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Adobe Summit - a frictionless perspective on connecting design, marketing, product and beyond

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright April 3, 2023
A look back at this year's Adobe Summit, where the emphasis on joined-up data and processes across design, marketing, product and beyond stuck a chord with diginomica's notion of Frictionless Enterprise.

Adobe Summit 2023 Anil Chakravarthy © David Becker of AP Photography
(© David Becker of AP Photography)

The average enterprise today is racing to join up processes and data across the organization and out to customers. This is a journey that diginomica calls the move to Frictionless Enterprise, where the goal of digital transformation is to eliminate barriers to rapid action and adaptation. One of the biggest challenges here for established businesses is figuring out how to bring their existing IT investments into this new more digitally connected world, and they are looking to their incumbent technology vendors to help them on this path. The recent Adobe Summit provided a textbook example of how these trends are being expressed in the strategies of leading enterprise technology vendors.

While the announcements around generative AI stole the headlines, the core theme of Adobe Summit this year was all about joining up end-to-end processes across the marketing function and beyond. At the show, Adobe introduced the concept of the content supply chain, in which the processes of content creation and delivery are streamlined in automated workflows to drive speed, scale and accuracy. Meanwhile, a new product analytics offering extends analysis of the customer journey to encompass the product experience. This, along with the overall event theme of experience-led growth, ties into a core sub-theme of Frictionless Enterprise called the XaaS Effect, in which enterprises continuously engage with customers and iteratively improve their experience and outcomes.

The backdrop to these announcements is Adobe's own journey — just like its peers in the enterprise application space — to modernize its technology architecture and product offerings to adapt to these emerging demands. I spent the week of the Summit speaking to various executives at Adobe about the steps it's been taking and how they measure up to what's needed.

Evolving a connected platform

For several years now, marketing teams have been wrestling with how to ensure a joined-up customer experience that connects across the many different channels through which individuals engage with an organization. It's gradually dawned that this isn't achievable when each of those channels operates in a separate functional silo. As Anjul Bhambhri, Senior Vice President, Adobe Experience Cloud, puts it:

We've spent the last decade saying connected experiences matter. But I think what is now super important is people are realizing that you cannot deliver those things if your technologies are siloed and are not connected.

This was the thinking behind the genesis of the Adobe Experience Platform, which — in contrast to the former Marketing Cloud, which grew out of successive acquisitions such as Omniture, Magento and Marketo — has been developed to natively provide a single, real-time customer data platform on which to design and orchestrate customer journeys and then measure and analyze the outcomes. She continues:

This was a real realization and recognition that if we don't build a platform, then you're not going to end up with connected technology. This was an organic investment for us, and the main motivation was, how do you bring in all this data — whether it is website, email, in all different kinds of channels, every way of interaction? You will need to bring it together in one place and stitch that data together to build what we call the unified profile of the customer.

The platform strategy is a common response from vendors as they shift from the monolithic application stacks of old to a flatter, more modular IT architecture that diginomica calls Tierless Architecture. This provides an API-first, composable foundation for the end-to-end connections, real-time updates and on-demand responsiveness of Frictionless Enterprise. The results can then be delivered in a digital user experience that's plugged in to all the resources of the platform.

In Adobe's case, bringing together data from real-time pipelines such as web analytics and other sources to update the existing customer profile is essential to ensure that what's presented to the customer remains consistent and timely. Bhambri says:

The key here is that you can't deliver those contextual experiences if the data is stale ... There are aspects about the customer, which are also going to be in the enterprise in different repositories, whether it be an OLTP database or data warehouse ... We provide an API-first approach that you can make those API calls and get that specific piece of information so that it is enriching or augmenting the profile.

An ecosystem approach

This is where the future vision bumps up against the historical reality of where enterprises are today. Some of these data sources may be in older Adobe applications, or there may be a need to interact with various other systems within the martech stack or even beyond. Bhambri continues:

Enterprises are not just going to be all Adobe. There may be other vendors' applications in that ecosystem. As long as they have an API, through which we can send audiences to even our competitors' applications and make them more real-time — that is the extent to which we have taken an ecosystem approach ...

How do we make our customers who are partnering with us successful? They should not get penalized and not get our full

benefit because they have some other applications that could be from some other vendors. That's fine, it's just the reality of the world. That has to be baked in.

Vendors must be sensitive to the circumstances of longstanding customers in particular, who may have multiple investments in existing systems and do not have the capacity or desire to embrace a new platform in a single jump. They have to be able to pace their adoption of the new architecture. Adobe argues that the ecosystem approach allows these customers to prioritize the use cases where they have the clearest need. Anil Chakravarthy, President of the Digital Experience Business at Adobe, comments:

Virtually every customer likes the platform message. But ... there's a suspicion that a lot of customers have when they hear the word platform, which is like, 'Oh, big, expensive, slow, lock-in.'

So one of the things that we are definitely trying to do — that's why we showcased all these apps and so on today — focus on use cases, have a clear place to start, focus on business outcomes. The platform grows over time, in your environment, integrated into what you already have. It's an evolution, you will replace some apps as you go along, you'll build more on the platform. But it's not meant to be a disruption and a revolution.

Content supply chain collaboration

The transition to Frictionless Enterprise is not only seen in the migration to a more joined-up IT infrastructure. Work itself also becomes more connected, as people increasingly collaborate outside of the traditional functional silos. In response, organizations have to evolve what diginomica calls a Collaborative Canvas to co-ordinate digital teamwork across the enterprise. So at the same time as building new platforms, vendors are also adding digital teamwork tools to connect and manage the flow of work across their applications and beyond.

Adobe is no different. It wants to join up workflows across both the Experience Cloud and its Creative Cloud, where designers originate the content that makes up the digital experience. The separate activities of design, production, delivery and analysis have traditionally been carried out by different teams within the enterprise, each using their own tools. These disconnected functional siles have led to friction as content passes from one stage to the next.

