done her homework and demonstrated the need on both sides, the product team was eager to get started. Partner up to find and test new tools Finding and testing new tools is an easy way for business and tech teams to partner effectively. When the new CMS was in place, the teams at partnered to try out the new tool to make sure it worked for both sides. At Contentstack, once a new solution is initially developed, we pull in our business partners for User Acceptance Testing. They can test, catch bugs, or point out which workflows function trickier than anticipated — versus the tech teams doing it all themselves. Additionally, when you’re on the hunt for new tools, tag a business partner in for their opinion. From a different mindset, they might be able to raise questions or point out benefits you didn’t consider.  Work together to phase out what isn’t needed A transition to composable is the perfect time to evaluate what tools you’re bringing into the new environment — and which ones you should retire. This is another area that tech and business teams should work together. A few years ago, we bought an analytics tool for the organization to use on their reports. It was low-cost and met some of our needs upfront, so we decided to take a chance on it. Six months down the road, we were spending a huge amount of time trying to force the tool to work.  When a business person came to me and admitted the tool wasn’t helping their team meet their objectives, we decided to look into something else.  On a composable project, it’s not always clear on the back end if a tool is working for teams as they need. That’s where our business partners come in. It’s a partnership. Babe Ruth once said, "The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime." It’s easy for business and tech teams to work in silos, but working together produces more value. Especially in a tech transformation, the two teams are different sides of one coin.  Find ways to bridge the gap and you’ll see much more value in your resulting tech stack.

Apr 12, 2023 | 4 min. read

Words of wisdom for bridging the gap between monolith and composable

We always celebrate when an organization decides to forego their old architecture and go composable. But that’s when the real work begins.  It’s a significant undertaking to ease off your former environment — you’ve built an ecosystem of applications, interdependencies, and company expectations into it. The team at Brad’s Deals, a website that curates daily deals for customers, learned that quickly into their transition. Even now, both monolith and composable are running together as they progress towards a fully composable architecture.  Keith Mazanec, head of engineering, joined our “People Changing Enterprises” podcast to talk about what they’ve learned in the process about the tech, the team, and the overall transition.  Running systems through both monolith and composable simultaneously isn’t unique to Brad’s Deals. I’ve seen many customers choose that implementation strategy and can provide some guidance around the best way forward. Get everyone on the same page when it comes to success. Gather your team and all the right leaders in the room and level set expectations, roles and goals. What apps and capabilities need to be built into the architecture? How do you get there, step-by-step, while still getting the organization and your customers what they need?  I recommend focusing on your problem areas, particularly where you are not moving fast enough. It could be security, a marketing system, an e-commerce platform or a sales process. When you’re first transitioning off your old system, you don’t want to break what is already working. Hone in on your biggest pain points first and determine what a successful outcome looks like. When Keith got his team together, they decided that the overarching goal would be one unified platform where all their content lived together. Digging a little deeper, they brainstormed a more specific success indicator: They wanted their editorial teams to be able to spend less time on rote data entry and more time on the curation and recommendation of great deals. Like this one, your success benchmarks should be meaningful and measurable.  Don’t let the transition go too long — the right pacing is everything. Running monolith and composable together isn’t a natural capability built into either technology. Keith described their in-progress system as “a whole sort of duct tape and bubblegum integration between our legacy publishing system and marketing automation system.” That works for a while, but don’t let it go too long. Some organizations make the mistake of extending the project too far down the road. In doing so, they postpone the benefits.  Breaking down the transition into phases will help you pace the project while gaining encouraging results along the way. Each phase should achieve a goal that is meaningful while still being realistic and should take one quarter at most.  This one-quarter timeline includes vendor selection, so I recommend starting with easier, more flexible vendors. Don’t get sidetracked by starting with the larger vendors that want to talk legal for a few months. At this point, knowing your original, ideal end state comes in handy. “We knew we needed to shift to a new CMS in order to support this new content,” Keith said. “Then we set off to do that bit by bit, carving off different pieces of the ecosystem, saying, ‘Okay this quarter it's gonna be this process’ — merchandising activity, for example — and we prioritized our time around that.” Give your team agile principles to work with. If your organization doesn’t already live by an agile methodology framework like Scrum, this is a great opportunity to try it out. Scrum helps teams meet complex, changing requirements while delivering successful outcomes for customers. There are three main principles:   Transparency: Everyone must share the same expectations of the project and visibility. Frequently reviewing progress and sprints together as a team achieves transparency. Inspection: Quality control needs to be part of the process. The team should regularly evaluate what is happening and how it is being accomplished. Adaptation: When the inevitable roadblock or deviation happens, the team must quickly get back on track. At the end of every phase, how will the plan be adjusted to stay close to the original timetable? Use the first phase of the composable transition as your “on-ramp” to work with these principles. With each completed phase, the team will be able to practice and perfect until everyone is working in unison. Take this opportunity to reassess vendors. Keith and the Brad’s Deals team realized they had too many applications in their stack. So, they decided to sunset the applications they weren’t using and use Automation Hub in Contentstack to create bridges between monolith and composable instead.  I love this mindset. If you’re already in the environment and changing things, why not re-evaluate your inventory? With the accessibility and availability of tools nowadays, organizations often don’t realize how many they have. The average enterprise has 364 applications, but how many are they actually getting value from? As you progress through phases, take a look inside the apps you’re using and the vendors you pay. Figure out if you are maximizing their potential, or if there is another way to achieve that same capability without the app or vendor. Choosing to take on the transition from monolith to composable isn’t a small task, but it’s a worthwhile one. And, with these lessons and constraints learned from Keith and other Contentstack customer journeys, you’re already set up in the best possible position to succeed. Learn more Watch this episode of "Contentstack LIVE" to learn strategies for adopting the right composable technologies from Pete Larsen, vice president of technical solutions organization at Contentstack.

