Let us walk you through the shift.
Kentico EMS has changed into Kentico Xperience. I gather that’s not just cosmetic change, is it?
Antonín: That’s right. Apart from the logo, there are a whole number of things evolving inside the company.
We used to prioritize Kentico Kontent for quite some time—it was a new product that needed to take off. On the other hand, Kentico Xperience (formerly EMS) has been a successful solution, firmly established in the market, that we can rely on. In a few years, Kontent became an accepted enterprise solution. Having two full-fledged products, we felt each of them deserved the same deal of dedicated focus.
For this reason, we created two separate divisions in the company—one for each product. And then there are shared departments as well, like HR or Security. Of course, we still help each other and co-operate across the divisions. And Petr Palas has finally become a CEO only.
Dominik: To me, what’s happening in Kentico Xperience is why I’ve chosen to work here. The company has decided to invest heavily in Xperience now. We are currently fine-tuning the product for the next 5–6 years, and I am here to take it to the new stage.
Antonín: Every year, we set an all-encompassing theme in each division. For Kentico Xperience, the topic of 2020 is Modernize. Modernize the product, the business model, and the way we work in general. However successful, there’s no room for complacency—it’s time to take another leap forward.
Modernization is not just about porting our code to .NET Core, nor is it just about the new subscription model we started to offer in January. It’s about the whole division being innovated.
You mention the subscription model with Kentico Xperience. Can you tell us more about it?
Antonín: We’d received signals that our customers preferred subscription model to perpetual licenses for a long time. So we decided to meet them halfway and introduced the subscription model at the turn of 2020. The positive reception exceeded our expectations—we believe this model to be optimal for Xperience in the foreseeable future.
What are the most significant advantages for the customers?
Antonín: They don’t have to pay so much upfront. The perpetual license is based on a large investment paid at the outset, followed by smaller annual maintenance fees. On the other hand, the subscription model consists of regular payments of the same amount for as long as the customer chooses. The most significant merit for the customer is that they can stop the subscription at any time.
What does this shift mean to our partners? What are the pros and cons for digital agencies?
Dominik: As opposed to a perpetual license, a one-off deal, the subscription model is ideal for ongoing projects. Digital agencies gain the space to consult end-clients about where their projects are heading and what they can do together to get them there. It’s all about building a long-term relationship. And if the end-client renews the subscription, it gives them the window of opportunity to improve their project. The agency then carries out that improvement.
Antonín: This actually reflects one of the most pressing issues partners face—they look to work with the end-clients for extensive periods. It is a challenge to obtain clients. Thus, once the client seeks the agency’s services, they aim to enter a real partnership—to provide continuous support and enhance the joint projects. That’s closely related to another path Kentico Xperience is embarking on—iterative delivery.
Dominik: What we’ve been doing so far were big-bang releases—we planned a roadmap and released a new version of the product in one or two years. A good deal of the originally planned features usually got scrapped along the way. And what might have happened was that the market and its needs had shifted before the release. What used to be relevant for the partners and end-clients a year before was quite different from what they needed 12 months later. That’s why now we aim to increase the speed of the release cycle considerably to be able to react to the immediate needs of our customers dynamically.
The Perth Zoo is an excellent example of the benefits this agile approach brings to customers. Thanks to the continuous dialogue and co-operation with their digital agency, the zoo managed to start selling merchandise online amid the COVID-19 pandemic. This is precisely the direction we are heading with our business model, platform, and product functionalities—the agencies will obtain loyal clients. They stand assured to be able to react to unexpected changes rapidly. It’s a win-win situation for all.
Does this mean partners themselves have to be more agile, deliver iteratively, accept the role of consultant, and follow and anticipate trends to take full advantage of the current shift in Kentico Xperience?
Dominik: Absolutely. We know there are digital agencies out there who can take on the challenge. These are the (potential) partners we truly care for. As for those not ready yet? Let us know and we will find a way to help you.
Antonín: We have set ourselves a fundamental goal in the context of the modernization—to become a true partner, not just a vendor, to our customers.
I am afraid we haven’t communicated with the agencies in the best way possible in the last couple of years. Not that we keep anything under wraps, it’s just that we seem to have communicated things insufficiently. Digital agencies are part and parcel of our business, and we do appreciate them. Therefore we aim to work hard to make sure that, in a few months, they can say they know much more about us, understand our plans and vision, and see where we are heading with our future product versions, as well as the benefits there are in all this for them.
Dominik: We’ve already started enhancing parts of our product. The feedback from our partners and end-clients is vital here—we are incorporating it directly into the new version and are determined to do that in the future as well. The goal is for our end-clients to be able to take full advantage of our DXP solution—to utilize it even without thorough training and figure out easily which tool to use, when, and how.
We develop a solution comprising several components, two of them being crucial in the future—digital marketing and digital commerce. This is where we aspire to provide our customers with the right tools to get through their day-to-day tasks effortlessly.
We will measure adoption, examine what takes off and what doesn’t—and why. Based on that data, we will progress. That’s what iterative development stands for, and that’s where Xperience has fallen a bit short recently. We must evolve to achieve the right goal. That is 90% of our tools being used actively by customers.
If the solution is to become significantly more manageable for the end-client to use, won’t the digital agency become redundant eventually?
Dominik: Absolutely not. It’s much more challenging for end-client to hire developers than outsource work to a digital agency. The new solution will be more straightforward for partners, which will help them scale. They will be able to deliver more value. Hence their client is happier, positive references are flowing in, and their business is thriving. Moreover, due to Xperience’s ease of use, agencies can focus on more interesting, specialized tasks while end-clients can tackle routine daily jobs themselves.
