A transformational story: Adobe rethinks its data playbook

Tech company, transform thyself. The people that push digital transformation are under just as much pressure to make things happen within their own domains.

Mainstream companies aren't the only people that need to consider how they will make the move to digital and data. The tech companies providing the tools and platforms also have their own digital and data-driven transformations to worry about. Adobe is one such company to go through the transition. At the recent Adobe Summit in Las Vegas, I had the opportunity to speak with Eric Cox, vice president of digital media and go-to-market strategy and operations at Adobe, about his company's most recent transformation effort, which it calls a move to a data-driven operating model (DDOM) .

Q: Why and when did your initiative start?

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Photo: Joe McKendrick

In 2017, late in the year, we decided we wanted to take the level of instrumentation that we have across our business, which was pretty pervasive. We surmised we had an ability to see our customer journeys in ways that we hadn't really thought of in the past, from a comprehensive end-to-end perspective. If we could somehow look across the entirety of the business and establish a correlation between financial and nonfinancial metrics, it would help us serve our customers better and serve our business better. So we built this blueprint, this capacity to actually do this across the organization like ours, what would it look like? And it took us about three to four months to pull together the plan of what we wanted to do. 

Q: How did corporate culture affect your plans? As a tech company, Adobe has a forward-looking corporate culture, which may have given you an inherent advantage other companies lack. 

There were two key things that worked for us in helping push through that and get quicker adoption across the organization. We anchor on five customer steps in DDOM: discover, try, buy, use and renew. Everything we do aligns to one of these five customer journey steps. We believe these are the steps that our customers go through when they go through trying to understand how we can help them. Each of those journey steps has lots of underlying pieces of information or KPIs that will tell us whether things are going well, or poorly in that particular step. We have a broad set of products, a cross-functional nature to our organization, and we love to work collaboratively. We decided first and foremost is each of those five customer journey steps should have one owner who is empowered to make decisions across all these groups.

Q: Have your people outside of your data science and DDOM teams seen changes in their jobs and the way they work? 

Yes. With maybe the exception of the facilities team, I think every single team at Adobe is talking in a DDOM language now. Adobe goes through a strategic planning process on a yearly basis. Now all of our strategic planning is done in a DDOM framework. So when we talk about investments, we talk about, where are those investments going to benefit us? Are they going to improve our ability to help our customers through the discovery process? Are they impacting try as a renewal strategy? The framework helps us understand across the business -- things like investments, and growth and improvements. Steps like this can unlock your ability to align a really broad group of people across multiple teams. And all teams are using this as a means to try and understand and talk about their businesses.

Q: What does your initiative look like?

It boils down into three key components: data, KPIs, and an operating model. Data is the foundation of what you have available to you to understand what's happening, across your customer journeys,, and what you think you can see in those inflection points -- customers go from discovering products trying them, buying them and using them, and hopefully renewing them. We need a foundational layer of data that is available to everyone under this data-driven operating model. It was really important that it was democratized, and it was the same, no matter who you were. We would find that different groups at Adobe would look at the same data and draw different conclusions. So first we wanted to make sure we were all working in a single source of truth. 

Q: How did you get to the point where you attained a single version of the truth? Many organizations have been struggling for decades to attain this.

We have a great data sciences team at Adobe -- incredibly talented folks who really understand how to stitch data together from different sources. We have an environment topography of all these different sources of data. You name it, and we've got it. And we were parking information in all these different places. We first stepped back and think about the customer journey, and all the different pieces of information that you need to get a holistic view of discover through renew. Then we identified all those places, the infrastructure, what the systems map looks like, and where all this information lives. Our data flows from things like product and Adobe.com and different sources into these respective places, and we didn't want to change that. But what we wanted to automate the plumbing so that once it goes there, it flows into this one central place -- our unifying data layer.

Q: What kind of data do you employ?

We started with a broad set of financial data. We then incorporated data about our website, visits to the way people are navigating through the site, and what information they're spending time with. We have data on downloads from the site. We've also got data from the App Store and Google Play to show what folks are doing with mobile apps. Then inside those mobile apps or desktop applications, we have lots and lots of use data. We can see how customers are using products, and that helps us understand where they're seeing value.

(Disclosure: I was a guest of Adobe at the recent Summit, mentioned in this post.)