Companies that want to compete effectively are spending lots of time and money ensuring that they can design and deliver mind-blowing experiences as quickly as possible. Applications are often a primary touch-point for these experiences. If IT can deliver apps at the pace required by the market, the CMO will be your new best friend.
Here’s how to make it happen.
Apps for Everything and Everything with an App
Want to order a product? Use an app.
Want to get shipping details to find out when it will arrive? Use an app.
Want to request service on the product you bought? Use an app.
Whatever the business interaction, you can probably do it through an app.
The result is an arms race in application delivery. Fall behind and your fickle customers will flock to your competitor’s superior user experience and you’ll be left in the dust.
So, how can you ensure you can deliver applications at top speed? First, you have to understand why experience is so powerful. Then we’ll take a look at five activities that will help improve your agility.
Experience is a Powerful Differentiator
A couple years ago, Brian Solis wrote an article for Fast Company titled “Why User Experience is Critical to Customer Relationships.” In it, Solis says:
As smart and connected technology matures beyond a luxury into everyday commodities, consumer expectations only inflate. As a result, functionality, connectedness, and experiences emerge as the lures for attention. For brands to compete for attention now takes something greater than mere presences in the right channels or support for the most popular devices. User experience (UX) is now becoming a critical point in customer engagement in order to compete for attention now and in the future. For without thoughtful UX, consumers meander without direction, reward, or utility. And their attention, and ultimately loyalty, follows.
In other words, users are seeking out unique experiences and connecting to brands through those experiences. If you aren’t offering your customers a unique experience, you’re going to find it difficult to distinguish yourself, and your customers aren’t going to give you their attention. As attention declines, sales follow.
The Master of User Experience: Coca-Cola
Nobody knows this better than the king of brand marketing, Coca-Cola. In a video describing Coca-Cola’s “Liquid and Linked Marketing” strategy, Wendy Clark, SVP, Integrated Marketing Communications and Capabilities at the Coca-Cola Company, highlights a number of strategies that Coca-Cola has for staying remarkable and engaging.
Send a Coke Around the World with Re:Brief
At one point, Wendy shows a campaign called Re:Brief (at 22:35) that allows users to send a Coke to somebody around the world. Co-developed by Coca-Cola and Google, the functionality is delivered as a rich mobile advertisement, a mini-app of sorts, through Google’s AdMob network.
This app is certainly remarkable. If you either sent or received a Coke, you’d want to tell a friend about it and have them try it. To Coca-Cola’s delight, it generated huge interaction and went viral.
While Re:Brief was a marketing-led initiative, there was obviously a huge IT component to it. There was front-end app development and also back-end infrastructure development:
- Routing gifts of Coke around the world
- Connecting to specially-made Coke vending machines
- Sending messages back and forth and translating them to and from different languages
- Capturing and storing videos to amplify the marketing even further
Wendy doesn’t say so, but I’m assuming that much of the back-end work was done by Google using its cloud-based infrastructure. We’ll see how that can help a bit later.
It’s amazing that any company can deliver an experience like this even once. But Coca-Cola manages to do it with amazing regularity.
It’s a Small World
Later in the same video (at 28:25), Wendy shows the “Small World” campaign that Coca-Cola launched to foster community between India and Pakistan. She says the video from the campaign also went viral on YouTube (it has 2,770,781 views as of today).
The IT Challenge: Keeping Up
Each of these marketing projects aims to deliver a remarkable (and therefore retweetable) user experience. Both also rely on digital technology to deliver the magic under the covers.
The question is, how can IT participate in these activities?
Today, most IT shops are not structured to deliver new user experiences at the speed required by the marketplace. One day, the marketing department has a great idea for a customer experience. The question is, do they take this idea to IT or try to execute it themselves with their own resources? Increasingly, the answer is the latter. This is why every analyst firm is reporting a growth in IT spending happening inside the marketing department, as impatient marketers seek to “go around” IT.
Times have changed — radically. You no longer have to build a data center, buy servers, and hire IT administrators to accomplish your business goals. Today, it’s easy for everybody to “do IT” themselves. SaaS vendors, cloud service providers, and application suppliers are all targeting sales efforts directly at lines of business and not the IT department. What’s an IT professional to do?
