The need to enable rapid development of user-friendly, mobile-enabled applications that solve today’s business problems by accessing data from yesterday’s legacy software systems is challenging enterprise IT groups. Bridging the gap between these environments is “an evolution that IT organizations struggle to keep up with,” according to Ed Anuff.
Writing in WIRED magazine, Anuff contends in Reach Two-Speed IT with APIs that “To succeed, a new approach is required; one that enables agile and web-scale innovation so that IT can meet evolving business requirements while enabling existing systems to continue running reliably, efficiently, and securely.”
“Systems of Record are giving way to Systems of Engagement. User Interfaces are being updated to permit a better User Experience. Cloud solutions are displacing on-premises applications. Lighter, leaner IT groups are using utility computing (e.g., public) cloud solutions. Developers are building mobile and e-commerce apps. The list just goes on and on.”
While change is a constant in IT, there’s no question that the technology developments of the past couple of years and what’s in store for the coming year are…different. The confluence of cloud computing, BYOD, consumerization, shadow IT, low-code platforms, the Internet of Things (IoT), and big data, among other trends, is creating challenges that are bigger, faster, and more disruptive than ever before.
“A giant wave is crashing over IT as we know it. Our industry is one where waves regularly come and go, each one pushing something we held precious into the past. We have come to understand that technologies have a limited life span. It is an accepted notion in our industry. But this current wave is different—it is a tsunami, and IT leaders are in danger of being swept away.”
According to recent research, the top priority for CIOs is no longer cost cutting (as it had been for the past several years), but rather improving business processes. CIOs are well aware of the need to align IT with business goals and their teams are confident in their ability to deliver.
Yet their efforts are too often thwarted by well-meaning but ill-conceived shadow IT initiatives. As described in What CIOs Need to Know About Business Alignment in CIO Insight, in many cases, the best efforts of CIOs and IT departments to support business needs “are undermined by the existing corporate culture. It’s difficult, after all, to work with business teams on optimal IT acquisition and usage when those same business teams go out and buy a load of apps without even telling the CIO or his or her tech team.”
Danish physicist Neils Bohr is credited with saying “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future.” And indeed, prognostications are often proven wrong, particularly regarding technology, sometimes absurdly so: for example, Businessweek magazine’s prediction that the paperless office was just a few years away—made in 1975.
Okay, “forget cost cutting” may be a bit strong (costs always matter!), but—according to recent research from McKinsey, reducing costs is no longer the top priority for IT organizations.
As Joe McKendrick reported, writing about the study in InformationWeek, “’improving the effectiveness of business processes’ is the top-ranked IT concern at organizations, up from 47% in 2011 to 61 percent today. Reducing IT costs has dropped in priority, from 44 percent to 31 percent.“
The good news in the study, along with reduced focus on cost-cutting, is that IT budgets are generally on the rise. The bad news is that expectations are being set higher, and IT leaders themselves are often their own harshest critics.
The study predicts that infrastructure costs will decline as a proportion of IT budgets due to greater use of cloud computing, and that over the next few years, “the most acute needs for IT talent are in analytics, joint business and IT expertise (i.e., enterprise architects), and mobile and online skills.”
So how can IT leaders successfully address these new priorities, while keeping costs under control? Here are three key initiatives to consider:
1) Implement enterprise request management (ERM) to help manage cloud services provisioning. As noted here previously, the ERM approach—which combines an intuitive, centralized portal interface for requesting any type of enterprise service or resource with a back-end process automation engine—closely parallels Forrester’s recommendations for provisioning cloud services to developers. “IT infrastructure and operations specialists can take control of cloud management, but need to first change their focus and then prove their value, implementing the right tools and processes to take the cloud management burden off developers.”
2) Leverage interface engine and workflow automation software to create online interfaces to legacy management systems. Forrester refers to this as building mobile / Web-based “systems of engagement” that integrate with core, in-place “systems of record.” Business users get transparent anytime / anywhere / any-device access to the information they need, even if that data resides in different enterprise or departmental management applications or databases. IT keeps costs under control by extending the value of systems in which the organization has already invested considerable expense and training.
