Acquia

Securing Data Vital to Personalized Customer Experiences [Feb. 20, 2015]

Submitted on
Friday, February 20, 2015
,
CloudWedge

By Andrew Kenney

Personalization and Personal Security
Everyone loves an app that responds based on what it knows the visitor will want – a tune-up because your car is due for repairs, a doctor’s office that displays relevant schedule openings to authenticated patients – yet people remain concerned their personal information could be exposed to others. Making a convenient appointment with a doctor isn’t worth risking that an intruder will leak your medical records on Facebook because of an unprotected port between the scheduler app, patient record ID and the medical records datastore.

The consumer’s world is full of untapped benefits from connecting data on their behalf in the form of services, from the Űberfication of local services to the application of expert systems to assist busy doctors with diagnoses. As sophisticated data analysis unleashes deep insights, the resulting wave of data will produce many more avenues for malicious attackers.

Isolating servers and building layers of defense is the most effective approach to security available today. Isolation closes a physical or virtual machine on a private network to all but designated traffic. Intruders cannot probe these connections, nor can they identify the IP address of the isolated server. The network is protected by opening minimal ports, running only necessary services and securing sensitive information in transit. When passing requests from web-facing servers through encrypted tunnels, designate a single point of access for just one type of data connection so the traffic can be carefully monitored for unusual activity.

Securing the Cloud
Web services’ evolving mandate is to be invisible and reliable. We make connections between organizations and their customers transparently and quietly, keeping transactions moving while user data remains secure.

As Forrester Research put it early in the virtualization era, server virtualization is 90 percent process and only 10 percent technology — for companies linking sensitive data to the network, logical and physical isolation remain the primary strategies for enhanced security. With a logically isolated network in place, an enterprise can set up VPNs between the private network and remote data centers or other clouds in order to access information without exposing any traffic to the open Internet.

“Companies are starting to use private and public cloud for their mainstream applications, with business line metering and billing becoming more common,” Forrester research analyst Richard Fichera wrote in August 2014. “Press your vendors to deliver automation driven by simpler policies. Make them do the hard work for you and hide the complexity[.] Automation that requires heavy human involvement is contradictory to the very principles of automation.”

At Acquia, we’ve added Acquia Cloud Shield, a virtual private cloud (VPC) with VPN capabilities built on top of Amazon Web Services to provide cloud-to-cloud protection between the company’s PaaS and client devices. We created this as a response to customers’ need to ensure their Drupal apps have fine-grained control over data access and network resources, and to provide the necessary data when designing user experiences.

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Brands: Don't Get Lost on Amazon; Create a Store-Within-A-Store [Feb. 13, 2015]

Submitted on
Friday, February 13, 2015
,
AdvertisingAge

By Ray Grady

How Marketers Can Use 'Store Inception' to Drive Ecommerce

If you've ever shopped in a department store, you're familiar with "store inception," or stores-within-a-store. Just browsing the aisles of a Macy's, you're likely to see dedicated sections for Nautica, Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, Michael Kors and more. Despite the fact that these sections exist within the walls of a retail giant, the personalized look and feel of each brand still remains. Sometimes consumers gravitate toward these "incepted" department store shops simply because they're comfortable or familiar with the brand experience they're going to get. Now the online world is taking notice, responding to store inception with a phenomenon of its own: custom "takeovers" of marketplaces such as Amazon, Best Buy, Alibaba's Tmall and others to make their mark on an otherwise commoditized consumer shopping experience.

Brands know they're dead in the water if they don't have a presence in online marketplaces; that's old news. As commerce has become distributed/a>, consumers have the power to shop wherever they can find the lowest prices or most convenient delivery. But brands don't have to accept the reality of falling into a black box when listing their products on a retailer's website. Welcome to the inception of Amazon.

There are a few interesting, recent examples of inception from this past holiday season. Best Buy created a custom marketplace for Samsung on BestBuy.com, which features only Samsung products and branding. Essentially, Samsung recreated the narrative approach it has on its own main website, delivering content (including videos and product shots of bestsellers like the Samsung Galaxy Note) alongside an integrated purchasing experience on BestBuy.com. Knowing that many of its customers likely visit BestBuy.com for multiple items during the holiday season, creating this store-within-a-store was a smart move to capture mindshare while retaining the Samsung story.

