Partners in the Digital Experience

Partners in Digital Experience: Slalom on Strategic Transformation

November 21, 2019 7 minute read
Acquia speaks with Andy Hieb of Slalom on how to execute a strategic and ethical digital transformation.

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Partners in the Digital Experience

Digital transformation is a journey, not a sprint. As every industry strives to adapt to new technologies and shifting customer expectations, many companies leap in without a plan or partner to rely on. They end up with siloed, ephemeral solutions rather than resilient, meaningful change throughout the entire organization. Today’s digital leaders understand that grand ambitions are only realized when they’re backed by data and analytics, supported by key stakeholders and turned into actions that directly impact the customer experience. 

I recently spoke with Andy Hieb, Practice Area Lead at Slalom, about keeping a clear view of the customer amidst the rapidly evolving technology landscape. Slalom—an Acquia partner—is a global, modern consulting firm that works with companies to strategically shape the vision of their business and execute that vision through in-depth technology and engineering projects. For nearly 20 years, Slalom has helped well-known names including Charter Communications and REI glean valuable insights from data and connect with customers across every touchpoint in order to truly understand each facet of the consumer journey. Andy himself is also a vet in the open source and Drupal space. Having been involved in the Drupal community for many years, he believes in the power of open source software to provide centralized control and access to data as well as the flexibility to integrate seamlessly with other technologies. 

Andy headshot
Andy Hieb, Practice Lead at Slalom

The Rise of Content-as-a-Service and Experience Design 

One development Andy is most excited to see in the content management space is the rise of content-as-a-service and the growing autonomy of content editors to create more holistic experiences. “New content-as-a-service technology enables content to be woven into engineering projects. Business and marketing users can now own, create and oversee their content which can be provided as a service to be consumed by a larger application just like any other service,” he said. 

Andy has also noticed a lot of energy around experience design and front-end engineering. Today, marketers need to deliver engaging content experiences across a variety of channels and implement more specific targeting and personalization tactics at accelerated speeds. The rise of headless and decoupled approaches to content has made it possible to remove the friction of getting IT involved in the publishing process. “As someone who’s been in the CMS space for more than 13 years now, I was used to owning the whole stack from back-end development to content modeling to the presentation of that content on the front end. Now with headless, we don't necessarily need the traditional monolithic CMS that owns the entire content process, and we can do whatever we want on the front end which is both exciting and challenging.”

The Ethics of AI and Data Use

Another major advancement that’s gone from dream to competitive business strategy is the use of AI with things like chatbots, recommendation engines and other machine learning tools. Andy believes that one of the biggest mistakes people make when trying to embrace AI is forgetting to always keep people at the center of your initiatives. Communication around data use also needs to be clear and transparent between clients and their customers to build trust and loyalty. “There are still some serious considerations around ethics to be aware of and biases in algorithms. Companies are still learning when it's appropriate to remove human interaction,” Andy said.

One example of an industry that is especially focused on maintaining privacy for its audience is healthcare. A critical focus for healthcare organizations that want to empower patients and maintain trust is data management. “Their audience needs to find important information very quickly, ranging anywhere from ‘Does my insurance cover this?’ to ‘How can I schedule an appointment?’ or ‘Where’s the closest clinic to me?’ It’s a huge landscape that requires an in-depth, 360-degree view of the customer journey,” Andy said. Despite the need to know so much about their customers, these organizations still need to be especially careful about respecting the privacy of each person and always keep in mind data security when dealing with marketing technology that regularly gathers personal information. 

An emerging technology Andy believes will help empower companies to activate their data is customer data platforms (CDPs). “A CDP is useful both for activating important data and making it actionable to the rest of the marketing technology stack as well as back-end tools. A CDP also acts as an important gateway as far as privacy goes.” One major advantage of these platforms is that they offer customers agency over how their data is used. “CDPs have the ability to centralize individual preferences and offer data control. Individuals should be able to request that their data is removed from the system and it should be able to be implemented at the CDP level,” Andy said.

Strategic Wins the Race 

Adapting to any new channel or platform isn’t an instant success story. Digital transformation starts with understanding people before technology. Any organization looking to enact robust, resilient changes to its operations needs to focus first on strategy and alignment among leadership. “You need to get key stakeholders to establish a north star vision for the business and understand their responsibility before you can drill down into implementation and activate that data,” Andy said. “Once you have a few core pillars to rally around, you can build your internal expertise, identify gaps and go after problems as they arise. Then you’ll know the tools you’re going to need.” 

Today’s expansive martech landscape presents endless options for marketers to choose from. That means the real differentiator isn’t in what tech is available--it’s choosing your technology wisely. “It’s easy to get lost in this constantly growing landscape of tools unless you stay focused on your end user and what they really need,” Andy said. For example, working with a public healthcare provider, they faced the challenge of performing critical services for a large population without the same budget and access to resources as a traditionally private business. Andy said that in cases like this, the client needs to invest smartly and strategically to figure out how to meet the needs of their diverse user base. “We can’t just throw tools at things. We have to think strategically and respect the customer both online and in-person.”

Long-term results depend on understanding integration and how each kind of marketing technology works together. In an industry so focused on speed-to-market and instant results, Slalom’s own digital publication The Slowdown focuses on “contemplating things in a world obsessed with speed.” Consultants serve as digital architects first by mapping out a plan and helping clients “slow down to go fast.” Andy and his team believe in the idea that for clients to win in the future they first need to understand the present. By paying attention to the data and results of the present, they can build a holistic view of the customer and understand what they should try next. “Our industry moves fast, the web moves fast, and I don't think anybody's going to tell you to stop and have a five-year plan before you take the first step. But where we see companies fail is by gobbling up tools without a defined purpose. You need an overarching plan to get that 360-degree view of the customer and manage their journey from end to end.”


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