This month on hirobe talks, Tom Wynne sits down with Director of Operations at OutSystems, Barnet Hellman. With over 30 years of working within the industry at organisations like Adobe and Magento, we thought it would be interesting to hear his thoughts on some of the hot topics in the e-commerce space right now.
During this session, Barnet discusses his experience as Product Owner and Chief Designer of SWAT and explains how it can be used to improve the performance and stability of e-commerce sites.
You can watch their chat or if you’re short on time, have a read of the transcription below:
Hi, it’s Tom Wynne at hirobe, welcome to our video series.
Thank you for taking the time to chat with me today, Barnet. I know we've been speaking for a while now.
Hey, Thomas, thanks for having me today - I appreciate it. My background is big time varied. I’ve spent over 30 years in the industry and started out when I was 18 years old. Like most people, I got into operations and learned how to program, then I got into development and design. I’ve dabbled in infrastructure, gained a big background in Portfolio, Programme, Project management, and then I was CIO and got into executive leadership for many, many years.
I’ve designed applications and installed applications. I’ve led teams and been on teams with the whole purpose of creating something that not only our customers can use, but their customers can use too. I’m a bit of a jack of all trades.
Thanks for sharing that Barnet. I know we first started speaking because of your leadership experience and background. I remember from our first conversation we spoke about SWAT and your time working at Magento, Adobe.
That is a loaded question. SWAT (or Site-Wide Analysis Tool) is a simple UI - but it's proactive, customer facing, self-service tool that’s based on a central repository of that customer’s site information. It monitors a customer's Magento or Adobe commerce site and looks for issues, concerns or problems. It then puts it into the database and pops it up to a UI that the customers can access through encrypted links. It offers the customers a view into what's going on with their site, which can include performance issues or site issues.
But the key to SWAT’s viability is the recommendations to go fix these issues, such as how to fix your configuration concerns, for example. What are the recommended changes? How do you add security or operability releases and patches? How is the overall health of the site? Because you want to know whether your customer’s having a good user experience or if your site is causing issues that is making the customer go elsewhere.
SWAT also offers alerts when things are off-centre, alerts you when a new security patch comes out and so much more. It's a tool that literally lets customers see what's going on with their site and not just running their site. It's a great user experience tool, you can see what your customers are going to see, before they see the potential issues you can fix.
When I worked for Magento and then Adobe, I was given a team called resolution management. It included a few senior software engineers, a few project managers, and we were given the worst of the worst clients. These clients could not keep their site up, had stability issues, didn't understand how to configure it. This could have been because they didn't understand Magento when they bought it or their software engineers were so new, they didn't know how to set it up.
Through these interactions with these customers, my team and I started seeing patterns where this type of customer would always face certain issues with the Magento site. What happened next is, the software engineers started running batch jobs, customer by customer, and we’d find 6-8 issues immediately. Once we’d fixed these issues, we'd then take a look at their site.
As these patterns started emerging, I challenged my team and asked if I could run this against everybody. At the time, there was only 395 sites. I said, every night, we'll run this thing and have all this data, give it to the L1 engineers and the CSMs. Then we could look for the bad sites and be proactive about it. And so what happened, SWAT, the site wide analysis tool, became a brainchild of many inputs from my development team to my resolution managers to the customer. The actual intent of SWAT was to reduce the Adobe Commerce, or Magento Commerce at the time, resolution times, improve customer site stability and improve customer performance.
This is so customer service managers could immediately direct their customers to go fix things. What happened is, customers could avoid lengthy interactions with the L1 team, the L2 team, the L3 team, because we were giving customers the advice that if you fix this, the problem goes away. Through that work, and many customer-facing interviews, we created simple batch jobs, just once a night.
The next challenge is to consider if we can create a UI and let the customers in. That's where the game changes, because now you're talking about an impact, a physical customer impact. From that impact, what are the outcomes that you need to make that impact? What are the outputs to get that outcome? What are the activities to get that output? So we approached it backwards until we figured out the activities and then ran it forward in prioritisation. So the activity gave us a great output, that gave us gave us a great outcome, that had a positive impact on customers and reduced L1 tickets. In the first few months, we reduced L1 tickets by almost 20%.
It's an ever-growing process. It was interesting, the developers accepted the challenge and SWAT is a great tool. There's upwards of 4000-5000 customers using it now.
Wow. Definitely think we have proven success then in the market.
