With the launch of ActionBuilder last week, I wanted to talk about how these types of in-line visual editing tools address two big challenges that exist inside many organizations and can hold back innovation.

 1. The promise.

As the website became an integral part of multichannel businesses and online pure plays emerged quickly as viable competitors, democratizing creativity within organizations became increasingly necessary. Put another way, various stakeholders want to not only have a say about what was on their websites and where it appeared, but in many cases also want the control to actually do it themselves.

shutterstock_80864542These same organizations have at least one person with the word “creative” in a job title who comes up with ideas and then has to hand them off to someone else to make them a reality. Just the thought of having a middleman for one’s ideas never seemed right to me. Why would an artist ever hand his brush to someone else and ask him or her to paint a canvas?

The promise of democratizing the website optimization process with any in-line editing tool is easier said than done. How do you make it work? Some organizations will want to bring a tool like ActionBuilder into existing IT or quality assurance frameworks. In the long term, that likely won’t be successful, as this will be viewed as exerting another form of control, which leads me to the second challenge.

2. The problem.

The emergence of visual in-line editing tools that provide business users code level control without coding—allowing someone other than a web developer to make changes to the structure of a website and immediately see their effectiveness—is a big step in fulfilling the promise of democratization.

From a software engineer’s point of view, there really are two parts to the problem of fulfilling this problem: Make it easier and then make it safer. What we’re doing is turning control of the website over to people who have never had this power before. But in the case of ActionBuilder, control doesn’t mean full control, and that’s really important.

Once you allow users like creative directors, marketing managers, and ecommerce business leaders to make changes and see them immediately, the middlemen who have been in charge of the website start to be removed. For some people, that certainly won’t be an easy pill to swallow.

The other important piece that we paid a lot of attention to is making ActionBuilder safe.

By giving another business unit direct control over a technical platform, it’s natural to introduce the idea of abuse or, even worse, downtime that could have a horrible impact on a business. This can lead to a contentious relationship within many organizations, with IT departments being viewed as anything but partners. Tools like ActionBuilder help remove those barriers because, quite frankly, we’ve made it very difficult to break anything on the website.

ActionBuilder limits the amount of levers that you can pull on a page. We’ve made it safer to make those changes and removed much of the risk of having a negative effect on a business.

I’m really excited about the features of ActionBuilder that make it much more than a web page design tool while differentiating it from competitive tools, including:

  • A straightforward reversion model that allows the changes that anyone makes to the website to be backed out instantaneously and without any ill effects. With the ability to literally just flip a switch and turn it off, this feature alone should encourage IT departments to break down the fortress wall that was built between the website and the rest of the company.
  • A built-in mechanism for proving itself with inherent testing methodologies and reporting so when you introduce something that has a positive or negative impact on the experience, it can be seen right away.
  • A solution that lowers the consequences of failure by encouraging small changes through incremental and iterative processes rather than larger scale initiatives.

I believe that this is what the next generation of website optimization tools is going to look like, moving to more lightweight applications that allow user experience teams to work in unison with other cross-functional groups, including creative, marketing, and IT. ActionBuilder is just a first step in user experience that moves websites closer to business owners, where they belong.

Tom JanofskyTom Janofsky is Vice President, Engineering, at Monetate. A software engineer with 15 years of experience in successfully delivering enterprise and internet software, Tom has designed and developed software as well as led teams that built large-scale, web-facing transactional software for clients that included EMC, FEMA, JBoss, and Pearson.

Many Small Ideas image courtesy of Shutterstock.