The first step is to realize that the world has changed and accept it. Digital technology is now easy to buy and easy to use — so easy that any “amateur” can do it over the web. Those still in denial will rail, “Sure, but the CMO still gets in trouble when he does it himself and then he calls IT!” There is probably some truth to that, but that problem is getting smaller by the day as the solutions get better. There is no getting the toothpaste back in the tube.
Instead, you’re better off getting in front of this challenge and setting your sights on being the fastest, easiest, and most helpful service provider your CMO has ever seen. Partner with marketing and other business units and deliver everything they need so they view you as a valuable resource and team member, not an obstacle to be avoided. Accelerate their projects rather than slow them down.
Do that and other departments will be begging for your input on business strategy and your participation in their projects.
One necessary piece of that puzzle is to increase your application delivery speed.
How to Get Agile and Deliver Remarkable Experiences
If you’re struggling to keep up with your competitors (or just your CMO), there is good news. You can make a big difference in your application agility if you focus on five key activities.
Activity 1: Reimagine Yourself with Human-Centered Design
Earlier, we talked about user experience as a cornerstone of business strategy in the digital age. You need to embrace the delivery of a quality user experience at all levels of the company, from how you deal with your customers to how you deal with internal users.
In “Reimagine your enterprise: Make human-centered design the heart of your digital agenda,” Christopher A.H. Vollmer, Matthew Egol, Naseem Sayani, and Raisa Park at Strategy& at PWC (formerly Booz & Company) say:
Companies in every industry are trying to find new sources of value through digital technology. But most of their efforts have not translated into enough market impact and growth. They need something bolder and more disruptive, but still very simple. They need reimagination.
Reimagination means putting the user at the center of everything your company does — strategy, product development, operations, marketing, sales, and customer service. It means using the full power of digital media and technology to build empathy with that user, and weaving that relationship into the fabric of your company. This practice is known as “human-centered design” (HCD): the reshaping of an entire enterprise and its capabilities system around the customer or user experience.
As businesses transform digitally, it’s important for the digital leaders within businesses (that’s IT) to adopt human-centered design for all they do, bringing their objectives into alignment with those of other business leaders.
The first step to participation in projects like those we explored from Coca-Cola is IT leadership embracing marketing (or product development, or support, or …) and saying, “We understand the experiences that you’re trying to create and the speed the market requires. We want to work with you to create them and we’re committed to hitting the milestones.”
Activity 2: Restructure for Innovation
If you’re going to focus on human-centered design and user experiences, you’re going to have to reimagine your organizational structure.
In a previous post, I described how to restructure to achieve maximum innovation (“Innovation Season is Here”).
The fact is, there are two kinds of IT that you need to learn how to master:
Innovative IT moves fast and tries to exploit market opportunities as they occur, but sacrifices efficiency and optimization to get to market quickly.
Industrialized IT moves slowly and focuses on high levels of efficiency and cost savings. It delivers consistent, repeatable results at scale, over time.
Unfortunately, most IT shops have organized only for industrialized IT. Org structures, KPIs, and incentive compensation are all set up to reward stability, efficiency, and cost savings. Those aren’t bad goals, but they won’t deliver you innovation and agility.
Today, you need to organize your department to cater to both innovation and industrialization. The trick is knowing which systems and projects fall into which bucket and then choosing staff members and skills sets appropriately.
In the previous post, I talked about Gartner’s Pace-Layered Application Strategy. You can use that model if you want or just keep it simple and divide things into “innovative” and “industrialized” categories.
The important thing is to recognize that different pieces of the IT landscape move at different speeds and then make a conscious choice about how to manage those pieces differently to maximize each of their respective outcomes.
Your agile applications are going to come from the innovative category (“Systems of Innovation” if you’re using Gartner’s model).
Activity 3: Adopt Agile Development
It’s nearly impossible to develop applications at the speed required by the market if you’re using year-long waterfall development methodologies. By the time you have an idea for an amazing user experience, get it budgeted, approved, developed, and released, your competitors will have already beaten you to the punch.
The only way to keep up is to adopt an agile development methodology.
There are a few different choices. They all have strengths and weaknesses and the choice comes down to the match between the methodology and the skills and style of your team. The most popular methodologies are:
- Extreme Programming (XP)
- Feature Driven Development (FDD)
- Lean software development
While the details differ, they all adhere to a couple core principles.