Mar 15, 2023 | 4 min. read

4 questions for e-commerce brands considering composable

There’s a lot of confusion in the market when it comes to composable architectures. A company says one thing and their competitor says something different — all the while, the people who hunger for change inside complex organizations struggle. We see this in potential e-commerce customers all the time, knowing they need a change but not really understanding what composable can do for them. Emma Sleep, one of the fastest-growing D2C sleep brands in the world, was one of those organizations. Andreas Westendörpf, chief technology officer of Emma Sleep, talked about why they chose composable and what it did for them on the latest “People Changing Enterprises” podcast.  Hearing him speak about the differences between traditional environments and composable inspired me to create this litmus test. Ideally, this will help provide clarity for e-commerce organizations wondering if composable is the right move for them. Are you aiming to grow quickly? For organizations trying to scale quickly, traditional CMS and legacy systems are far more complicated than composable architectures. They are less flexible and take more developer intervention to launch new markets, products, and content.  Composable wasn’t in Andreas’ original plans. But when Emma Sleep introduced their ambitious growth goals, they were operating from a highly customized legacy system. Doubling business every one or two years in vastly different markets would be difficult, frustrating and extremely error-prone with these technologies. They also wouldn’t be able to support personalized content for each market — what works for European audiences doesn’t work for Asia or Latin America.  If you are a scaling organization, you need composable. Other options are too rudimentary and inflexible for you. You will have to manipulate and create custom code to force things to work, which is not only a huge risk — as it will most likely break often — but inefficient when efficiency is required. Are you outsourcing the problem to the vendor? Andreas made a good point in the podcast. E-commerce was one of the first ways to make money on the internet, which is why many platforms still follow the architectural design principles of the ’90s and early 2000s when they were founded.  While that’s changing, it’s happening slowly. In the meantime, e-commerce organizations are struggling with monolithic technology. The common solution is outsourcing your development to the same vendor you’re struggling with — a tricky catch-22. The problem doesn’t change. Instead, it comes with long consulting timelines and following industry “best practices” that actually aren’t best, like planning out your project five years in advance (more on that to come). Composable solves two problems at once: providing a more flexible, agile technology stack and by bringing control back in-house. Do you need to make room for innovation? I recently read a great piece that nails down what innovation really is: riding a wave. Mary Kay Ash didn’t invent cosmetics; she rode the direct-sales wave. Henry Ford didn’t invent the automobile; he rode the assembly line wave. Steve Jobs didn’t invent computers; he rode the digital wave. So on and so forth. Here’s what I’m trying to get at: Are you equipped to ride the wave? E-commerce brands must ride the wave more than most. They ride the waves of public opinion, of social media, of what customers need when they need it. But the thing about waves is they disappear quickly. If you don’t catch it, you sink.  E-commerce organizations don’t have the luxury of submitting a developer ticket or a feature request and waiting around for six months until the request becomes a reality; the wave could be gone by then. Yet that’s often what happens with legacy technology — so many missed opportunities. In the podcast, Andreas expresses his desire to experiment quickly and figure out what works versus what doesn’t. In a composable architecture, their team can integrate up-and-coming tools like ChatGPT for use pretty quickly. Emma Sleep also tests new platforms for new markets beforehand and implements them when ready. That was not possible for them in their previous environment. Do you need to transform quickly? “The five-year plan is dead.” That might be my favorite quote from a “People Changing Enterprises” podcast so far, and Andreas is absolutely right. Why stretch your timelines out that long, especially when you can reap value much earlier? Andreas added: “Don't plan for a five-year project. If you are trying to implement within a five-year timeframe, things change too much. So plan for two years. Two years is a good time horizon. If two years becomes two and a half, fair enough. But you need to somehow have the most critical work done at the end of two years, like 90%.” Enterprises choose to make the transition from monolith to composable in different ways, but one thing all successful transformations have in common is that they don’t push it too far down the road. The litmus test is done. If you answered “yes” to most — or all — of these questions, then it’s time to talk with us about moving from monolith to composable.  Here’s the good news: When you choose to make the transition to composable, you’re future-proofing your organization. According to Andreas, “it’s the last replatform you’re going to need.”