Kentico’s role is one of a thought leader and consultant. We can say, “You, digital agency, ought to do this and that to develop your business, Kentico will provide you with this particular tool to achieve the goal, and this is the journey we will embark on together.”
Let’s move on to the way of working, which is entwined with the abovementioned concept. It’s essential to work iteratively, release more often, react flexibly to agencies, and end-clients’ needs. Such an approach was adopted by Kontent under the working title PDP 2.0 several years ago. Is this the route Xperience is going to take as well?
Antonín: Sure, that’s the shorter iterations in the next version Dominik’s talked about. We plan faster releases even for Kentico Xperience 13 when it’s out. With these refreshes, as we call them, we will provide new functionalities in the course of the next year while working on the subsequent version of Kentico Xperience at the same time.
PDP 2.0 serves as an inspiration. We can deliver value to customers very fast. It makes sense to both the developer, who can see the change s/he makes, and the digital agency as they don’t have to deal with a given issue for another year to come.
How does the company plan to create an environment for this change among the actual developers?
Dominik: We already work in cross-functional teams involving people from the Customer Success Department, Development, UX, and Marketing. Colleagues from various departments co-operate so that each team can bring their unique perspective when discussing customer needs and priorities.
Antonín: You can see the openness to co-operation at all levels in Kentico—we know we need each other to succeed. OKRs have helped us considerably; our objectives are formulated across divisions. We are aware we must be close to our customers and understand them thoroughly. When we are needed to solve something, fly somewhere, do stuff, we have great conditions and full support of the management to do what’s best.
Dominik: Our employees aren’t assessed against the typical criteria you see in development—the only parameter of success is the value we deliver to customers, the feedback we receive, and whether they recommend our solution further.
Porting Kentico Xperience to .NET Core is another big topic we should tackle. Why are we doing it, and what benefits does it bring to our customers?
Antonín: We decided to ensure Kentico Xperience’s future this way—.NET Framework will soon become obsolete while .NET Core is a modern, cross-platform open-source solution, much better optimized in terms of performance.
Dominik: .NET Core is also more suitable for iterative development. So much so that there won’t be any need to assign numbers to the consecutive versions of the product anymore—customers will always be using the most recent version of Kentico Xperience. We plan to establish a significantly more discernible pattern of regular refreshes, viable without any extra cost or time required from our partners or end-clients.
How can we guarantee continuity to the current customers who have been building projects with Kentico now?
Antonín: If customers build their projects with ASP.NET Core MVC, they are safe and sound. If they built their projects with MVC before, those are still easy to migrate. And the veteran projects in Portal Engine? Well, they’ll have to be rewritten one day anyway.
It’s up to us to not only follow but also anticipate trends in order to provide our customers with the product built on up-to-date technologies. I’d compare it to a diesel car, you can buy one, it’s still a good car with a good engine, but the technology is obsolete, doesn’t evolve anymore, and you won’t be allowed in city centers.
Dominik: And you’ll have difficulty finding a mechanic too, mind you. It’s the same with obsolete software. Both our customers and we must keep in mind that if we want to hire developers who can pick and choose with whom to work nowadays, we must be using technologies these developers appreciate.
How are we going to help our customers adopt this change?
Antonín: We are hard at work with Customer Success, preparing a set of training materials to help with the adoption. At Kentico Xperience Connections 2020, we plan to introduce a partner who has already built their project with ASP.NET Core MVC.
Why are we making all these fundamental changes at this particular point in time?
Antonín: When else? We are innovating when we have a stable operating environment, good staff, and ample resources—we don’t wait idly to get in hot water.
It’s not just about the change in technologies; it’s about an all-encompassing shift in every facet of Kentico Xperience’s life. By introducing the new, technologically advanced product, we want to empower our customers to create projects in a way that the current technologies don’t allow.
Dominik: Mind you, historically, every time we opted for a significant change, it paid off in the long run. We have always had a clear vision and introduced innovations long before other vendors.
There’s an excellent example of the cloud solution we started working on as early as in 2010. We were laughed at then as other software companies believed it was too distant of a prospect. Regardless, Petr had the chops to invest in the technology. I built a small cloud team within Kentico at the time. That bought us valuable experience—now the market is ready and demanding SaaS, we are the ones who have already learned how to do it successfully. While others are figuring SaaS out, we have an established, enterprise-ready solution and a list of happy customers. All because we thought ahead then. And that’s what we are doing now with Xperience as well.
You are quite a pair. Despite arriving at Kentico Xperience from different walks of life, you seem really in sync.
Antonín: I’ve been involved in all departments in Kentico at one point or another—there is not much I haven’t done here. It gives me deep insight and helps me find solutions to virtually any issue.
Dominik: My professional journey started at Kentico initially. I left then to experience how start-ups work, to see if I can assert myself in an unfamiliar environment. Later, I moved on to a corporate world to learn how to develop and sell enterprise software to enterprise customers.
Why did I come back? Honestly, the thought had always been at the back of my mind. For once, Kentico’s culture is by far the best I’ve ever encountered. And I love this challenge—we are at a stage when we’ve decided to evolve Xperience as a product significantly. It’s fantastic I get to be part of that.
Antonín: It seems as if Dominik had never left. I feel we view things in the same way—all the issues, everything we are determined to improve.
In the months to come, what are your top priorities?
Dominik: The job at hand is, of course, to finish and release Kentico Xperience 13 and to explain its benefits effectively. What’s even more important than this version is to communicate what is to come next. So that everyone knows where we stand and where we are heading. And then go and actually do it.