Your Adobe AEM Exit Strategy

I've had several conversations in the past half-year with RSG subscribers reconsidering their investment in Adobe's AEM Sites web content management platform. The discussions remind me of the TeamSite "marriage counseling" we've been delivering for nearly a decade now. Adobe is a different case, but still there are lessons for you the customer from the experience of others.

Frustrations with AEM Sites

Adobe Experience Management (AEM) is a multi-product suite, but in this post I'll focus on the WCM services sold under the "Sites" moniker. Like high-end technology everywhere, AEM Sites has gotten oversold into environments where it doesn't belong. (Adobe's lighterweight DAM product, AEM Assets, has almost the opposite problem, but that's another story.)

AEM is different from the former TeamSite — for one thing, Adobe has proven a more responsible vendor than Interwoven/Autonomy. And we know some successful AEM licensees.  Yet there are significant particular pathologies around AEM Sites. To summarize RSG's 24-page evaluation of the offering, it is an extremely complicated platform that, while architecturally elegant, is technically quite arcane. Some licensees can't handle it.

AEM Stack Diagram
Fig.: AEM stack looks simple, but isn't easy to master. Source: Adobe

If that's you, how should you proceed? I'll leave aside for now the plethora of alternative WCM vendor choices available and instead focus on the mechanics of your exit.

Lessons on how to disconnect

Transitioning from a complex platform like AEM feels overwhelming. Ideally you'd avoid a big-bang cut-over of the entire deployment. We know from the experience of enterprises who successfully separated from first-generation WCM tools like TeamSite that you have several choices about how to go about it in an iterative way.

  1. Remove one tier at a time
    This entails swapping out either your incumbent authoring/management or experience delivery environment, but not both. So if your top priority is to improve, say, the contributor experience, then you just upgrade that first, and leave the actual sites in AEM for now. Or vice-versa. It's more plausible when those two environments are neatly separated in your architecture. TeamSite is a decoupled (a.k.a., headless) platform, so it was usually simpler to do this. AEM Sites also can lend itself to a decoupled deployment, but you may need to make significant changes to your deployment to work that way.
  2. Replace one environment at a time
    Instead of cutting over your entire AEM estate, you identify categories of digital properties and then transition them in groups. For example, if your campaign and microsite owners are the most frustrated with Adobe's weight, you transition them first.
  3. Day forward
    This is a much-beloved migration strategy from the information management world. Instead of moving over all your existing digital properties, you focus first on implementing new environments in the replacement technology, then work on migrating your backlog. This works best for organizations with numerous, highly-evolving digital properties (e.g., in segments like consumer product goods) or whose larger properties regularly accumulate new subsections that can live in a separate CMS (e.g., among media companies).

But first: review your own capacity

Before you go out and select a replacement WCM platform you need to consider an important possibility: maybe the problem isn't Adobe; maybe the problem is you. Your team didn't possess sufficient digital resources and experience. You didn't have recourse to a consistently available developer crew. Your volume of activity didn't justify AEM's complex tuning knobs. You oversaw a very poor initial implementation. Your beautiful content strategy could never get executed with the contributors on-hand. And so on.

Before you switch vendors, give yourself a baseline RealScore on your current WCM effectiveness and figure out what you need to change to become successful next time.

It's safe to say you'll pick something simpler, because AEM is the most complex WCM platform on the market. For more details about the different tools and how you can leverage our advice, check out RSG's vendor evaluation research. If you're looking for a digital exit strategy regardless of vendor, contact us to see how RSG can help you make the right choices.


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Gil, Partner, Cancentric Solutions Inc.
iStudio Canada Inc.

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