Feb 17, 2023

A CTO’s POV on helping brands build the best customer experiences

One of our mottos is: “Contentstack helps brands in the pursuit of possibility.” That phrase can mean many different things. Take our customer, ASICS, for example. When ASICS came to us, the possibility they were pursuing was a creative customer experience that melded the physical and digital together.  Mindy Montgomery, senior technical analyst for ASICS, talked about that unique approach to customer experience on our “People Changing Enterprises” podcast. Their team definitely doesn’t limit themselves when it comes to that pursuit of possibility.  But that means different things to every brand, especially with varying industry demands in play. With that in mind, how do we help brands live up to the word “possibility”? By constructing an ecosystem with all the tools and tech brands need. From brand to their customer, and from Contentstack to our brands — it takes an entire ecosystem to create an effective, innovative customer experience.  Our world has grown smarter and more connected. When was the last time you walked into a room without some kind of screen? Computers, cellphones, TVs and even gas station kiosks have screens, and all are viable channels to use. A 2022 Hubspot report of 1000 marketing professionals found that 81% leverage more than three channels in their strategy.  And, according to our retail research, 60% believe the number of engagement channels will only grow. For example, Mindy described how ASICS tries to reach customers beyond the brand’s own channels. Yes, a customer can navigate through their website, buy shoes or sign up for training plans, and receive product discounts. But how can they get further opportunities to engage when they track their miles through Runkeeper (ASICS’ running app)? Or even when they’re browsing sports content outside of ASICS channels?  Of course, traditional software and monolithic technologies cannot support imaginative approaches like that. So, in 2011 when the team at Contentstack pioneered headless CMS, we knew it had to be more than just a CMS. We had to deliver an ecosystem of features and products that removed obstacles to innovation while enabling amazing customer experiences. In our ecosystem, everything our customers need can be easily integrated whether it’s an e-commerce, asset management, personalization or marketing automation tool. By supporting agility and future growth. When we build ecosystems, flexibility and scale are priorities. This is why we encourage every brand that wants to – as Mindy says – "surprise and delight" their customers to go composable. If you’ve never heard of composable or don’t quite understand it, here’s an example: Imagine you have a Lego structure. Each brightly-colored Lego block represents a piece of tech you’ve chosen, while the structure itself represents the composable architecture. If you have kids — or played with Legos as one — you understand the selling point of the product. Each block can attach and detach easily.  In seconds, you can tweak and adjust your structure to create something entirely different. A train becomes a plane, which becomes a car, and so on and so forth. It’s the same with composable architectures — they are made to change however brands need. That flexibility is built in when your customer experience is built on composable. If a popular new channel arises that would benefit your brand to be in (much like the rise of TikTok), it could be as easy as a click of a button. This means that scaling your customer experience is just as easy. Our international airline customer, Icelandair, is able to translate content into 11 languages instantaneously, with no extra effort. But they’re also ready for any future growth; as they enter new markets, they’re able to quickly spin off new content for each language as needed. In a market with trends that change with the wind, flexibility and growth are essential to brands’ customer experience.  By building a community that lives beyond the product. The last way we equip brands for any customer experience possibility is by building peer connections. Who better to learn from than similar status-quo-busting individuals? Mindy expressed the value of how conversing with brands in the vacation, hospitality and other consumer industries helped ASICS on their composable journey. That’s the value we try to bring to every Contentstack customer.  We do this in several ways. The first is the opportunities we build into our product like Contentstack Community, where customers can participate in open-ended discussions and gain access to a customer-contributed knowledge base. We also hold “ContentCon,” a conference dedicated to cultivating community and encouraging collaboration among our customers. We not only provide fun networking opportunities, but customers present their own composable journey and what they learned, on the stage. That way, nobody has to make the same mistakes and everyone is surrounded by folks trying to improve their customer experiences.  Peer-to-peer connection makes everyone better. Enabling brands to pursue possibility really just means that we provide the building blocks (quite literally), and help them fill in the gaps along the way. The brands are the experts on their customers — it’s our job to partner with them to achieve their vision.

