Paul Boag

Paul Boag has spent the past twenty years building and transforming experiences for the web. Some of his books include Digital Adaptation, Website Owner's Manual and Client Centric Web Design. He co-founded the digital strategy company Headscape and runs the very well-received podcast Boagworld. He has also authored numerous articles for publications such as Net magazine, Smashing Magazine and Sitepoint.

Paul will join us in Paris for eZ Conference 2016 on October 5-6 as one of our keynote speakers. His talk “Digital Adaptation” will explore how majority of traditional businesses are struggling to adapt to the digital economy and need your help even if they don't realize it.In his talk Paul will explain the reasons behind this and what we (as the web community) can do about it.

Paul’s talk at eZ Conference 2015, His keynote address, The Future of User Experience Lies in Your Hands, was an inspiring experience. If you weren’t able to attend, check out this video.


Last week, I sat down with Paul (via Skype) to discuss a variety of topics on digital adaptation, including a preview of his keynote, Disney’s MagicBand, and the business value of Snapchat.

What do you think companies get wrong when trying to adapt digitally?

A lot of companies that are preparing for a digital transformation mistakenly focus only on technology. A digital transformation at its core is a realization that the world has changed around us. Consumer behaviors in particular have transformed. Being so connected, consumers have all your competitors at their fingertips. They have the ability to say nice or nasty things about you to a large audience. The power dynamic has now shifted away from the company towards the customer. The customer is more demanding than ever before and they expect a higher quality of service. Digital adaptation is about meeting the needs of your customers. Partly, it’s done through the use of technology. But more importantly, it’s how you run your business on a daily basis. Technology doesn’t really change how a company does business.

Digital adaptation is about meeting the needs of your customers. Partly, it’s done through the use of technology. But more importantly, it’s how you run your business on a daily basis.

What kind of role does technology play in a business’s digital adaptation?

Digital technologies have enabled us to discover more about our customers than ever before. For example, you now know what your customer does on all of your digital platforms. You can see what they care about as well as gauge what content they are looking for. Because of this, companies can provide a much higher level of service. And in turn, companies can now engage with customers in a much more meaningful way. Traditional marketing used to be about shouting at people, hoping they’d listen (through print, radio and television). Now, with social media, we can have a conversation, tailored to a customer’s needs.

Technology is also very important within the organization. It can improve the way we operate internally and provide a higher level of service. There are so many tools out there that not only help improve internal processes and the bottom line but also help employees engage better with customers. And in the age of the customer, this is critical.

Where does the CMS fit in technology selection when a company is in the process of digital adaptation?

I think the biggest mistake companies make when selecting a CMS is focusing solely on a set of features. Normally, the selection of a CMS is done by someone within IT. These type of decision makers tend to look at very specific criteria such as development, support, and integration. What they rarely consider is the actual user experience of the system. I’m talking about how the CMS will be for the internal users, people inside the organization such as marketing and human resources. IT decision makers often don’t think about the back-end of the system and how the employees will access it. Things like, “how easy is it to log in, add content or update?” Let’s say an HR person needs to access the system every six months to add a job advert. Will they be able to remember the process? Is the system simple enough to use? Or will they require additional training? It’s very important to not overlook the user experience quality of the CMS you select.

Can you tell me a little about your views on the Internet of Things?

IoT is a very broad view of the world. I think that wearables are going to find a certain niche market as well as health related devices. The Google Glass type of devices might take a bit longer to take off, perhaps when they become more like the glasses you and I are wearing now. The real area I’m interested in is connected sensors, those that provide more of an invisible experience.

Disneyworld is a great example. If you prebook your tickets to the theme park, you’ll get a bracelet in the post. It’s called the MagicBand. It’s nothing more than a piece of plastic with an RDF chip in it. But this band transforms your experience at the park. Because it’s connected to your credit card, you don’t have to pay for anything, you just wave it and it charges your account. You can open your hotel room with it. The band also knows where you are in the park and can notify you of rides that are less crowded through a connected app. You can even order food in advance from a restaurant. Once you arrive, the hostess greets you by name and you can sit wherever you want. If it happens to be your child’s birthday, it will get flagged into Mickey Mouse’s earpiece. And Mickey can go wish your child Happy Birthday by name.

I get excited about invisible elements that are totally passive. You don’t have to press buttons on them. The device just knows information about you. Disney spent an Austin Powers number, over a billion dollars renovating the park to work with this device. It’s a very good investment in IoT and the future.

During your keynote at the upcoming eZ Conference, you plan to discuss the organizational change needed to build a great website. Can you give our audience a little teaser?

I’ll quote Brian Solis [principal analyst at Altimeter group], who said, “Ultimately digital is about people not technology. It’s about better serving the connected consumer.” And that is really the heart of my talk and it goes back to my thoughts on technology earlier.

The reason I call my book Digital Adaptation was a quote from Charles Darwin. For me it sums up the current climate for businesses:

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

In my talk, I say that it’s not the strongest, richest or most intelligent companies that survive. It’s the ones that are the most adaptable to change. We’re already seeing that. Examples like Blockbuster, who wasn’t able to adapt to changes in digital, got supplanted by Netflix. And HMV, the major music retailer, they saw the change coming with Napster. They saw consumers wanted to download particular songs. But instead of adapting, they sued Napster to get rid of them and maintain the status quo. This gave Apple an opportunity to step in with iTunes. And Uber is another example with taxis.

What is your opinion on the business value of Snapchat? A lot of publishers and media companies are making sizable investments to connect to Snapchat users?

I’ve seen a lot of platforms come and go. Myspace comes to mind. And so it goes on. There are a plethora of platforms popping up to deliver content. When something new comes on board, companies tend to go into a frenzy investing resources to deliver to this new platform. This platform may or may not survive. Snapchat being the next big thing is really a roll of the dice.

Businesses need to take a different approach. They need to use a content management system that frees their content from being platform specific but instead, allows it to be delivered to any channel. So, as new platforms come along, you basically create APIs to deliver your content. This is why I recommend taking a platform-agnostic approach.

Of course, different content wants to be delivered to different platforms in different formats. But it’s important to free content so it won’t be tied into a particular platform at a particular time. A headless CMS or a decoupled CMS like eZ’s can facilitate this.

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