3) Empower business process owners to automate and optimize their own task workflows. Giving business managers graphical tools to automate, test, refine, and deploy their own automated processes, with minimal IT assistance, benefits both those managers (greater control, faster service creation) and IT (reduced development time, increased responsiveness to business needs).
Finally, don’t wait for big projects to be completed before making improvements. Look for opportunities to make incremental improvements today. Business needs expand and change far too quickly to put off process enhancements while making decisions about or implementing major new systems.
In some cases, using the systems-of-engagement-atop-systems-of-record approach will extend the life of core in-place systems. In other situations, making the considerable investment of time and dollars to implement new management-and-control systems may be the best path.
But in either case, use tools that support common communication protocols (API’s, Web Services, SOAP, REST, etc.)—and therefore will work with the core enterprise software you have in place today, as well as whatever you may have in place tomorrow—to automate, accelerate, and improve business processes now. Moving the business forward is always a top priority.
As we reach the halfway point of 2014, here’s a quick look at the five most-read posts on the Kinetic Vision blog so far this year. If there’s a common thread among these five posts, it’s that while all of them pertain to IT, none of them are limited to the technical realm; rather, all of these posts reflect the strategic engagement of IT with business functions and other shared services groups within organizations.
In general, these posts are practical (four provide how-to guidance); informative (three reflect industry research); cross-functional (two are focused on employee onboarding); and evergreen (two were published prior to this year).
Enjoy this look back at the most-read posts on the blog so far this year, and to our readers in the U.S. and Canada, enjoy the holidays this week!
IT service catalogs reduce the time and cost of delivering technical services while improving the user experience. But the benefits of service catalogs needn’t be limited to the provision of IT services; an expanded view of the service catalog to encompass all shared services groups in the organization (e.g., HR, finance, facilities, etc.) extends the cost savings of service catalogs while also providing employees with a single, intuitive interface for requesting any type of enterprise service. Forrester Research has identified a number of reasons for undertaking such a business service catalog effort.
As interest in BYOD skyrocketed between late 2011 and mid-2012, the initial resistance from both executive management and IT quickly gave way to scrambling to accommodate employee preferences while safeguarding corporate applications and data. 18 months later, fresh research shows that while organizations are maturing in their approach to BYOD, both the level of preparedness and nature of adaptation varies considerably. Here are five key trends.
Implementing an organized onboarding process makes life better for both the organization and the new employee, at what is often a very stressful time. What’s needed is for managers in each department to map out their onboarding tasks, approvals and deliverables, and coordinate these tasks with other departments. Then look for opportunities to automate as many of the tasks as possible.
The benefits of automating onboarding and provisioning include less paperwork, reduced costs and increased efficiency. Perhaps most importantly, proper onboarding and provisioning makes new employees feel welcome, prepared, and confident they have the resources to quickly make an impact within the organization. There are several ways to automate employee onboarding and provisioning, including purpose-built applications, but using a Request Management application is perhaps the simplest and most efficient way to do it.
Legacy management and control software platforms weren’t designed to support lightweight, mobile, wireless access. Certainly, a “rip and replace” approach is one way to address this—but both business users and their IT counterparts cringe at the thought of the time, expense, and business disruption of this approach, not to mention the loss of substantial intellectual and financial capital invested in existing core enterprise systems. A better approach is to retain those core business applications (systems of record), while providing the simplified, flexible, web-based access required by business users through interface-layer systems of engagement.
Most of the time, increasing customer satisfaction also means increasing costs: adding product features, providing off-hours support, extending warranty periods, etc.. So, it’s surprising that when an opportunity comes along to both delight customers and save money, many enterprises fail to jump on it.
“Companies tend to think their customers value live service more than twice as much as they value self service. But our data show that customers today…value self-service just as much as using the phone.”
Furthermore, “this indifference holds regardless of (customers’) age, demographic, issue type, or urgency.”
Two-thirds of the customers…told us that three to five years ago, they primarily used the phone for service interactions. Today, less than a third do, and the number is shrinking fast.”
While time is a factor, the efficiency of using an ATM or airport kiosk vs. interacting with a live employee alone doesn’t explain “why we go out of our way to take care of our service needs ourselves.”