Jan 18, 2023

De-risking your transition to composable

Everyone has a different journey to composable. Some companies adopt it quickly; some take several months. Some are eager; some are skeptical.  But nearly all are concerned about risk during the transition. That’s not surprising — any good business leader considers all the risks at hand when making a big move.  Levi Strauss & Co certainly did, and they weren’t shy about discussing it on our “People Changing Enterprises” podcast. I was a fan of the openness from Zach Crittendon, a software architect, as he broke down Levi’s approach to transitioning from their monolith environment to a composable architecture. Since risk is on everyone’s minds, I wanted to share my perspective on how to minimize risk when making the move to composable. Get everyone on board Choosing to make the switch from monolith to composable doesn’t happen overnight. It also can’t be accomplished alone. You need a team. If critical stakeholders like finance and procurement are not on board at the start, it can cause problems and increase risk in the future.  Finance might question the higher upfront costs because the business is adopting several best-of-breed tools with built-in benefits like scalability and extensibility. Procurement is going to look at the different vendors to manage and balk. Demonstrate the business case for why this move is important: To finance: “The market is ever-changing and we need to pivot quickly when required. Our current environment doesn’t allow us to do that. Composable is much less risk, time and cost than our current environment in the long run.” To procurement: “I know you want to consolidate vendors, but our current tools aren’t working for the business. There’s no solution in the composable world where we just buy everything as one.” (If Contentstack is your composable partner, I would recommend telling them about Care Without Compromise™, the industry’s only cross-vendor support program). It’s a slow process, but worth it. There’s much less uncertainty and chance that risk might be incurred in the future from internal conflicts. Make a plan and take it in phases Once you have everyone on board, your next move to decrease risk is to make a plan. I recommend pacing the transition in phases so it’s not so overwhelming or too fast. I like how Zach said it: “I think the choice of the word ‘composable’ is really meaningful in the sense that it’s like a musical composition. It’s a series of notes and chords that come together into bars and movements. Eventually, you have an entire piece.” The terms “come together” and “eventually” are important in Zach’s quote. Levi’s didn’t adopt composable all at once. In fact, they started with just four modules. Eventually, they were able to create cool content experiences that they had been dreaming about for a long time — but it wasn’t what they started with. They started with a plan and phase one. However, remember this: Plans change. I love this quote from President Eisenhower surfaced by a previous “People Changing Enterprises" guest: “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” I wouldn’t say having a roadmap for your transition to composable is useless, but I would advise you to be open to change as circumstances evolve. It’s the act of planning for the future that will de-risk your transition most, rather than the plan itself.  Balance the present and the future Consider the balance between the capabilities you need now and what you’ll need down the road. One of the benefits of composable architecture is the flexibility it provides. If you build something into your initial stack that you want to remove later, it is much easier than in a monolithic environment. Conversely, if you leave something out that you discover a need for, you can easily integrate that into your stack.  Balancing the present and the future also means you have a long-term vision of what you want to do but start with a very clear and provable business case. For Levi’s, their first phase in the composable transition was proving Contentstack would excel with one use case: the homepage. While the homepage ran through the headless CMS, the rest of the website remained on the monolith.  It was like a small trial run: Once they proved the business case for composable, they moved on to phase two. They replaced their old environment and created a simple version of the website in a smaller market (for them, it was Eastern Europe). The third, and last, phase was taking the lessons learned from phases one and two to fully replace the entire website. Trust your instincts The term digital transformation – along with all the moving parts and plans it brings – can be intimidating. So, here’s my biggest advice in this process: as a business leader at the head of the charge, trust your gut.  I got this advice from Dheeraj Pandey, founder and CEO of Nutanix and someone I respect, who said that gut feeling comes from experience. You may not have walked through a digital transformation project before, or it might have looked very different in the past. But experience forms the foundation of your gut instinct. If something seems like a risk, consider it. Check with your colleagues and trust their gut instinct, too. Remember this transition to composable is a less risky approach than staying with your old tools and technologies.  Any good tech leader knows you’ll never fully de-risk your transition to composable. But with a thorough approach, an understanding of where you want to go, and an experienced partner to offer expertise, you can pave a path to less risk and more flexibility for the future.