Other brands like high-end fashion retailer AllSaints are experimenting with similar branded experiences and next-day delivery Prime deals through Amazon. The brand found that customers who browsed through Amazon were more likely to make a purchase than those who came directly to the AllSaints website, and decided to leverage that natural shopping pattern of its customers rather than fight it. What's particularly interesting about the Amazon custom commerce experience is that it redirects consumers back to the AllSaints website for actual purchase, using the free, fast delivery perks of Amazon Prime as a driver for conversion. The pay-per-conversion economics of this deal are similar to that of an ad buy.

Beyond the giants like Amazon and BestBuy, emerging social shopping sites like Wanelo are attracting the sometimes elusive, fickle millennial buyers. While Wanelo had its origins as a Pinterest-like mobile discovery platform, brands like Urban Outfitters are now offering a direct route to purchase through Wanelo's new "buy" buttons. An early pilot of the buy button resulted in in-app conversions that were three times higher than the standard Wanelo mobile conversion. Wanelo also offers "save" buttons that retailers can apply directly to their websites, which Wanelo claims can increase revenue by 100% to 300%. Although the verdict on social buying buttons is still out, using platforms like Wanelo where consumers are already browsing with a purchase consideration is a smart way to get in front of an engaged audience.

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The Personalisation of Customer Experiences Is Becoming the Standard [Feb. 10, 2015]

Submitted on
Tuesday, February 10, 2015
,
Elite Business Magazine

By Josh Russell

We all like to be treated as individuals. That’s why the personalisation of customer experiences has increasingly become de rigueur, with data driving more and more tailored experiences across the web. But whilst personalisation of customer experiences has only recently worked its way to the top of many retailers’ agendas, it’s important to remember that it’s not, in of itself, a modern innovation. “It’s not a new thing at all; it’s a very old thing,” says Adam Cleaver, founding partner at Collective London, the digital agency. “But it just feels like people are only to just waking up to the realisation that personalisation is a very powerful thing.”

Certainly there’s no shortage of evidence of the efficacy of personalisation, which has had a long heritage in the offline world. “We’ve been doing personalisation for years,” says Jason Nathan, global multichannel capability director at dunnhumby. For well over 20 years, the data analysis firm has been responsible for driving Tesco’s Clubcard scheme, which delivers personalised vouchers based around users’ shopping habits. “We have found with every retailer that we’ve worked with globally that the redemption and engagement rates for those vouchers when they are targeted are many magnitudes of scale higher than a blanket set of offers,” he continues.

But what has led to the upsurge in attention that personalisation has been receiving? In part, it’s an inevitable reaction to the realities of modern commerce. Whilst the shift online has introduced myriad conveniences for retailers and consumers alike, the rigidity of the digital experience is a poor imitation of the offline world. “The internet can be quite anonymous and quite cold,” says Frederik Demets, solutions architect at Acquia, the unified platform for content, community and commerce. Using the picture one has built up of the customer to provide a more unique offering can help to counteract the customers’ feelings that they are just seen as a cash cow to be milked. “It creates that feeling you have when you go to the same store every week and they know your name and your preferences,” he says.

Personalisation can also act as a filter, cutting the amount of poorly targeted messages consumers are bombarded with. “There is too much noise in people’s digital lives,” says Nathan. Given the huge volume of marketing emails the average consumer receives and that, with the increase of promoted content, social media is going the same way, there’s no room for poorly targeted efforts. “You soon realise that is noise in your system,” he continues. “But if it’s stuff that you actually want, you’re so much more likely to click on it for that immediate investment.”

