Clearly defining 'out of the box' leads to a better understanding of digital experience management solutions during an evaluation track.
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So, you’re looking for a new digital experience management (let’s call it web content management 2.0) platform? You’re in luck: nowadays, there’s a wide variety of products to choose from - either an integrated, comprehensive solution (such as Adobe Marketing Cloud, SDL Customer Experience Cloud or SiteCore Experience Platform) or an open source solution (such as Drupal) combined with other marketing software.
One pivotal step in the search for a digital experience management (DXM) platform is the evaluation process: how do you evaluate and compare platforms? Based on what criteria?
A simple and to the point approach could be:
- Making a list of demands (or functional requirements) perceived within your organization that you expect to be covered by a future software solution;
- Asking vendors or implementation partners how they could answer those demands; and
- Evaluating the proposed solution based on those answers with reference to a set of criteria (such as price, quality, approach, aftercare).
One criterion that has seen an increase in popularity is how a certain solution can answer the perceived demands by default, meaning without additional development costs (in percentage terms), and it is referred to as out of the box.
The answer you’ll get from a vendor will be influenced by your definition of the out of the box criterion. Let’s take a more detailed look at how we can receive better answers from vendors and implementation partners.
For starters: the ‘buy’ versus ‘build’ discussion
The source of the popularity of the out of the box criterion can be found in the eternal buy versus build discussion: should you start a project based on a packaged solution, or should you use custom development?
In choosing the ‘buy’ approach, you’re choosing to work based on a product, with out of the box functionalities. The advantage is that the product in itself contains a broad foundation of functionalities. A possible disadvantage is that the product isn’t aligned with the exact functional requirements.
The DXM requirements of an average organization (such as content management, digital asset management or advanced marketing functionalities such as personalization and targeting) nowadays are for the most part fulfilled by packaged solutions. That makes ‘buy’ (in an average organization) the only responsible choice for DXM. Consequently, the value out of the box criterion has increased drastically.
Defining out of the box
As a result of the popularity of packaged solutions in digital experience management and out of the box functionalities, I routinely encounter the following question during evaluation paths: “What percentage of the solution that you, as an implementation partner, suggest is based on out of the box functionalities?”
My answer, believe it or not, is nearly always the same: “0% or 100%, or something in between, depending on the definition used for out of the box.”
The way you define out of the box determines how accurate the evaluation between vendors and implementation partners will be. Without a clear definition, you will receive a range of diverse answer which will be difficult to compare.
Wikipedia defines out of the box as follows: “An out of the box feature or functionality, is a feature or functionality of a product that works immediately after installation without any configuration or modification.” By that definition, any DXM project, regardless of the technology, uses a very limited amount of out of the box features. That is because using any technology “without any configuration or modification” is, in practice, unfeasible.
How to redefine out of the box in the context of digital experience management projects
It is clear that we need to redefine out of the box in the context of DXM projects so that it can be used as a valuable, if not to say crucial, criterion.
The following approaches, in my opinion, do not work:
- Using percentages to describe the extent to which a feature can be used out of the box, as a percentage doesn’t qualify how functional that feature is;
- Adding subcategories to the criterion, such as “only by means of configuration”, “based on a limited amount of custom development”, “based on a large amount of custom development”. That boils down to using percentages, again.
A better approach would be to see out of the box as a complex evaluation criterion with multiple requirements:
- To what extent can the functionality be extended to fulfill certain demands?
- What is the quality of the out of the box functionality you’re envisioning?
- Is the functionality scalable for the environment and scenario you have in mind?
- How much effort would it take to develop a certain out of the box feature from scratch? Is that at all feasible?
As the criterion is complex and an evaluation track is often time-sensitive, it is essential to limit the amount of requirements and to define a set of must-have needs.
Make a list of ‘must-haves’ and have your vendors describe in detail how their solution will fit those exact requirements. The answers will give you more insight into the various facets of the solution (such as maintenance costs, quality, scalability) and, as an added bonus, a better understanding of the knowledge and expertise of your vendors or implementation partners.
Is a solution based on out of the box functionalities always better? No. It might not even be advisable to use such a feature in specific cases. It is important to create the space necessary within an evaluation process to substantiate those cases, which will lead to a better insight.
Redefining out of the box will lead to a more informed choice
The search for a suitable DXM solution nowadays is not simple. The degree to which a solution meets your requirements out of the box is crucial.
That is why you should see that evaluation criterion as a multi-faceted one, and provide the necessary space for discussion during an evaluation or RFP process. You will gain more insight into the solution and be able to make a better informed choice which can more easily be justified to all stakeholders within your organization.
About the author
Ruben Thys is Senior Director Strategic Accounts at AMPLEXOR based in Belgium. With over 10 years of experience working in digital consulting for large enterprises (financial services, industry and government), he has acquired deep knowledge of multiple web content management platforms, specializing in customer experience strategy and digital ecosystems integration, e.g. ERP, PIM, CMMS, CRM, etc.