Great question. The beauty is, SWAT is available 24 hours, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Any customer that has Magento/Adobe Commerce can get into their specific site and see all sorts of things about it, not just in their production, but in their staging environment as well. So if you make changes, you can go run SWAT against your staging. The beauty of SWAT is when we started, we thought we were going to run this thing once a day. Well, right before I left, we were down to running this thing every three hours.
It was ad-efficient, with no resource on the customers, no resource impediments on the customer site. We could actually run it, collect data and constantly repost issues, recommendation patches, release security issues, constantly refreshing the UI. So the customers can go and change something in their development, put it in staging, run it and see problems before their consumers saw problems.
I know we've spoken about SWAT before and I must say, I didn't know that it was available 365/7.
In the United States, we have Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Valentine's, the Fourth of July. The customer can pull SWAT up and literally start watching their site and actually see their site health status wobble. If there's something going on, they can make adjustments, test it in staging and push to production during these high traffic times. We developed SWAT as, not a one and done and then you throw it away. We developed it much like, as you develop on your site, you can use SWAT to analyse your site before pushing to production. It's much like changing the oil in your car or changing a battery in your watch - it's constant maintenance.
So it's an ongoing service that customers should use. And the big thing is, that if they use it, their site's going to be healthy, their site's always going to be available, and their consumers are going to have an incredible user experience, instead of going to another site. If they can fix these problems before it gets to production, customers are happy, and their consumers are happy. And that's the principle of why SWAT was built.
Within e-commerce, it’s the consumers that drive the market. I wanted to ask you, because you've got loads of experience in the e-commerce space, what do you think about e-commerce at the moment, especially since COVID?
Let's start with this - customer versus consumer. From a corporate standpoint or an enterprise, we have customers, our customers have consumers, which can be awful confusing. When people talk customers, are they talking general populace or are they talking about the enterprise customers? So from a customer view, the people who are using and have bought the commerce, they're looking for best ways that their consumers can click through.
The game in e-commerce is conversion rates and everybody knows it. So, what's the best method to find or search products? What's the best methods from customer or consumer to pay? How fast can I get them through the pay cycle? The other part is, how do I market my site so that consumers will come to my site and have an incredible user experience? Without that, it doesn't matter how pretty, how fast, how sexy your site is, you're not going to get business.
So you need to know how to make your e-commerce work and how to get marketing to drive traffic and click through rates. That's my view on this. But with tools like SWAT, customers can self-manage their sites and make their sites better alongside great marketing tools, built on the genre of SWAT, for instance, Adobe's got one called Marketo. You can integrate these and have an incredible user experience driving traffic and then getting traffic through your site.
What I've witnessed and what I see, and not only in e-commerce, but across a lot of the technology industry, is many executives want this revenue. But they fail to see a closed loop synergy.
Build the software, get it to the customer, teach the customer how to use it, customer has problem, how do we adjust the problem so that they can self-service? If it really is a problem, get it back to engineering. But how do you complete that cycle so it's automated and contiguous? That was one of the goals of SWAT. When it came in, if we saw an issue, we’d dump it over to engineering as a class-one bug. We’d go fix this thing, note it and SWAT alerts that there’s a new patch that fixes this bug. If you can get that automated piece working, you have an incredible product.
A lot of these executives and corporations are struggling with that closed loop. If it's not built into the product or not a thought process on the product, you're going to have issues and the only way to fix it is human capital. You need bodies and L1 engineering.
Firstly, thank you for explaining closed loop synergy for those of us who aren’t developers or such. I think understanding and having a customer centric view is so important. I don't know if the shops in the US have the same, but I've gone to a shop for the clothes that I want or let's say the video game equipment that I want. That's what I've gone with in mind, but as I’m going to pay at the tills, they always sell your chewing gums, batteries or those little items that you think, I'll just take that.
I think having that simplicity in e-commerce with websites that are fast and efficient and personalised. I think that's so important.
Part of that personalisation is, as I mentioned earlier, we were seeing patterns with errors and figuring out recommendations through tech notes to tell our customers how to fix their problem.
If you have a Data Lake large enough and you can start to see buying patterns. Amazon is great at this. I can search for X on Amazon and they will then show me two other products that go with X and that I can buy a kit. Your consumer has then bought three products rather than one and that's revenue back into the business.
Somebody that used to work at Magento and Adobe, one of the product managers who’s now a VP at another company, was the best at this. He saw that men were shopping for Valentine's for their significant others but also buying T-shirts and sneakers, which doesn't go together. They’re buying Godiva chocolate so why would they want to buy a red shirt? If you can put these patterns together, you're going to increase your sales and that's a real big feature of e-commerce of today, in my opinion.