In attempting to interpret these findings, the authors hypothesize that “maybe customers are shifting toward self service because they don’t want a relationship with companies…(and) self service now allows customers the ‘out’ they’ve been looking for all along,” which, if accurate, leads to the startling conclusion that “Running your company as if customers want to talk to you isn’t just expensive, it’s potentially undermining your efforts to build longer-term loyalty.”
What may be most surprising about the post is that it was written in 2010. Yet if you’ve tried to resolve a customer service issue recently on any number of corporate sites, you’ll realize how little has changed.
The issue in 2014 isn’t that companies (by and large) don’t offer online self-service, but that many still don’t do it well. In a final finding, the HBR authors note that “a staggering 57% of inbound calls (to customer service centers) come from customers who first attempted to resolve their issue on the company’s website. And over 30% of callers are on the company’s website at the same time that they are talking to a rep on the phone. That’s a lot of frustrated customers.”
Business-to-consumer (B2C) sites are (generally) mature in ecommerce, and making strides in other aspects of online customer service. Their business-to-business (B2B) counterparts are now catching up: according to MarketingCharts, “B2B commerce is shifting offline to online and self-service, say 57% of B2B vendors from the US and Europe,” with 44% of respondents “also agreeing that B2B commerce is adopting B2C best practices in order to optimize the purchasing experience.”
However, “The most commonly-cited challenge in B2B commerce is providing intuitive and user-friendly interfaces for multiple touch points, cited by half of the respondents.” The challenge in optimizing the user experience and ease of use for customers explains why the HBR findings regarding the high percentage of customers frustrated with online self-service offerings remain relevant.
Fixing these problems is vital. As Forrester Research states in their January 2014 report, Transform Customer Processes And Systems To Improve Experiences, in what they term the age of the customer: ” Competitive differentiation achieved through brand, manufacturing, distribution, and IT is now only table stakes. A major source of competitive advantage is the one that can survive technology-fueled disruption —an obsession with understanding, delighting, connecting with, and serving customers.”
And obviously, firms that can reduce costs while also achieving these objectives will be at an even greater competitive advantage.
Consequently, Forrester lists among its top customer management trends for 2013 (with our comments in parentheses):
“Brands are turning their attention to CX (customer experience) design: More firms will realize that the right customer interactions across all touchpoints don’t just happen; they must be actively designed.”
“Untamed processes are getting more attention: More firms will move away from isolated BPM and/or front-office CRM projects and toward cross-functional transformation initiatives to support the invisible, untamed customer management processes critical to exceptional CX.” (This is why an enterprise request management (ERM) approach is valuable; it entails automating and optimizing cross-functional processes, designing process steps to address the “white spaces” between functional groups where these “invisible, untamed” processes dwell.)
“Agile implementation approaches are scaling to the enterprise level: More firms will adopt agile project management” (as well as agile request management) “and software development methodologies based on iterative development principles…”
“Mobile applications are empowering employees and consumers.” (Agile service management is again also key to supporting a mobile workforce and mobile consumers.)
Forrester further recommends identifying and tracking specific service-related metrics (such as “the number of customer support cases closed per day, the number of calls handled per agent, the service-level agreement (SLA) compliance rate”); setting process designs before applying technology; and overcoming adoption issues by letting business users influence functionality.
Which leaves only the final question of how to improve the online experience for customers; how can organizations best simplify UIs to eliminate the need for customer calls, thus simultaneously increasing customer satisfaction and reducing customer service costs?
One approach is “rip and replace,” discarding existing customer service systems in favor of newer installed or cloud-based offerings. While this approach may seem to offer long-term advantages in terms of a more modern IT infrastructure, it’s expensive, time-consuming, and disruptive; and unless it can completely replace existing systems, it can actually make an organization’s technology environment more complex, and increase the risk of redundant and potentially mismatched data elements.
The good news for organizations embracing the challenge of redesigning processes and customer service UIs to simplify the user experience is that doing so not only reduces service costs, but also increases customer satisfaction and loyalty. The even better news is that taking an ERM approach can reduce the time, effort, and expense of conquering that challenge.