Are You Ready for a Contextual Web?

As a long-time SDL Tridion consultant, you're about to enter into oddly familiar, yet different new implementations in about a year, give or take a year. I'm suggesting the Midas Rule, or the idea that "whoever touches something first and cares the most gets to decide what to do with it" will change our roles as Content Management System (CMS) professionals.
You and your team may need more skills across more disciplines in bigger implementations but the good news is you won't be alone. The company, practitioners, and community are preparing to deal with an analytics-enabled and targeted, Contextual Web (again).

The Vendor

SDL itself has and continues to integrate its product lines. Though the claim to a "Comprehensive, Integrated Product Portfolio" might be hard to interpret in practical terms for implementers, see how this translates to the actual products in +Philipp Engel's presentation.

By Midas Rule, the product(s) will integrate. And no, those familiar-looking interfaces aren't becoming more like Tridion. SDL software is becoming more, well SDL.

I'm downstream from the "One SDL" process but have already experienced the impact from knowledge transfer sessions on Experience ManagerMedia Manager, and CMS (I owe another post) to Education Updates applying both the new Carbon theme as well as updated practices.

Experience Manager, is core to the product and even featured first in Foundation Training before the traditional Content Manager Explorer. Especially if you're going to add any of SDL's other offerings to an SDL Tridion implementation, you'll want (I'd argue need) to set up in-context editing.

Here's a preparation list for those following SDL's view of the customer journey (check out Mark Lancaster's interview with +Adrian Swinscoe for some of the thinking behind the customer journey):
  • Regions go back to SDL Tridion's SiteEdit and the Smart Target version of regions are similar (add TBBs which get translated into the controls or tags needed for delivery). As long as you're familiar with Tridion modular templating, you're ready. Just be sure to read up on REL and TCDL if you've only looked at Tridion from a .NET or Java perspective.
  • SDL's Campaign Management and Analytics (CMA) integrates via Target Groups, which are a part of Profiling and Personalization. Read Eric Huiza's post on how this integrates with SDL Tridion 2013 SP1. Again you're ready if you know Tridion templating and how to set Target Groups. 
  • The Ambient Data Framework integrates SDL products. If you're only familiar with the CD API, be sure to catch up on this "advanced" Content Delivery feature. From personal experience it's mostly configuration and some code.

The Practitioner

If you keep up with the community, you'll notice more contributors with certain specialties. Look at the tag list on Tridion Stack Exchange to find a few sharing about SDL Tridion and:

  • SDL Translation Manager
  • SDL Smart Target
  • External Content Libraries
  • SDL Media Manager

With SDL Media Manager, practitioners cover Tridion, Media Manager, and even the markup that bridges the two.

Wait. Markup?

Let me know if you've seen different, but traditionally, SDL Professional Services (PS) engagements take customer or partner-supplied markup (HTML prototype) as input. It helps to have front-end developers familiar with CMS in general, but aside from some minor updates and suggestions, the CMS professional services consultant isn't responsible for front-end design.

However, as part of an SDL partner group, +Frank Taylor (Paceaux) described how he's adapted front-end code (CSS) for CMS implementations as early as 2012. Customers won't always have a CMS services group handle front-end design or requirements, but there is a market for all-in-one practitioners or teams.

These may take the form of specialists, generalists, or teams of both. Most recently, I've had the pleasure of consulting on partner-led implementation where the client, partner, and vendor act as partners, best serving in their respective roles. The client owns the visitor experience, design, and project, the partner provides auxiliary services sometimes including front-end code, and the vendor (me in this case) gets to explain SDL Tridion (triple win!).

Partners, independents, and even PS that stay up to speed and savvy with front-end development techniques will benefit engagements. By Midas Rule, if you care enough to learn, start, or catch up first, you'll shape future implementations.

The Conference

Just last year, +Chris Morgan  was reflecting on the open Tridion community back in 2008 when Google wouldn't show much. The content was definitely on the forum, but it wasn't as open as it is today (1534 questions and counting). Even as I write this I'm finding new internal and external Tridion-related blogs (welcome +Anton Minko and  Thijs Borst to the Tridion blogosphere).
And then there's the May 15 Tridion Developer summit. Started by +Robert Curlette, this is truly a community-driven event. I'd dare call it a benefit of a self-organizing technical community, but I suspect this comes from a question he posed to me last year: "how will we learn all this new stuff?"

I guess my answer wasn't good enough because we got three podcasts and a conference.

In conclusion, here are my new expectations for projects:
  • (More) inter-disciplinary skills. I've been lucky to see a mix of functional, back-end, front-end, or jack-of-all-trade specialists on my projects. But as you see more "SDL-enabled" projects you'll need at least representatives for the different roles.
  • Experience Manager (XPM) and Page Types. Even before inline editing or session preview I'd like to see Experience Manager Page Types to know we're on track with the content model. So if you're going to "phase 2" XPM, please at least include the install in your POC or initial setup.
  • Midas Rule will rule. We'll be answering small, interesting questions in these projects (e.g. "who will be responsible for the markup in this project?"). Having realistic expectations, being able to adapt, and not hesitating to reach out will all help. Sometimes you might need to make a decision by Midas Rule because you care the most or you happen to be there first.
Change is hard. And since it involves people, it's often political. You've seen CMS plus projects that start with "We want a CMS plus..." where the plus might be more important than the CMS change. For example you might have CMS plus:
  • New design
  • New way to handle media
  • New analytics approach
  • A better customer experience
  • New shiny servers
In any of these projects, you'll want someone (from among the client, the partner/practitioner, or the vendor) who knows how to handle the inter-disciplinary "plus." Simply look to those that care the most or have done it first.

How will you cope? Should customers be worried? Nah. You've been through these stages before. I'll modify a quote from +Nuno LinharesGot What it Takes post the 5 Stages are based on: "keep believing you CAN do it. You'll get there..." I'm just adding " Midas Rule."

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