However, to tailor your offering to a consumer’s needs, you need to get to know them. Whilst it may seem that in the modern age that we’re swimming in a sea of data, it’s worth appreciating the various sources of data that are available. Demets feels that there are three significant categories of data that can help drive personalisation: profile data, which focuses on profiling key categories of user, situational data, which is based on environmental factors like the weather or the date, and behavioural data, based on past user activity. “The key is to combine the three in a real-time manner so that we can actually use that as a basis for the best offers on the website,” explains Demets.

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Why It’s So Hard to Fill Sales Jobs [Feb. 6, 2015]

Submitted on
Friday, February 6, 2015
,
Wall Street Journal

By Lauren Weber

As companies become savvier about the products they buy, wheeler-dealers are out, and problem-solvers are in. Sales organizations today are more commonly structured as teams, with lower-ranking members identifying prospects and developing early interest, someone else running through the specs or demos on highly technical products, and field reps negotiating and closing deals, employers say.

Curiously, few employers have realized they need a different sales pitch to attract a younger cohort, said Nick Toman, a managing director who oversees the sales practice at business advisory firm CEB, pointing to sales-job postings that use phrases like “competitive environment,” and “tremendous variable compensation packages.”

“Those things become huge turnoffs to a lot of potential applicants,” he added. “People today want to be part of a team, they want stable pay.”

They also want a clear career path, along with support to work their way up. Business-software giant Oracle Corp. , which has a famously competitive sales culture, began recruiting reps on college campuses a few years ago. Students frequently show a “lack of awareness” about sales roles, said Sharon Prosser, group vice president of Oracle Direct, but their interest is piqued when they learn that the field is well-suited to “continuous learners and that there’s training and career progression built into the program.”

To find job candidates, Acquia Inc., a cloud-based open-source software company in Burlington, Mass., last fall sponsored a sales contest at Bryant University in Rhode Island.

At Bryant, 140 students presented mock sales pitches, and about five recruiters were on hand, said Tim Bertrand, an Acquia sales executive.

“Every candidate that looked really good, we were going up and saying ‘We’d like to interview you now for a June job.’” The company intends to hire seven to nine contest participants.

The contest winner, Tom Keenan, a 21-year-old senior at Bryant, says his mother urged him to enter. Days later, he interviewed for a job as a business development rep at Acquia; he starts in June.

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Surveys Show Gov Digital Strategies Still Have Room for Improvement [Jan. 28, 2015]

Submitted on
Wednesday, January 28, 2015
,
CivSource

By Bailey McCann

Federal, state and local government technology workers give government digital strategy middling grades, according to two recent surveys sponsored by Acquia together with the Center for Digital Government. Acquia is a provider of Drupal based open source and cloud platform services, and asked technology workers about their existing digital plans and how they could improve.

Not surprisingly, state and local respondents cited budget constraints, legacy systems, and an overall uncertainty about enterprise vision as the core inhibitors to moving digital strategy forward. Data security also ranked near the top of the list in terms of priorities for any digital effort.

35% of state and local respondents cited “becoming more information centric” as the main area of improvement for digital, with security, becoming customer centric, and building shared platforms following closely behind. The overall grade from state and local respondents for digital was a “B-” with “becoming customer centric” cited as the area most in need of improvement.

On the federal side, less progress has been made despite the Obama Administration’s directive – the Digital Government Strategy. On average, federal respondents give their agencies a ‘C+’ grade in digital strategy efforts. Only 11 percent of respondents rate their agency’s efforts as excellent, whereas 35 percent describe efforts as either unsatisfactory or poor, according to the report. Federal technology workers overwhelmingly say that compliance with federal mandates is the reason for any progress at all, with cost efficiency coming in at a close second and innovation coming in dead last.

Barriers to improvement on the federal level are somewhat similar to those cited by state and local respondents – limited budget (63 percent), skills gaps (52 percent), and legacy systems (50 percent). Federal survey data shows that despite the Shared Platforms directive, few agencies are engaged in cross-collaboration or resource sharing.

When it comes to making upgrades or implementing new technologies, the task can often be daunting. Both federal, state and local workers in both surveys say that maintaining that type of commitment over time is a tall order in government, both from a resources and budget perspective.

