The Web community keeps reinventing itself. For active participants it is crystal clear what developments occur, and why. But for others, the constant explosion of new trends and technologies may be overwhelming. For instance, a few years ago frontends were build in templating environments of content management systems (CMS). Now, there is a separate frontend layer. What happened to the role of the CMS? The overwhelming speed at which web technologies develop pose a possible threat to effective use of existing and new technologies. Hence, we try to given an overview of what happens in the Web world, and how it all relates.
Responsive design versus progressive profiling
Responsive design is a way of preparing the appearance of an online publication to meet the specific requirements of a device, both in terms of look & feel and the functionality that is offered. It’s a rather technical trick, and it is focused at enhancing user experience for different devices (PC, mobile, tablet, etc.).
Progressive profiling has a different angle. It goes beyond device, and actually tries to manage the customer as a person, not a device. It recognizes customers even when they are using different channels. It monitors their behaviour in all channels (including inbound call centres, for instance) and adjusts the behaviour of the online publication accordingly. Usually, banners and promotions are adjusted to match the factual interest of the visitor to increase conversion. Also, prices of products are sometimes altered based on behaviour. For instance, visitors coming from comparison sites are always offered the lowest price, but visitors who hesitate to buy will be presented with increased prices once they revisit the website.
Recently, it was discovered that opt-in ratio’s are much higher for mobile visitors than for regular visitors. Progressive profiling makes is possible to only present the opt-in to a visitor once it has been detected that they are viewing the site via a mobile device.
In short, progressive profiling uses all behavioural aspects of a (repeated) visitor to optimally tune the site for maximum conversion. Responsive design only does so for the device a visitor is using.
From a technological standpoint, the two need not be mutual exclusive. In fact, both can be applied to any site. We owe this to a growing separation between frontend technologies and traditional CMS solutions.
Frontend and CMS disconnected
Traditionally, organisations would acquire a web content management system and rely on it to manage the website. That worked fine in a single channel world, visitors would visit the website via their (traditional) computer. The only awkward thing was the different resolutions that needed to be catered for. At the time, web developers found that to be “an issue”. We would now call that “manageable”.
Then, the number of devices with browser-like functionality started to grow, and the pace increased at which these were adopted. Especially the diverse and mixed way customers combine these devices in their every day working and private lives, made it very difficult to manage interactions with visitors. This is when the actual frontend started to detach from the content management systems. These were left with managing templates, and later templates for components of the page. The CMS gradually lost control over the way online publications were presented and functioned. They became what they were initially designed for, to manage content and the content creation process.
Responsive frontends are frontends that recognize the device, resolution and channel of a visitor, and adjust the online publication accordingly. They communicate with business applications (customer self service, etc.) and get their content and sometimes templates from the CMS (“just another backend system”.)
Investments and ROI?
Several large companies are experimenting with responsive design. They are investigating the business case for a truly responsive frontend versus the cost of having a frontend per channel. So far, the judges are still out, and have not made their final call. Responsive frontends require large investments, and highly skilled frontend skills, also to maintain the website. The question is whether these investments are justified by the reduced costs of having to manage fewer frontends. It’s an interesting discussion that we’ll monitor closely.
Incentro has developed an Enterprise Information Maturity model to analyse why investments in information (technology) are not flourishing. The model is presented below. The lower two levels (available and accessible) are all about technology. When technology prevents people to find or use information, we tend to say the IT hygiene is not in order.
The two upper levels address issues that arise from information being available yet non-understandable or relevant. These levels are the domain of User Experience experts, change management experts and even neuroscientists. Traditional IT people usually don’t really get these issues. There far from rational, and therefore need a different approach.
Blocking factors for Information Productivity Analysis
When applying the Enterprise Information Maturity levels shown above, it becomes clear that things such as responsive design belong in the lower two levels, also known as the IT hygiene levels. However important, there are more distinguishing elements that will optimize online conversion. Progressive profiling is the industries’ answer to ensuring information provided online is also relevant. On the top level, it’s the user experience expertise of frontend designers that ensures interpretability of online publications.
A progressive frontend?
It’s good to know that progressive profiling can be set up on any frontend, being responsive or not, being one or many, and that it is also CMS independent technology. And in the end, we want to know the customer, not just his of her device, right?
We’re not in it for the technological challenges, we’re in it for the result.
Online business is not new, it’s no longer a hype. At Incentro, we work for large corporations taking online business and their online presence seriously. Clients that are fed up with hipster Hawaii shirts explaining online investments should be directed towards the next unproven hyped startup technological breakthrough. Online business is a mature way of business. There are proven best practices, and there’s a lot of experimentation. At Incentro, we follow the experiments, and implement the best practices.