Interview: Sitecore managing director Rob Holliday on unpacking complexity in digital marketing

The cost of simplicity is often systems complexity. Creating a seamless experience for customers across channels and throughout the life cycle of the relationship comes at the cost of often difficult systems integration, as many companies have found in recent years.

Cloud computing holds out the promise of reduced complexity but that starts to unravel when you need to integrate that cloud into internal silos, or worse triangulate with partners.

According to Robert Holliday, managing director Sitecore Australia, “Our promise is that we have a single solution that combines the key channels together, reduces that complexity and allows people to use analytics data more effectively.”

Which-50 spoke to Holliday recently as part of our ongoing series profiling the industry’s leading digital marketing technology companies.

Sitecore, which overnight acquired commerceserver.net from its strategic partner SMITH (formerly Ascentium) has an impressive set of customer wins under

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(Image Rob Holliday, managing director Sitecore Australia and New Zealand)

 its belt in Australia. It also has a growing reputation as a platform of choice, especially for organisations with a heavy investment in Microsoft’s SharePoint and Dynamic CRM where the company is regarded as particularly strong.

A Danish company, it started in 2001 and is headquartered in Copenhagen.  It hung its shingle out in Australia in 2007 and has built an operation with 30 staff locally since then. A key strength to its local presence is a strong partner network of about 100 companies which scale from global relationships like those with Accenture and Avanade to local engagements with companies like Deloitte Digital and Next Digital.

That leaves the company free to focus on sales and marketing, training and business optimisation. “We generally do a co-sell with the implementation partners,” said Holliday

A simple way to think of Sitecore is as a content management system at the core wrapped in a layer of marketing services like as social and email, and with integrations back into key organisational applications.

“Sitecore is a leader in digital marketing solutions,” says Holliday. “Our foundation came from web content management and from there we developed much more of a marketing focus to the product with the goal being to enable marketers to deliver personalised content across multiple channels.”

As a graduate of dotcom 1.0 Sitecore has a web provenance but has moved aggressively into mobile. The company’s technology stack supports mobile app development and has its own email marketing platform. There are also tools for social – either for building social communities or publishing to social platforms.

“That’s where the product and the industry is going, “ says Holliday, “The content repository is something that is being used across multiple channels.”

“The core use cases are typically around web site campaigns, e-commerce sites and intranets,” he says.

Sitecore targets the digital marketing officers within the customer organisation with its promise of a single solution covering multiple channels. “A lot of marketers these days have to cobble together multiple solutions to meet all their marketing requirements.”

“We also have our own analytics platform which is a unique part of Sitecore – we store every user interaction in our own analytics database and we have reporting built into the core product.”

Additionally, to fill out its offering Holliday says the company has partnered with several tools providers to serve up more customised dashboards when clients require them.

“We are seeing a shift from organisations who are quite frustrated with the larger analytics products. They are not really using the capabilities very well.”

According to Holliday, Sitecore has resolved a lot of the complexity around the analytics. “We want to provide more meaningful insights around the analytics, and allow people to run optimised campaigns, and do that in real time.”

Recognising that companies will always have multiple stores of data Sitecore has implemented an OLAP cube which allows organisations to use their own business intelligence tools to take that data from web interactions or web email and combine the results with other data in the organisation.

“It’s a unique part of Sitecore. Rather than having a separate cloud based analytics platform we have it embedded within the product.”

With regards to offline data Sitecore leverages the expertise of its partner network rather than providing its own offering. “There are a few companies that we work with like Roy Morgan for instance, but mostly offline would fall more into the role of a digital agency doing the implementation,” says Holliday

While digital marketing buyers are the key customer segment, the company also has strong relationships with the technologists, he says.

“We are very strong on the technical side. We have very good integrations with the Microsoft development framework in .NET which allows companies to leverage the .NET skills that are quite abundant in the market.”

Given its heritage the company naturally has a strong integration message in the Microsoft eco-system but Holliday also highlighted other relationships like that with Salesforce.com. It also has a strong technology relationship with Brightcove for video and with Google (and Microsoft’s Fast) for search.

Build or buy

“Our approach has been to build our own as much as possible,” says Holliday. “We have seen from other vendors that acquisition can lead to quite disjointed platforms that don’t integrate very well.”

Perhaps, but that hasn’t stopped the company writing a few cheques of its own.

Like the other leading digital marketing contenders it has been bulking up its offerings in recent years. Overnight it bought commerceserver.net from its strategic partner SMITH – a move it explained in these terms;

“[The] acquisition lays the foundation for the industry’s first .NET based, enterprise-grade customer experience management (CXM) platform with a native, fully integrated e-commerce engine.”

In a statement accompanying the announcement, Ryan Donovan, president and CTO at commerceserver.net said “E-commerce functionality is critical to delivering relevant, personalised experiences for online shoppers, yet current CMS solutions offer poor or non-existent e-commerce integration.” 

Donovan said the deal would introduce a rich level of integration between commerce, content and digital marketing that he said had not been achieved by any other vendor.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

It is the latest of several acquisitions the company has made in recent years.

“We acquired a product called Adaptive Print Studio which integrates Adobe InDesign into Sitecore. It allows organisations to manage the print document production process and deals with personalized documents based within InDesign.”

In August last year it also made a significant minority investment into Komfo – a social media marketing platform. It explained the rationale for the investment at the time as giving “marketers insight and control of the customer experience within Facebook and other social networks similar to what they currently have with Sitecore-managed properties and interaction channels.”

The here and now

Which-50 asked Holliday about the big issues currently occupying his customer’s agendas.

“The big problem they are trying to solve right now is the move to mobile. That is a big driver for new projects with responsive design featuring in particular.”

“We are seeing a lot of customers redesign their existing solutions.”

 The other issue he identifies is the push by organisations to consolidate the myriad tools they have acquired over the last few years. “They are now looking for a more cohesive digital marketing platform.”

“Most organisations over the last 10 years have had separate web content management and email marketing platforms and now we are really seeing those two things come together. Customers are looking at how can they consolidate the technology and create a much more cohesive approach across email and web.”

Holliday also points to a rise in e-commerce developments as companies retool. “We have just implemented e-commerce sites at Coles for their liquor division, and we have just released the new Bunning’s web site as well.”

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