A Coder’s Paradise: Notes from the Tech Track at Adobe Summit 2018
Last week I attended my 11th Adobe Summit – a number that seems hard to believe. At my first Summit back in 2008, the Great Recession was just starting, but companies were already cutting back on expenses like conferences – just as Omniture moved Summit from the Grand America to the Salt Palace (they moved it back in 2009 for a few more years). Now, the event has outgrown Salt Lake City – with over 13,000 attendees last week converging on Las Vegas for an event with a much larger footprint than just the digital analytics industry.
With the sheer size of the event and the wide variety of products now included in Adobe’s Marketing and Experience Clouds, it can be difficult to find the right sessions – but I managed to attend some great labs, and wanted to share some of what I learned. I’ll get to Adobe Launch, which was again under the spotlight – only this year, it’s actually available for customers to use. But I’m going to start with some of the other things that impressed me throughout the week. There’s a technical bent to all of this – so if you’re looking for takeaways more suited for analysts, I’m sure some of my fellow partners at Demystified (as well as lots of others out there) will have thoughts to share. But I’m a developer at heart, so that’s what I’ll be emphasizing.
Adobe Target Standard
Because Brian Hawkins is such an optimization wizard, I don’t spend as much time with Target as I used to, and this was my first chance to do much with Target Standard besides deploy the at.js library and the global mbox. But I attended a lab that worked through deploying it via Launch, then setting up some targeting on a singe-page ReactJS application. My main takeaway is that Target Standard is far better suited to running an optimization program on a single-page application than Classic ever was. I used to have to utilize nested mboxes and all sorts of DOM trickery to delay content from showing until the right moment when things actually took place. But with Launch, you can easily listen for page updates and then trigger mboxes accordingly.
Target Standard and Launch also makes it easier to handle a common issue with frameworks like ReactJS where the data layer is being asynchronously populated with data from API calls – so you can run a campaign on initial page load even if it takes some time for all the relevant targeting data to be available.
Adobe Analytics APIs
The initial version of the Omniture API was perhaps the most challenging API I’ve ever used. It supported SOAP only, and from authentication to query, you had to configure everything absolutely perfectly for it to work. And you had to do it with no API Explorer and virtually no documentation, all while paying very close attention to the number of requests you were making, since you only had 2,000 tokens per month and didn’t want to run out or get charged for more (I’m not aware this ever happened, but the threat at least felt real!).
Adobe adding REST API support a few years later was a career-changing event for me, and there have been several enhancements and improvements since, like adding OAUTH authentication support. But what I saw last week was pretty impressive nonetheless. The approach to querying data is changed significantly in the following ways:
- The next iteration of Adobe’s APIs will offer a much more REST-ful approach to interacting with the platform.
- Polling for completed reports is no longer required. It will likely take several more requests to get to the most complicated reports, but each individual request will run much faster.
- Because Analytics Workspace is built on top of a non-public version of the API, you truly will be able to access any report you can find in the UI.
- The request format for each report has been simplified, with non-essential parameters either removed or at least made optional.
- The architecture of a report request is fundamentally different in some ways – especially in the way that breakdowns between reports work.
- The ability to search or filter on reports is far more robust than in earlier versions of the API.
Launch by Adobe
While Launch has been available for a few months, I’ve found it more challenging than I expected to talk my clients into migrating from DTM to Launch. The “lottery” system made some of my clients wonder if Launch was really ready for prime-time, while the inability to quickly migrate an existing DTM implementation over to Launch has been prohibitive to others. But whatever the case may be, I’ve only started spending a significant amount of time in Launch in the last month or so. For customers who were able to attend labs or demos on Launch at Summit, I suspect that will quickly change – because the feature set is just so much better than with DTM.
How Launch Differs from DTM
My biggest complaint about DTM has always been that it hasn’t matched the rest of the Marketing Cloud in terms of enterprise-class features. From a limited number of integrations available, to the rigid staging/production publishing structure, I’ve repeatedly run into issues where it was hard to make DTM work the way I needed for some of my larger clients. Along the way, Adobe has repeatedly said they understood these limitations and were working to address them. And Launch does that – it seems fairly obvious now that the reason DTM lagged in offering features other systems did is because Adobe has been putting way more resources into Launch over the past few years. It opens up the platform in some really unique ways that DTM never has:
- You can set up as many environments as you want.