Giving me these add-ons and giving me the pattern buys, that are not just my patterns but the populace, whether it's a demographic or geographic.
Just to use the Amazon example, the other day I was in the kitchen, and I thought I need a new knife. I went on to buy one knife block and I think I bought an entire new kitchen- just because of the pop-ups. I've bought knives, scissors, bowls and things I didn't even need, but you see them, and I think that's where the link between consumer and the product becomes clear and important.
It’s also showing the impulse and the easy click through to pay. Do I have to go through seven screens to pay? Or can I just click pay and I’m done?
When it saves your details. I know it sounds pathetic, but because I'm busy all the time, I don’t like having to enter my card details and pin numbers and things. If I can just swipe and my details are saved, I'm a sucker for it and I will do it.
I’m an avid Kindle reader and Amazon has got this down to a science. It will show me books in the genre I’m reading, in one click, my credit card gets billed and it's in my Kindle. If you can get to that point, that's the direction that e-commerce really needs to go in, in my opinion. Some software is already there, some aren't and have glitches.
It's still the generation of COVID, and that really pushed e-commerce from a consumer point of view, which forced customers of Adobe, Magento or other e-commerce software to refine their products. Going back two years, there was a 43% increase in online shopping just due to COVID.
For me, I can go to my grocery store, I can order hundreds of dollars of groceries, for example and for $5, somebody brings them to my doorstep. I don't even have to go in the grocery store or put a mask on or be out in the mass populace. It's that set of efficiencies, that are going to drive companies to say let’s go to this and COVID was the precipice. So you now have things like UberEATS, DoorDash and grocery deliveries, those are the types of things that are driving it.
Other topics include software competition. As little as a few years ago, there was nobody in the Magento Commerce, now Adobe Commerce, space. Now up in the upper right-hand corner of Gartner, there's a half a dozen people that are clustered around.
Now, it's a question of ease of use and price point, because e-commerce is getting expensive for companies. How do you reduce your price point and still offer your customers and their consumers ease of use without literally running the company into bankruptcy? It's the question of how do you create the most positive impact based on decisive outcomes?
I do this with my staff: impact, outcome, output, activities.
If you look at your impact, you're going to end up figuring out your activities. If you prioritise your activities, you're going to get a good positive impact. That's what e-commerce companies need to figure out. One or two are going to emerge further in that right hand quadrant of Gartner. Right now, like I said, it's a cluster and it's a battle to see who comes out of it over the next year or so.
Other big things are themes. The big thing two-three years ago was PWA and the whole universe literally switched over. Don't get me wrong, it's an incredible product. But it's still heavy on resource, where you get into things like Hyva, where PWA may use fifty scripts Hyva uses two. That’s much less resource, a lower footprint from a customer point of view and more access from a consumer point of view. We’re going to start seeing those that adapt to, not new, but modern technologies are going to be the real winners in this industry.
There’s also Big Data. We talked about how to look for patterns, and then pop things up in a consumer’s face and impulse buying to get those add-ons. So the Big Data uses demographics, geographics, patterns that are different whether it's me in Texas, you in England or friends out in Europe.
For example, when you’re watching American football in Texas, all you see is commercials in New England of the United States, whereas other people see different commercials in the same space. It's all about marketing, and consumerism. How do you get people to see different things based on their areas? And that's the pattern. So Big Data is going to be a massive player. They already are, but you're going to see it explode because of the invention of AI into Big Data as well.
We've been having chats about that in the office about AI. I think AI is going to be huge. It's interesting from my perspective, I work in the recruitment space of e-commerce with predominantly, Magento recruitments. Like you say, with the cluster of different options available, I think people are evaluating different ways they can go. A lot of people have gone to maybe Shopify, BigCommerce, SAP or Spryker.
Obviously, Shopify have now upped their prices. And people are, from what I’ve seen on LinkedIn, very understanding that Shopify needed to do this.
But I think that the competition for those e-commerce platforms and which one to use is fierce at the moment. So it's interesting to see which way it's going to go.
My opinion, you'll shake out in the next year and a half of leaders and then low prices for medium sized businesses. You're going to see a separation.
I am constantly still asked for Magento profiles from clients and there's still a massive need there, especially in big businesses. I think it's really interesting to see how Hyva is going to shape up the Adobe commerce market and how it's going to integrate.