With its acquisition of work management app Workfront in November 2020, Adobe added the capability to cut across those silos. The new concept of enabling a content supply chain for the entire end-to-end process reflects the completion of Workfront's integration into the Adobe product family. It becomes "a collaborative glue" across the two worlds of content creation and asset delivery and analysis, says Chris O'Neal, Principal Product Marketing Manager for Adobe Workfront. He elaborates:

Workfront is able to bring bring those worlds together, and bridge them with collaboration and workflow and creating that single source of truth around, 'Where is this work? How far along our way? How is it doing?' ...

Content supply chain is very central to how to think about Workfront going forward in a marketing and creative sense, in that we are, again, that connective glue across the creative content motions and the content delivery and analysis motions. We bridge that gap with workflow, with collaboration, and with transparency and visibility.

This is a double win for Adobe, because having a digital teamwork offering also supports its platform strategy. At a time when the economic environment is leading enterprises to look for efficiencies in their operations, a proposition that can help streamline operations is very appealing. Amit Ahuja, SVP, Experience Cloud, Platform & Products, Digital Experience, says:

In the context of content supply chain, we see this incredible desire, especially right now, in this kind of environment, to be more efficient in terms of where the spend is going, and not only the spend but to understand more the performance of what's working and what's not working. That's the concept of the content supply chain. There's a huge part of that which is, can we actually connect up all of the productivity tools that people are using in a much more seamless way?

When that proposition is already part of a strategic platform, it's all the more compelling. He adds:

Everyone's looking out and saying, 'Hey, I currently have a complicated architecture with a lot of different companies. Are there a few strategic partners I can bet on? But I want a much more deeply integrated and much more strategic partnership with that company. I think that's what we're seeing a lot of, which is why we want to showcase how we're bringing this together to offer more value.

Meanwhile, Workfront continues to serve customers with work management needs beyond the marketing and creative functions, says O'Neal, and has been previewing product enhancements that provide more flexibility in designing workflows and tracking how work is progressing.

Adding the product experience

Being digitally connected to customers and how they experience the product has brought a massive change in customer engagement that, as I mentioned earlier, diginomica calls the XaaS Effect, so named because it takes the lessons learned by Software-ss-a-Service (SaaS) vendors and applies them to Everything-as-a-Service, or XaaS. This is characterized by continuous engagement with the customer, digital monitoring of their ongoing experience of the product or service, and iterative improvement of that experience based on the data collected. When we talk about experience in this context, this goes beyond the digital experience or user experience that a brand designer or a front-end developer might create. It's also increasingly focused on the value that the customer, client or citizen derives throughout the product lifecycle — especially in a B2B context.

Adobe's launch of its new product analytics offering will help its customers take an important first step down this path — one that many have already embarked on using other tools. As with other announcements mentioned above, there's an emphasis on joined-up data and processes across different functions. Whereas marketing teams look at metrics such as conversion or attribution, product teams are more interested in adoption, feature usage, and churn. Both functions may come together to run a campaign focused on take-up of a specific product feature or add-on and measure its success in a shared analytics workspace. Crucially, both aspects are part of the same customer journey, as Ahuja comments:

The ability to have the same data connected natively, of what you're looking at from a product experience connected to the rest of the customer journey, is something we believe is very unique in the industry ...

The big realization at the end of the day is, if you're a customer or consumer either way, and you're going through that journey, whether it's a marketing [journey], or whether it's in product, you're still the same customer. The whole idea is, I want a framework to understand the interplay between different events on that journey ...

This is an area, to be to be very candid, that customers are asking us for a long time.

The potential is there to connect many more different sources of data, ranging from customer service records and sentiment analysis to IoT data from connected products. It also equips a business to embrace more of those XaaS principles of continuous engagement. As Ashley Still, SVP & GM, Digital Media, comments:

Pretty much every business needs to think like a subscription business these days, and they're thinking more about engagement and retention ... Obviously that makes sense give the macro. But I think it also makes sense given how much focus has been put more at the top of the funnel in marketing and data and capabilities. There's so much opportunity to really understand how to drive engagement and then advocacy for products, whatever those products may be.

My take

The recurring theme at Adobe Summit of joining up fragmented functions into end-to-end processes was "music to my ears," I admitted in my conversation with Bhambri. It underlines the current momentum of this trend towards Frictionless Enterprise that I've been mapping for the past decade or more. Adobe is not the only vendor pursuing this course — every established enterprise applications vendor is in the process of joining up data, connecting processes, enabling teamwork and improving engagement.

This, of course, presents enterprise IT leaders with a conundrum. Each of their incumbent vendors is promoting a platform message and, to a greater or lesser extent, breaking down cross-functional barriers. Adobe is offering a unified data platform, end-to-end collaboration that straddles creation and delivery of marketing assets, and a customer journey that extends across the entire lifecycle. But what about the connections into other platforms the enterprise is equally committed to, whether that's supply chain, order processing, or customer service? An individual vendor's platform is just one part of the picture. Each of their enterprise customers has to weave those platforms together into an enterprise-wide infrastructure that connects data and processes across its breadth.

Here, the ecosystem aspect becomes critical. The inter-platform connections are as important to the enterprise as the intra-platform connnections are to each vendor. Today, I suspect that vendors are mostly focused on prioritizing the latter because they're currently engaged in the same modernization process amply illustrated in the example here of Adobe. It's important to keep in mind that it's in the long-term interests of their customers to ensure the ability to connect to other vendor platforms is equally friction-free. Separately from the individual roadmaps of each vendor, customers must take charge of their own over-arching Frictionless Enterprise roadmap for joining up data and processes end-to-end.

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