Dec 15, 2022

Young people can be your greatest asset

As a young engineer, I was full of excitement to solve problems and make things better for everyone. As my career progressed, I took on more responsibility and began to realize the limitations people and companies have around innovation. (I would still say, however, that I’ve kept my curious, entrepreneurial spirit.) I couldn’t help but think of that young engineer — full of ideas and excitement — as I listened to Jon Richards, head of digital at Golfbreaks, talk about the importance of young talent on our ”People Changing Enterprises” podcast.  Golfbreaks is a specialized golf travel company that organizes golf vacations for people all over the world. As a sport that primarily focuses on an older demographic, it was interesting to hear Jon talk about how young people revitalized it during COVID. It also led Jon to talk more about the value young people bring to the company.  Contentstack — including myself — takes a similar perspective on the unique advantages that a younger generation brings to the table. I’m passionate about championing our young people, and believe they hold the key to our experimentation and innovation. Here's why. Young people have less experience You heard me right, I said less experience. While it’s important to have more experienced people on our teams, less is also a benefit.  Less experience equals fewer rules, and breakthroughs rarely happen when people play by the rules. When more experienced talent tries something new and it doesn’t work, we tend to throw in the towel.  We also can unconsciously brush off good ideas without realizing that the context we’re thinking in has completely changed. The world is not the same as it was 10 years ago. We’ve leveled up tech, business processes and skills. When we think, “That’s not the way things work,” a young person thinks, “Well, why can’t I do it this way?” A more lenient perspective on rules allows younger people to build more innovative products. I might think of a new idea for a problem and build it completely from scratch. A younger developer might think of a new idea and hodgepodge existing tools until it gets them where they want. They put a new meaning to the idea of working smarter, not harder. Leon Kass, an award-winning teacher at the University of Chicago, said he likes working with 20-year olds because “the big questions of life are electric in their minds.” Challenging the status quo is something young people are already doing naturally, so why not put that to work? They’re great at solving problems Sometimes I find that as much as I want to make an impact, it can be easy to get comfortable. I wasn’t always like that.  Once, I left a new job within a year. The pay was great, but I was bored out of my mind and moved on well before “the rules” say you should. There’s something like that in all young people. They want to do new things, learn, and advance forward. That tenacity for momentum and innovation means they’re one of your biggest problem-solving assets.  On the podcast, Jon and Jasmin discussed how young people have an ability to “learn fast, fail fast and learn fast” again. If solving a problem one way doesn’t work, they pivot and try something else. Quite literally, they won’t stop until they get to the root of the issue and solve it. That’s why we hold events like hackathons. It’s basically a high-speed race from a problem to a solution in a fun, competitive format. We’ve done two so far for our product team in India. It’s fun, but also helps us solve customer issues and create items from their wish lists quickly. Here’s a snapshot of the winning team that integrated Contentstack with Google Voice: But keep an eye on that drive; it can be a double-edged sword. A common growth area I’ve spotted in some of our younger team members is that they are quick to move on and less keen on quality control. That’s why we often pair junior and senior engineers right away to work on projects that will go to production. Determination and quality, working together. All young people need to succeed is an opportunity We train our interns and staff at Contentstack. But some companies like to put them in front of a computer for half a year to attend online modules; we don’t do that.  Instead, they also help us on new projects. I like to create a team of smart interns and bring in a senior leader to oversee them. Then, we give them two to three months to solve a problem. Once, we even solved a critical piece of Contentstack like this. We were trying to fix a system bug with some of our tools, which was a major task with huge repercussions if we didn’t get it right. We didn’t have many resources at the time, so we corralled our best interns to solve the issue. It worked and the bug was fixed. (Our more experienced developers triple-checked their work to be sure). Jon said this on the podcast about giving young people opportunities: "It's really important for [Golfbreaks] to recognize young people and give them the opportunity to learn at a company that encourages them. Young people will make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes, but fostering that environment for them to come in and continue their education in a real world workplace sets them in really good stead for the rest of their career. And also, it allows us to identify really good talent for when they graduate.” We have a team of 18 interns starting on our India team in January, and I get excited thinking about what we’ll accomplish. While there are many things we can teach our young professionals, there are also many things we can learn from them. For all my senior people reading this, here’s my advice: Open yourself to learning how the next generation sees the world. You have no idea of the possibilities you will uncover.