There's clients that I've spoken to, where they've had four or five devs before, on their knockout programming. They now just use one with Hyva themes. So I think, data and the competing nature of those platforms is, over the next couple of years, as you say, going to be interesting to watch unfold.
You know, from talking with people, corporations and enterprises that do e-commerce, what I'm hearing is, they’re tired of getting seven products to integrate. They’re saying I have to build all these integrations and I have to have a service bus and the service bus gets overloaded.
They're looking for an integrated solution that meets their enterprise need. So for example, if you have an e-commerce system that integrates with an incredible financial system and an incredible marketing system and a data lake that has a BI tool that customers can look at. If you can put all these integration points, my opinion is that's the company that's going to end up ruling the roost.
When Magento started, they had links to an accounting system and links to a distribution network, like FedEx or UPS. Well, these are all coming together and that's similar across most of the applications out there. But the person that gets the brainchild with these integration points seamlessly, so I don’t have to programme anything, that’s going to be one of the leaders in the industry.
I definitely agree. Data is a big thing that we’ve seen in the recruitment e-commerce world as well, the need for that sort of profile. One final question because I know you’ve got years of rich experience in the industry.
There’s a lot of unfortunate news, that’s mainly happening in the US, about layoffs at big companies like Salesforce and Microsoft.
Let me put it this way, 2020 hindsight is beautiful. The world currently is walking through some sort of economic realignment, some of it is self-caused. Just look at the interest rates, to buy a house now is 7-8%. The housing market is now trashed. How do you fix that?
But me personally, with 2020 hindsight, I would stay in enterprise, programming design development, focusing on AI, Big Data, Data Lakes, the analysis, business intelligence reporting. Those pieces are going to drive business revenue. That’s where the knowledge comes and that’s where you start seeing patterns emerge. If you’re innovative enough to take advantage of a pattern and then market that pattern, you are going to be successful. If you’re not marketing it, you’re going to crash. I would have gotten into AI and Big Data lakes, and I think there is a massive need all over the country and the world.
Other opportunities, biology. Let’s take a look into the industry of virology - the study of viruses. COVID, classic case, pandemic. It started off small and within a year it was all over the world. It’s helping humanity “fix itself” but also leaning how to stop these types of pandemics. My son works in virology, and he works for a bio lab, figuring out and looking into the study of COVID in particular.
Another one is communicating. But not just about writing, reading or entertainment, but knowledge and enjoyment - but how do you do that next innovation? Years ago, Amazon killed it with the Kindle. I have thousands of books and now I walk around with a little Kindle that has five thousand books on it right now. So how do you communicate that next thing?
A lot of it comes out of the entertainment industry believe it or not. Take a look at James Bond movies. Back in the early 60’s, James Bond came out with the scuba, and someone saw it and we already had underwater breathing but created a new invention. Someone saw it, clicked, innovated, boom.
Flying cars - well sort of, with the Hawker Harrier with the vertical lift-off. But I can’t own one, I don’t have billions of dollars. Those types of innovation - if you can look at something and turn it into a consumer-based product that can be sold at a reasonable price, that consumers also want and need, you’re going to have a win.
I have solar on my house, for example with panels and batteries. I don’t care about the power outages that are going on in the United States anymore. My house has 18 hours of battery life, the sun comes out and recharges my system. It’s those types of innovation, but how do you make it to the point where consumers can afford it? That’s the next big thing.
Based on what I said, with the enterprise programming, development, getting into biology or virology or chemistry that’s helping humans, then basically communicating that. They all tie together. Those in my view are the next big areas.
To your point about the layoffs, it’s a shame, I’ve had many, many friends who’ve been laid off. There are thousands. Google just laid a bunch of people off too. It’s heartfelt that these people are out of work. But these areas are booming, so even if you have to get an entry level, get into these areas, they are going to explode in the next 5-10 years.
I appreciate that and that’s really sound advice for a lot of people. From an emotional perspective, a company I worked for went into administration. It’s never easy - there’s parts of self-doubt, there’s parts where you think what am I going to do next? It’s a very negative time. But looking forward and the different opportunities is so important. Remembering it’s not your fault. It’s nothing you did - the company has a budget and is accountable for that, but every cloud has a silver lining. There’s always a new opportunity and possibly even a better one than the one before.
You just have to look at these opportunities and consider how you innovate in that opportunity. You’re going to land on your feet.