About the eZ Product Innovation Board

By Ivo Lukač -
Some members of the Innovation Board in London (photo taken by Stuart Wilkinson)

As reported few months back I was called to join the eZ Product Innovation Board. We had 2 meetings so far and I guess it is now a good time to cover the topic on our blog.

The Board

To be as much diverse as possible the Board has various eZ Ecosystem stakeholders: partners, clients, employees, analysts, etc. All in all roughly 20 people are involved in the initiative for 18 months or 6 meetings, 2 have already been held in London and Rome. The Board's tasks is to discuss possible improvements and new features which are most needed in the eZ Publish CMS and to suggest the best options to eZ Publish product management. 

Chairman of the board is Bård Farstad and he wrote few blog post after the initiative was announced: ez.no/About-eZ/Blog/Better-Faster-Stronger-Innovation-at-eZ and ez.no/About-eZ/Blog/Product-Innovation-at-eZ-First-Steps.

The main idea behind the board is to have an all day meeting every 3 months to discuss use cases from all possible angles and then voting to see which use cases are more interesting than other. After the meeting the most interesting ones are sent to eZ Product management. So the board acts like a prioritized filter: processing the queue of use cases and outputting them sorted by priority.

UX

On the first meeting in London the main topic was user experience. It is not a coincidence that UX was the first topic. It is obvious for quite some time now that eZ needs better experience for users and editors. At that point the demo web site installed by default was really outdated technically. It was not up to date with HTML standards and not showing off some new possibilities like responsive design, etc.  In the meanwhile this was corrected (some more info here: ez.no/About-eZ/Blog/Automatic-Mobile-Strategy-Responsive-Design) as the problem was straightforward, so it was not topic for the Innovation Board.

But the situation was not that simple with the interface for editors. Currently we have:

  • an administration interface. It implements all possible features: content management, user management, configuration, etc. The interface itself, although improved every now and then (with one bigger visual change and increased AJAX usage), is almost 10 years old. Conceptually. It is also highly technically oriented and not adapted for wider editorial staff
  • a web site interface. It can be used in some cases but it is not really user friendly and has only few features and, although more simple, it can still be confusing to not-so-skilled editor
  • several community efforts (like eZ Multitasking One or eZ Exceed) which probably do some things better as they are probably built to fit some real use cases but the general problem with those is that they are not “official”. I personally didn’t use it much so I can’t claim if they are better or not and in what cases.

So one of the main tasks for eZ Systems in short-term is to build a new editorial interface and that was discussed in London meeting. Dozen user scenarios were processed and the general conclusion was that:

  1. the new editorial interface should be build from scratch (and not replacing the existing admin interface)
  2. it should be an overlay on the website but much more user friendly and easier to use (so a power editor and a casual editor could use the same interface) than the existing web site interface
  3. it should focus on the content management, other features should be left to the existing admin interface
  4. the new interface should work on touch devices

I really hope that we gave a lot of useful input for the eZ Product team and the new UX team. In last 2 months we have seen a great progress in that direction and it would be even better to have something usable in October.

e-Commerce

On the second meeting in Rome the main topic was e-commerce. Currently in eZ Publish we have a shop module which is usable in some simple cases, but the facts are:

  • it can’t compete with some specialized solutions (e.g. Magento)
  • it doesn’t have customizable checkout workflow
  • it is not being developed for some time now (except fixing bugs)
  • it has even been removed from the admin interface  (it is on its way to become extracted from kernel and put in separate extension)

There are many partner and community efforts (like Xrow commerce extensions and Silver Solutions connectors to SAP, to name a few) which enrich the core features. Netgen too has few extension for connecting Croatian payment gateways (used in several projects). But the fact remains we need a better platform so several scenarios were discussed in the Board meeting. Not just the shop but also campaign management and other similar features that can be used for e-commerce.

The main discussions were on should eZ try to build the new shop that could compete with Magento, the importance of customizable workflows and how to handle campaigning. IMO the most important conclusion was that competing directly with Magento does not make much sense. Of course, community extension could go in that direction, but what eZ should do is to leverage the content stored in its own database. That basically means that eZ should focus more on how to monetize content (or selling virtual goods). That field is still very hot globally and without a good integrated solution. The importance of customizable workflows rise when we speak about virtual goods (e.g. a customer could only read 3 articles in a certain time period, etc.). And campaigning is also important but could be either solved by integrating with existing best of breed products or encourage community to innovate.

At the end it is important to note that possible real implementation of e-commerce scenarios are scheduled for 5.1 release next year.     

Conclusion

The most important remark is that the Board work is not something that will replace any other effort in the ecosystem. IMO the community site is still the main hub for releasing ideas and initiatives. I see the Board as a focused add-on to the ecosystem. A lot of ideas and experience can be shared when you bring people with different roles, jobs and backgrounds in a room for a day with not much interference. 

So the initiative can only bring some good stuff but will highly depend on board members engagement. That would be the board’s only possible weakness.  

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