- Iterative — Rather than trying to plan every last detail, you’re better off building a simple solution quickly and then making it better through rapid iteration with feedback from the end user. You’ll learn things in the process that you couldn’t have predicted up front and you’ll be able to turn on a dime if required.
- Fine-grained — Rather than doing a mega-release once per year, you’ll divide the work up and release every few weeks or months. This reduces your integration and testing burden for each release and helps you keep your iteration rate high. If bugs do crop up, you’ll have fewer places to look, so you’ll find them faster.
Agile development’s increased cadence will allow you to adapt to the needs and desires of your market and exploit opportunities as they arise.
Activity 4: Embrace DevOps
Once you’ve adopted an agile development methodology, you’ll often find that you have a new bottleneck in your system: operations. Development will now be putting out lots of small releases on an accelerated timeline (“sprints” in Scrum’s terminology), but operations often can’t absorb those changes and put them into production as quickly. This speed mismatch has been called the “DevOps gap.”
The DevOps gap occurs because developers and ops people are often measured and incentivized on different metrics:
- Developers are measured on quick feature delivery.
- But operations people are measured on stability, uptime, and cost efficiency.
Since changes will often reduce stability, operations people wait for scheduled maintenance windows before they update applications. This delay slows down the development feedback cycle and reduces your application agility.
To bridge the DevOps gap, you’ll need to make a series of process and tool changes:
- First, make the conscious effort to view application development as an end-to-end activity that includes everything from product conception, to development, to production operations. The code is only “done” when it’s actually in production and visible to customers, not when it’s tested by development and released to operations.
- Next, to help ensure that happens, assign development and operations people to work together on a common team to get releases all the way through the process. A developer should be allocated until code is live in production and has been proven to meet its functional and performance objectives. Similarly, assign an operations resource to work with development early in the development process to ensure a smooth flow of code across the gap. Each of these teams needs to view the other as a partner, proactively identifying rough spots that might impede the smooth flow of application changes into production and then working on joint solutions.
- Finally, see to it that application developers create automation artifacts during the development process that will smooth later deployment into production. Developers should understand all the operations tools and be creating configuration artifacts to drive them. Operations should be using these artifacts to ensure that code is packaged and deployed in a repeatable, fully-automated manner. (BMC has tools such as BladeLogic Server Automation and Release Process Management that can help here.)
Activity 5: Deploy on Hybrid Cloud
If you’ve gotten this far, you’ll now have developers and operations people working together, creating code in small batches, and breaking down bottlenecks in the release process using process changes and automated tooling.
The next activity (though it can really be in parallel with Activity 4) is to create a hybrid cloud environment that developers and ops personnel can access through a self-service interface.
This brings a few benefits:
- Improves throughput. Developers can access cloud-based resources directly to develop or test in parallel, improving throughout. No more waiting for infrastructure to free-up before kicking off your test code. When you’re done, just release all the cloud resources back into the pool.
- Promotes innovation. Developers can conduct experiments to try out new ideas before they put them into the mainline code. Got a crazy new idea? Create a cloud environment to test it out.
- Smooths application flow into production. If developers are working on clouds and operations is managing production on clouds, you’ll have a smoother propagation of changes into production. You can use the same tools used to configure both environments. Rather than trying to recreate the development environment in production, you can simply promote the the digital description of the development environment into production.
- Improves ability to deal with spiky load. Got an application that is going viral? That’s great — unless you’re not running on a cloud, in which case you’re scrambling to add resources to avoid a degraded customer experience. If your application is designed for and deployed on the cloud, you’ll be able to use external cloud resources to scale up as fast as you need to. As long as you’re using a hybrid cloud with a common management interface, you’ll be able to manipulate cloud resources in a consistent manner.
Get Agile and Your CMO will Love IT
While the race to deliver mind-blowing customer experiences is hotter than ever, you can keep help your organization stay competitive. All you need to do is:
- Embrace Human-Centered Design
- Restructure Your Organization for Innovation
- Adopt Agile Development Practices
- Embrace DevOps
- Deploy on Hybrid Cloud
While these activities will take time and energy, none of them are particularly difficult or risky. The only thing stopping you is your will to get it done. Make the commitment to start today. Your CMO will start to love IT.
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