With ATG 10.2, Oracle released the first out-of-box integration of Endeca Experience Manager and ATG Commerce. This integration allows for ATG catalog pages to quickly transform their layout in response to varying portions of the site, varying points in time or even varying user groups.
Our customers are showing how they are utilizing this tool to drive real business value. Here is just a sampling of the things we are hearing about the tooling from our consultants and our clients:
Endeca Experience Manager allows me to…
- Build out and test new ideas without IT involvement
- Take an idea from concept to reality in minutes
- Create a custom look and feel for specific holidays and events
- Present different experiences to different customer groups
- Draw shoppers’ attention to important initiatives
- Reuse and reconfigure page components across the site
This first-of-kind integration is already allowing the business users of large ecommerce sites to nimbly control the layouts across their ATG stores. While the tooling provides powerful control over an ecommerce site, the integration is still in its infancy, so Experience Manager is missing a few features that enterprise clients have come to expect from ATG Commerce. Specifically, Experience Manager does not yet support:
- partial deployments of layout data,
- rollback in the event of a mistake reaching production,
- fine-grained business user access control,
- an audit trail of user changes.
In order to allow enterprise clients to utilize the powerful features of Experience Manager while mitigating the risks that come with it, DMI recommends the following business processes.
Limit Access to Experience Manager
Since Experience Manager does not provide fine-grained access control (you can grant access to Experience Manager, keyword redirects and/or thesaurus entries), DMI recommends that you only give a few people access to Experience Manager. This step alone will reduce the number of errors that come from users concurrently editing a page and ensure that only properly trained resources are able to make changes to the site layout. Consider the following approaches for Experience Manager access and choose whichever fits your business the best.
Approach 1: IT Only
Only trained Production Support Specialists are given access to Endeca Experience Manager in a production environment. These individuals have a background in IT and do not need any business background. All changes that need to be made to Experience Manager are routed through IT and thoroughly tested before being sent live. This approach is the safest approach, since all changes are reviewed and vetted, but it has the downside of significantly reducing the throughput of changes in Experience Manager.
Approach 2: Select Business Users
A limited number of trained business users are given access to Experience Manager. The number of users with access should be at least two per account, in the case one of the primary users is unavailable if a critical change needs to be performed. The maximum number of users with access will vary by organization, but it should be small enough that every user making changes is aware of all the other initiatives being worked on at the same time; this is usually somewhere between four and ten users. With this approach, the team can still be sure that synchronized changes are deployed together and understand how to manually revert the change in the event of a mistake going live. The benefit of this approach, when compared to approach 1, is that changes can be made much more frequently to production without having to rely on IT to make the change.
It is often the case that customers that implement Experience Manager begin with approach 1 and expand to approach 2 in a future project phase, or once the newly deployed site has stabilized for a few months.
Since there is no concept of a partial deployment of Experience Manager data, a process must be developed so that some changes can be pushed live while others are still being worked on. To do this, simply create new layouts with an end date that is an arbitrary point in the past. While working with the layout, the changes can be previewed using a date and time that is in the past date range that the layout uses. With this approach, the layout data can be pushed live with other changes, but it will never appear because the valid date range has already passed. When the business user decides that the new layout is ready to go live, the date range should be either removed or altered to the correct range.
These solutions are not ideal, but they help mitigate the risks that the powerful Experience Manager tool presents. Overall, the Experience Manager tool provides best-of-class layout management that is fully integrated with enterprise search, so the tool cannot be completely ignored. Hopefully Oracle will add more enterprise-focused features in an upcoming release, but for now the tool must be used cautiously.