Acquia most recently updated government websites for both New York state and Los Angeles. The New York project required more than 100 workers and 10 months to complete. The website remained more or less the same for 15 years, and basically required a full rebuild. Acquia was tasked with not only updating the site but making it responsive for both handicapped users and a variety of devices.

“What you had with the New York site was something that worked, but didn’t provide information in the easiest or best possible way,” explained Todd Akers, VP of Public Sector at Acquia in an interview with CivSource. “This is common to a lot of government websites, and it requires a culture shift in how information is presented, with the tools that are available today government can do much more than it could in the past.”

The changes in the New York site are readily apparent – graphics and navigation are more modern, and information is more digestible. So far the state has seen a bump in site visits as well, suggesting users are better able to navigate to the information they need.

For the Los Angeles project, Akers explains that officials want to migrate more than 20 sites to Drupal and overhaul the total customer experience with government online. The Los Angeles Information Technology Agency (ITA) is working with Acquia to start a phased in migration with three of the city’s most visited sites: lacity.org, lacityview.org and ladot.lacity.org.

“Almost 4 million people depend on our web presence to access important city services and information,” said Ted Ross, Assistant General Manager for Technology Solutions for the City of LA.

Services included in the migration will be tax and property data, motor vehicle services, transportation, and GIS applications. Prior to selecting Drupal, Los Angeles managed its sites with a legacy Oracle Stellent CMS. The city sought greater resiliency to support its sites and increasing the number of online services they offer.

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Acquia Adds VPN to Drupal SaaS Service [Jan. 23, 2015]

Submitted on
Friday, January 23, 2015
,
IT Business Edge

By Mike Vizard

Acquia, a provider of a content management system (CMS) based on the open source Drupal project that is delivered as a service, has added a Cloud Shield virtual private network (VPN) designed to isolate access to applications running on the software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform.

Chris Stone, senior vice president of products and development at Acquia, says that as the CMS has evolved, IT organizations are not only building and deploying applications on top of Acquia, they are increasingly skipping the whole process of contracting individual cloud and networking services in favor of having Acquia perform those functions on their behalf.

As cloud computing becomes more complex, Stone says that many IT organizations have begun to realize that SaaS applications can essentially double as platform-as-a-service (PaaS) environments where IT organizations can not only deploy applications, but eliminate many of the headaches associated with setting up cloud infrastructure on their own.

In addition, Stone notes that in the case of Acquia, many of the burdens associated with complying with any number of regulations are taken on by the SaaS application provider.

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Feds Struggle to Keep Up With Digital Access Demand [Jan. 14, 2015]

Submitted on
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
,
E-Commerce Times

By John K. Higgins

Federal agencies "will be hard pressed to keep pace with technology if they fail to modernize their processes and policies," said Deloitte Digital's Tim Young. "Business and IT leaders at agencies need to partner together to design 21st century government. A digitally native experience can create more efficient government, more engaged constituents, and more effective programs."

The explosion in the use of mobile devices in the United States is posing a major challenge for the federal government to provide public access to agencies via wireless channels. In an effort to keep pace with technology, the U.S. government launched the Digital Government Strategy in May 2012 with the goal of providing citizen access to federal services and information anywhere, anytime, on any device.

The performance of federal agencies in meeting the goals of the strategy has been mixed. The federal General Accountability Office recently reported on the progress of federal agency actions in responding to mobile device and digital technology issues. GAO focused on a sampling of six federal agencies, and cautioned that its investigation should not be generalized as a definitive report card on the entire federal government. Still, the sampling indicated that agency performance was uneven.

The GAO's report, issued in December 2014, followed a second Obama administration initiative in which the government recognized that federal agencies needed a lot more help in meeting the fast-developing digital technology demands of the U.S. public.

In the follow-up program, launched in August 2014, the White House created the U.S. Digital Service as a resource for federal agencies.

"The Digital Service will be a small team made up of our country's brightest digital talent that will work with agencies to remove barriers to exceptional service delivery and help remake the digital experience that people and businesses have with their government," said Beth Cobert, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget.