- Anyone can write extensions to enhance the functionality and features available.
- The user(s) in charge of Launch administration for your company have much more granular control over what is eventually pushed to your production website.
- The Launch platform will eventually offer open APIs to allow you to customize your company’s Launch experience in virtually any way you need.
With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility
Launch offers a pretty amazing amount of control that make for some major considerations to each company that implements it. For example, the publishing workflow is flexible to the point of being a bit confusing. Because it’s set up almost like a version control system like Git, any Launch user can set up his or her own development environment and configure in any number of ways. This means each user has to then choose which version of every single asset to include in a library, promote to staging/production, etc. So you have to be a lot more careful than when you’re publishing with DTM.
I would hope we’ve reached a point in tag management where companies no longer expect a marketer to be able to own tagging and the TMS – it was the sales pitch made from the beginning, but the truth is that it has never been that easy. Even Tealium, which (in my opinion) has the most user-friendly interface and the most marketer-friendly features, needs at least one good developer to tap into the whole power of the tool. Launch will be no different; as the extension library grows and more integrations are offered, marketers will probably feel more comfortable making changes than they were with DTM – but this will likely be the exception and not the rule.
Just One Complaint
If there is one thing that will slow migration from DTM to Launch, it is be the difficulty customers will face in migration. One of the promises Adobe made about Launch at Summit in 2017 was that you would be able to migrate from DTM to Launch without updating the embed code on your site. This is technically true – you can configure Launch to publish your production environment to an old DTM production publishing target. But this can only be done for production, and not any other environment – which means you can migrate without updating your production embed code, but you will need to update all your non-production codes. Alternatively, you can use a tool like DTM Switch or Charles Proxy for your testing – and that will work fine for your initial testing. But most enterprise companies want to accumulate a few weeks of test data for all the traffic on at least one QA site before they are comfortable deploying changes to production.
It’s important to point out that, even if you do choose to migrate by publishing your Launch configuration to your old production DTM publishing target, you still have to migrate everything currently in DTM over to Launch – manually. Later this year, Adobe has said that they will release a true migration tool that will allow customers to pull rules, data elements, and tags from a DTM property into a new Launch property and migrate them without causing errors. Short of such a tool, some customers will have to invest quite a bit to migrate everything they currently have in DTM over to Launch. Until then, my recommendation is to figure out the best migration approach for your company:
- If you have at least one rockstar analytics developer with some bandwidth, and a manageable set of rules and tags in DTM, I’d start playing around with migration in one of your development environments, and put together an actual migration plan.
- If you don’t have the resources yet, I’d probably wait for the migration tool to be available later in the year – but still start experimenting with Launch on smaller sites or as more resources become available.
Either way, for some of my clients that have let their DTM implementations get pretty unwieldy, moving from DTM to Launch offers a fresh start and a chance to upgrade to Adobe’s latest technology. No matter which of these two situations you’re in, I’d start thinking now (if you haven’t already) about how you’re going to get your DTM properties migrated to Launch. It is superior to DTM in nearly every way, and it is going to get nearly all of the development resources and roadmap attention from Adobe from here on out. You don’t need to start tomorrow – and if you need to wait for a migration tool, you’ll be fine. But if your long-term plan is to stay with DTM, you’re likely going to limit your ability in the future to tap into additional features, integrations and enhancements Adobe makes across its Marketing and Experience Cloud products.
We’ve come a long ways from the first Summits I attended, with only a few labs and very little emphasis on the technology itself. Whether it was new APIs, new product features announcements, or the hands-on labs, there was a wealth of great information shared at Summit 2018 for developers and implementation-minded folks like me – and hopefully you’re as excited as I am to get your hands on some of these great new products and features.
Photo Credit: Roberto Faccenda (Flickr)