There’s a more agile, future-ready way to create great shopping experiences. It lowers risk, pays off fast, and could help you keep your job.

Peter McLachlan, co-founder and chief product officer, Mobify

Peter McLachlan, co-founder, Mobify

Many retailers have begun or are planning digital transformation projects to retrofit key components of their IT environments. The goal is to replace legacy systems and prepare for the transformative future of digital commerce technology. These technologies range from the more distant virtual reality, voice, and Internet of Things-based commerce to the newly arrived Progressive Web AppsandAccelerated Mobile Pages(AMP) that are already turning the mobile visitor into the fastest-growing revenue driver of 2018.

But IT and business leaders know digital transformation comes with big risks. These projects can take years and typically do not offer value or simplify the architecture until after they’re fully delivered. And there’s always the chance the project will fail before ever delivering value to the customer—more than half of enterprise IT projects do. On the treacherous route to digital transformation, people can and have lost their jobs.

Ask anyone in e-commerce if they haven’t spent sleepless nights preparing to swap out a key system, only to crash and burn the next day, forcing an embarrassing rollback. It’s impossible to predict how shoppers will react to changes. Even a “lift and shift” approach, where a new website closely matches the old, can have compromising differences. Moving from a highly optimized legacy system to a new and unknown replacement can drop conversion rates and damage SEO.

Because the shopper experience platform operates independently of the rest of the back-end services, experiments with new services can be deployed or rolled back faster.

Some retailers are taking a different route to digital transformation. They’re implementing a new type of software known as a digital experience development platform (DXDP). Digital experience platforms have been around for a few years. But they have fundamentally been web content management systems. They’re good at presenting content on desktop-oriented retail sites but not great at building the best shopping journey for any device or supporting modern digital scenarios.

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A DXDP is a platform-as-a-service development environment for building front-end experiences for each shopper’s device. It provides development tools, release management and cloud delivery of the last-mile customer experience to websites and native apps on any digital screen, including smartphones, tablets and desktop computers.

This is a fundamental change from building custom front-end software on top of the existing e-commerce platform.A DXDP operates as a type of middleware separating the presentation layer from the back end. It includes tested building blocks to create the shopping experience on digital channels, such as mobile and tablet web or native apps. The DXDP is integrated with existing e-commerce platforms and can be connected to new front-end services from digital transformation projects one at a time, as they come available. Product information feeds or search and order management can remain safely on-premise, for example, while user experience updates are moved to the cloud. Native applications, progressive web apps (the modern way of powering your mobile and desktop website), Accelerated Mobile Pages, kiosks and other hot technologies can be powered from the shared code base generated by the DXDP.

Mobify has been working with one retailer, UK department store Debenhams, which is using a digital experience development platform to power a Progressive Web App for mobile with plans to extend it to tablet and further channels. The Debenhams mobile approach is separate from the underlying web commerce platform. This approach allowed faster time to market—in Debenhams’ case, rollout of the PWA took just four months to complete, compared to 12-18 months for a typical custom-built PWA.

Debenhams was able to implement its new mobile site to generate revenue sooner, while the company was in the midst of digital transformation. Because the shopper experience platform operates independently of the rest of the back-end services, experiments with new services can be deployed or rolled back faster.

With major releases of iOS and Android happening bi-annually—and new touchpoints such as IoT and wearable computing arriving at an even greater frequency—a digital experience development platform makes it easier to support these new digital interactions as they make sense for the business. Adding advanced search, for example, can occur before moving order management or payment acquisition to the new system. With a DXDP, it’s possible to enhance the search experience of the shopper by connecting to a new search microservice independent of the existing commerce platform and immediately enjoy the improvement in search quality.

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A reasonable question is: If I have a digital experience development platform, do I still need to do my digital transformation project?  The answer is usually yes, because replacing aging systems has its own benefits, and you’ll want to add capabilities to your back-end services that you don’t have today. But that work doesn’t have to be a roadblock to immediately improving the quality of your customer journeys and reaping the business benefits of an engaged customer.

Mobify provides mobile commerce technology and services to 15 of the 1,000 leading online retailers in North America, according to Top500Guide.com.

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