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 constraints Identifying 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 goals Now 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 scrappy It’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. 

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 outcome Risk 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 business Something 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 mini One 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?

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 cost In 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 priorities Lagging far behind what they could be As 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 empowered Before 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 it For 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.

May 24, 2022

Introducing Automation Hub for Speed, Flexibility and Scalability

In the last decade, we’ve seen three things separate thriving enterprises from the rest of the pack: Speed Flexibility Scalability for the future They’re the reason why the adoption of composable architecture (or stacks) has soared to an early majority state in the last couple of years. Dawn Foods is a prime example. When they integrated their CMS with their product catalog, one-click order platform and online payment portal, online orders increased by 50%. They also successfully launched six major products within six months of implementation. The composable approach gave them the flexibility and scalability needed to grow the business. Analysts are convinced. Gartner® predicted that “by 2023, organizations that adopt an intelligent, composable approach will outpace their competition by 80% when it comes to the speed of new feature implementation.” Many enterprises recognize that composable architectures with best-of-breed technologies are the way forward. But moving away from monolithic legacy systems to a world of choice isn’t exactly easy. The average marketing organization has deployed 91 different tools across its stack, and the process of integrating them introduces a host of technical and operational challenges. You might have the best stack in the world, but if all the technologies don't communicate and interact with each other, what are you left with? Fragmentation—and a lot of time and frustration spent dealing with it. That’s why we’re launching our industry-first Automation Hub and Connect Without Compromise™ program: to simplify the process of creating composable experiences for organizations. There are three ways this program makes integration fast, easy and seamless. Launching Today: Automation Hub to Overcome Integration Hell While leveraging best-of-breed technologies is the only way to stay competitive, enterprises often find themselves bogged down in what we call “integration hell.” Imagine opening one application to make a change, only to have to open another application to update the data there too, and then another to close the gap there… and APIs only help so much. The solution typically involves writing complex code that is often slow, brittle and requires constant maintenance—not much of a solution. But what if you could enable all these applications to perform tasks automatically with low code – even no code – all within a centralized location? That’s the goal of Automation Hub. Users are no longer forced to weave in and out of applications and manually perform several sub-tasks to accomplish the overall activity. Instead, they can build the flow visually inside Automation Hub, and those sub-tasks complete automatically. As organizations continue to adopt technologies, Automation Hub saves time across the board by automating and streamlining the hundreds of activities that happen across stacks several times every month. It also improves governance by knowing what each step is and how it executes every time — and that’s where the real value lies. Integrate the Tried-and-true Functionality Your Organization Needs with Marketplace Another component of Connect without Compromise™ is Marketplace, a one-stop library of applications to incorporate the functionality you need into your stack. Choose from a wide selection of partner-developed, customer-developed and Contentstack-native applications and quickly integrate them with just a few clicks. The Developer Hub inside Marketplace gives developers a tool to package apps, iterate new versions and set up authentication and security measures. The Venus Component Library ensures the application looks and feels native to your stack and supplies reusable front-end components to speed development along. And if you’re looking to understand what integrations you’re using and where they’re incorporated, Marketplace provides an audit log. Even if you’re unsure what the next step in your composable journey is, the entire library is available to browse. See what other partner or customer organizations have integrated into their stacks and adopt what your organization needs. Building your stack on our extensible app framework ensures that as your organization grows, the tools you need to carry out operations will scale with it. Easy Access to Expertise with Blueprints What if you have never worked with a headless provider or need extra help with implementation? This is where Blueprints comes in. Blueprints is our library of best practices, expert guides and use cases for creating composable experiences. See what others have done before, learn how they accomplished it and what to avoid. Whether or not you’ve worked with composable architecture before, we’ve made it easier for anyone to create as if you have. Connect Without Compromise™ eliminates obstacles so businesses can embrace composable architectures with confidence. Speed, flexibility and scalability for the future are not only within reach, but easier to achieve than ever before. With our foundation, framework and support, businesses will be able to get their composable experiences up and running and create at the speed of their imagination. Now that we’ve made it so much easier, the question is: what will you create Automation Hub BETA will be available in late Summer 2022.