Agencies Chip Away at Improvements

On the plus side, the GAO reported that all 24 agencies that were required to meet a number of digital strategy goals have accomplished the task of identifying two or more services to be optimized for mobile use. Additionally, 21 agencies already have optimized two or more prioritized services. Specific examples of performance:

- The Federal Emergency Management Agency: FEMA incorporated "responsive design" as part of its migration to a content management system for its DisasterAssistance.gov website, to make it easier for disaster survivors to apply for assistance online using mobile devices. Having ready access to the portal via a mobile device is crucial for those affected by a disaster, especially in the event of extensive power outages. FEMA also has a smartphone app available for Apple, Android and Blackberry devices.
- The U.S. Department of Transportation: DoT also incorporated a responsive design when it modified its main departmental website, which included transitioning to a content management system. DoT got an early jump, and went live with the change in September 2012, utilizing a more streamlined approach to facilitate mobile access.
- Better Apps: The federal strategy involves more than just redesigning websites to mesh with mobile devices. For example, agencies are encouraged to explore the use of native apps as a convenience to citizens. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration now offers its SaferCar app, which allows individuals to check for vehicle ratings and vehicle safety defects, as well as locate child car seat inspection stations. The app works with Apple and Android platforms. Also, the National Park Service developed an app for the National Mall and Memorial Sites, which provides tourists with information about historical and cultural sites in Washington, D.C.

The GAO also reported that the federal government still faces huge challenges before it can come close to Amazon or Google in terms of digital capabilities. Some of those barriers:

- Information Overload: Government sites filled with a lot of statistics, verbiage, regulations and directions are not helpful for electronic access in general, and especially with mobile devices. Occupying valuable website space with unnecessary information or clutter can be a major impediment, GAO noted.
- Navigation: Unnecessary screens and functions prevent consumers from finding the information or services they need within three clicks, GAO said. A related issue is the difficulty of managing several screens. Toggling between multiple screens on a government website, especially when dealing with forms or applications, is more challenging on a smartphone than on a desktop or laptop. In addition, there is the mind-boggling presence of the government on the Internet, with 11,000 federal websites subject to digital modernization.

The digital strategy addresses other operational issues. In the process of identifying services for digital access, agencies were directed to be compliant with new open data, content, and application programming interface policies, as well as metadata tagging. To ensure that improvements are in tune with public expectations, OMB required that agencies implement performance and customer satisfaction measuring tools on all government websites.

The View From Outside

Given the formidable tasks involved in complying with the goals of the digital program, the modest level of agency performance to date is understandable, noted Todd Akers, vice president public sector at Acquia.

"In the few short years since the Digital Government Strategy was released, agencies have made tremendous strides in both understanding how citizens consume and use information, and adopting new technologies like the Drupal open source Web content management system to securely deliver mission-essential information," he told the E-Commerce Times.

"The White House digital strategy set out a great road map and set a great example of how to execute as well. Change doesn't happen overnight, but it is happening, in many cases, faster than expected, considering the challenges agencies must overcome," he said.

Acquia collaborated with the Government Business Council in a 2014 assessment of federal digital and mobile technology performance.

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Customers Might Hate Your Website, Here’s Why [Jan. 8, 2015]

Submitted on
Thursday, January 8, 2015
,
Small Business Trends

By Annie Pilon

Your business website is not perfect. No matter how much you love it and think it represents your brand, there are people out there who hate it. It could be difficult to navigate. It could have annoying features. Or it could be something really trivial that just rubs users the wrong way. But whatever the reason, your goal should be to have your website bother as few people as possible.

While you certainly can’t please everyone, there are a few pretty common things that can annoy or anger online customers. Avoiding these pitfalls can go a long way toward getting more customers to actually like and appreciate your website. They could be simple issues that you have just overlooked.

Tom Wentworth, chief marketing officer at Acquia, recently outlined some of these common issues in a post on Mashable. One of the issues he mentions is slow load times. If a website takes more than a few seconds to load, many customers get annoyed and some even leave the site altogether.

