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How to get your Adobe AEM implementation right—the first time

March 6, 2018 | By Puneet Lamba

A team implements Adobe Experience Manager

Getting ready to implement Adobe Experience Manager? OK, take a deep breath and listen closely: Fully implementing AEM will probably take twice as long and three times as much money as your implementation partner quoted. And years into the project, you still might not be using the full range of capabilities of the tool. This disheartening process may sweep your hopes, dreams and ambitions along with it. 

AEM is a powerful tool, so why do implementations often disappoint? I’ve implemented—and remediated—AEM many times and have encountered several reasons why projects turn sour. These pitfalls are preventable if you understand commonly faced challenges and make the right investment upfront.

1. Getting off on the wrong foot

If you’re like the majority of new AEM users coming from a less sophisticated CMS, you may not realize that AEM uses a very different type of content structure and data store. Why does that matter to marketing teams? There are an entirely different set of best practices around structuring content for AEM, and getting off on the wrong foot can be a serious setback for your implementation – almost before you even get started. 

The other key point to consider is that AEM exists within an ecosystem of several Adobe digital marketing products you may want to add in the future. Using a best-of-breed approach in which you go to different vendors to implement different martech products won’t work as well as using standard Adobe best practices. 

2. Budget overruns and delays

I’ve seen this scenario play out too many times: A client purchases a license from Adobe and asks for their help implementing AEM. Adobe’s waiting list is long—often over a year—so they recommend a partner, typically a high-end digital agency. Then it gets hairy.

The agency quotes a million dollars for implementation work, which often turns into $2 million, and a year or two passes. The heavy lifting is done but the cool features you wanted still don’t work. And your business is beginning to lose its appetite for throwing money into the project.

I know it sounds like I’m criticizing other implementation vendors, but very few people have the expertise to analyze a major CMS implementation, with complex needs that span architecture, development, infrastructure, data integrations, content strategy, UX and so on, to forecast how much they can deliver given a certain amount of time and money.

Unfortunately, the days of fixed price bids are pretty much over. And yet, you can take some key actions to avoid the money pit:

  • Insist your vendor partner develop in an Agile manner, working on pieces of the most important projects in short sprints so you can see how much work is being accomplished—and reprioritize as needed.
  • Engage closely with your vendor. I strongly recommend having your vendor’s technical team work at your location alongside key members from your team to facilitate communication and feedback.
  • Ask potential vendors to demonstrate that they have a track record of delivering against expectations on time and on budget. When you call their references, ask specific questions about how comprehensive the vendor’s initial roadmap was, how well they delivered against it, and how well they managed the client’s expectations. 

3. Miscommunication

It’s a classic problem: A developer team or implementation partner delivers components that don’t match what the business user—you—wanted. And at that point, a lot of time and money has been wasted.

One solution is to work in an iterative fashion, having an informed and empowered product owner join the development team’s daily planning meeting. That person can catch and clarify misunderstandings at that early point, helping shape a product configuration and assets that deliver what your team needs.

Client engagement is key here. Big name vendors can seem intimidating, but you’re the one footing the bills. Don’t be shy about demanding real demos at the end of each sprint. Start from Sprint 1 just to set the tone. Don’t hold back—give real-time feedback during the demos on what you like and what you don’t.

4. Expectations mismatch

Adobe AEM offers powerful out-of-the-box capabilities—but that doesn’t mean you can push a button and turn them on. It takes a lot of thought and effort to take advantage of the features. For instance, if you want to use the digital asset management tool, you have to create a taxonomy for your product—a time-consuming effort that requires special skills. You also have to invest in maintaining that taxonomy as your business and products evolve.

If you can, tap other marketing leaders who’ve gone through major CMS implementations to provide their insight into the amount and kind of resources you’ll need to commit to making yours succeed. 

5. Not partnering with IT early enough

Hopefully you involved IT before purchasing any technology. But if you didn’t, you should still get them involved early in the project so they can learn the technology from your implementation partner. After all, once your vendor leaves, your IT team will need to maintain the servers and infrastructure, and your development team will need to know how to update existing components and templates and create new ones.

TEKsystems offers expert technical and strategic help implementing and enhancing martech platforms, including Adobe, Sitecore and Salesforce. Learn more about our marketing technology services.  

Puneet Lamba is the AEM practice architect for TEKsystems Digital. He’s an Adobe Certified Expert with over 20 years of experience designing custom enterprise solutions for Fortune 500 companies.