May 11, 2016

Traditional CMS Cannot Keep up with the Digital Pace

Traditional CMS can simply no longer keep up with the pace that digital experiences demand and consumers of content expect. A few years back, I co-founded Contentstack based on my observation that the pace of digital technology, particularly in content management, was transforming and accelerating. So much of that world was anchored to just two content interfaces; websites and mobile apps. I was convinced that a new generation of content management tools would be required to survive. It was clear that the rapid evolution of information consumption, both source and destination, created a perfect storm for most companies trying to become or stay relevant in the midst of all of this change. From a technology perspective, this pace of change makes it exceptionally hard to attach infrastructure too firmly in any one system, or systems that limit future choices. The Mobile Problem Not that long ago, a web browser was the primary target for digital content distribution and consumption. With the introduction of iPhone, mobile quickly established itself as the new, dominant content channel. Incredible amounts of energy have since been expended and high levels of frustration experienced as mobility challenged the status quo in a powerful way, forcing organizations to reboot their thinking about information and its creation, curation, and presentation. Apps were the early solution, but almost as quickly as that anchor seemed secure, we’re already realizing that we’re headed for a post-app world. This was summed up perfectly in a recent Medium piece: “How is it that in 2015 we need to decide how to communicate and then search for the person? Or try to remember what platform they are on before opening an app.” This is hardly specific to social apps. The same problem exists when looking for a flight or trying to find a consumer good. The problem of having content locked into a platform becomes more apparent with every new presentation layer we add to our world – from the smartwatch, to the heads up display, to the kiosk, to the jumbotron. As with all technology, ultimately this problem will be solved in a way that makes our lives easier and reverses the platform-centric model. Such change will once again scramble the IT infrastructures we’ve grown dependent on and choices from a short time ago will once again seem shortsighted. The one thing we do know is that content can’t be tied to its delivery, whether that’s a browser, an app, or whatever else comes next. The reality is that the possibilities for content delivery are endless in a digital world, and we need to prepare for that. Making Everything Modular The alternatives are already a hot topic of conversation. The first and perhaps the Holy Grail of technology is to make everything modular. Monolithic systems have always been expedient to build but end up in the fast lane to redundancy. Modular building of software and systems has been a goal for a long time, but the recent surge in popularity of APIs offers, for maybe the first time, the chance to reach that goal. We created an entire digital business platform at Contentstack on this premise and with the goal of solving the problem of how to build high-performance systems for delivering content that’s agnostic to platform. We need to forget about anchors and provide the ability for content to be sourced anywhere, destined for anyplace. It’s time to think past the traditional CMS as your content source and beyond the website or mobility as your goal.