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3 Lessons from New York's Website Redesign [Jan. 7, 2015]

Submitted on
Wednesday, January 7, 2015
,
Government Technology

By Jason Shueh

After 10 months and hundreds of hours, New York state offers insights into what made its newest website a major success.

In 2013, the New York state website had lapsed into disrepair. For 15 years it was left relatively stagnant. Upkeep relegated to maintenance. Navigation tangled in rambling menus and redundant links, and was garbed in a coat of drab navy coloring. The website struggled to direct visitors to the state’s many agencies and battled with juggling a multiplicity of citizen-focused interactions.

As such, a key priority was to lay the old design to rest and revitalize the site with fresh functionality and a modern look. It’s one of the reasons Gov. Andrew Cuomo hired Rachel Haot, the state’s first deputy secretary for technology, in January of 2014. Cuomo sought a platform equipped to curate the site’s more than 3.7 million page views per month on NY.gov and more than 5.6 million annual page views on its popular Governor.ny.gov — a site dedicated to Cuomo’s activities and initiatives.

Already NY.gov shows significant returns: Visitor counts taken in its first month, from Nov. 12 to Dec.12, 2014, compared to 2013 show that unique visits increased from 244,597 in 2013 to 605,063 in 2014. Similarly, page views saw a bump from 313,170 in 2013 to 1.1 million in 2014. Within the governor’s site, unique visits increased from 213,963 to 347,023. Cuomo’s page views also rose by about 17.3 percent, boosting from 471,414 in 2013 to 553,085 post launch.

Taking time to flesh out details behind the near year-long project, Haot identified notable features and underscored three lessons learned.

1. IF IT’S BROKEN, KNOW SPECIFICS
Considering the site went 15 years without a major tune-up, it didn’t take a technologist to figure the site needed a fix. However, “fixing a website” is too broad a project description for meaningful change. Specifics were required. To bridge this gap, Haot said a collaborative assessment was made to review site analytics — to determine feature demand — and open doors for user testing and stakeholder input. What the team discovered was a clear need for a responsive design, one to accommodate mobile devices; shaving excessive information for quick access to services; engagement outlets through social media; and personalization.

“We really identified that the primary goals of the website were first to serve and perform all of those functions, and then secondly, to inform and explain government,” Haot said.

Other obscure yet critical improvements dealt with the American with Disabilities Act requirements and tailoring the site for the state’s diverse demographics. Pages had to be translated for non-English speaking residents — 70 languages total — and text contrast and size adjusted for the visually impaired. Last, Acquia was chosen as the tech firm to build the site with its open source content management system, Drupal, to eliminate laborious coding each time new content was added.

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No, Data Is Eating the World [Jan. 7, 2015]

Submitted on
Wednesday, January 7, 2015
,
Re/code

By Dries Buytaert

Marc Andreessen famously said that “software is eating the world.” While I certainly agree with Marc that software companies are redefining our economies, I believe that much of that technological shift is being driven by data. So, is the value of a business in the data, or in the software? I believe the value is increasingly more in the data, and not the software. Let’s investigate why:

Data-driven experiences
Netflix provides a great example of a data-driven, customer-centric company. By introducing streaming video, its software “ate” the traditional DVD business. But Netflix soon realized that its future wasn’t in the medium of delivery — it was in the wealth of data generated simply by people using the service. The day-to-day data generated by Netflix viewers provides a crucial ingredient to competing in the marketplace and defining the company’s mission: Improving the quality of the service.

To that end, Netflix uses passive data — the information gathered quietly in the background without disrupting users’ natural behaviors — to provide TV and movie recommendations, as well as to optimize the quality of services, such as streaming speed, playback quality, subtitles or closed captioning. Of course, Netflix subscribers can contribute active feedback to the company, such as movie reviews or feedback on the accuracy of a translation, but the true value of Netflix’s data is in the quiet, zero-effort observation that allows the company to optimize experiences with no friction or disruption to regular user behavior. In fact, the company even hosted several competitions to invent better algorithms for user ratings, with a winning prize of $1 million.

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