Technology is no longer about numbers on a report or spreadsheet - it is about touching and reaching your customers (whenever and wherever they are), by “delivering superior experiences,” according to former Coles CIO and tech veteran, Conrad Harvey.
“Our digital world requires new sophisticated capabilities delivered through technology that must be flexible, affordable and deliver superior experiences,” Harvey told a packed crowd of attendees gathered at the Computerworld and AppDynamics Exchange Breakfast in Melbourne.
“Your customers are trained on Apple user interfaces and Google Search and Google Translate and don’t tolerate poor experience - they just move to the next experience.”
Harvey, who’s currently the managing director of Certanti and executive director of Harvey Digital, told attendees during his keynote address, “IT at the Speed of Thought,’ how the IT landscape has dramatically changed - and the pressure on IT leaders is immense.
“Now is one of the toughest times to be in technology, but also one of the most exciting times,” he revealed. “The real challenge is we have to deliver the perfect storm in digital technology. We have to deliver things that are flexible, so they can respond to new business threats and new business models. We have to deliver things that are cheaper because not only do those new business threats come with new models, but they also come with new price points.”
He said there’s heightened competition from all fronts including pressure from the digital savvy entities like “the sophisticates such as Amazon, who have rich data and insights”, from the “barriers falling” players like Uber, as well as from the “simples like Aldi” that simplify the supply chain and offer discount items with lean prices.
“As technology barriers have dropped, it is possible for somebody to start an ecommerce website in a day. That could potentially take a portion of your market away - and so you need to be able to deliver your technology solutions to the businesses that you work in, in a way that doesn’t erode their margin unnecessarily.”
Indeed, customer engagement has fundamentally changed, he said, explaining how not long ago, even at the beginning of the Internet, customers were mass marketed.
“Our communication with our customers was broadly either through our product sales or through broad mechanisms such as media, television, even websites in those days were digital ad banners and ad boards rather than tailored messages and experiences. We got a lot smarter when we started to use our sales data to work out how to segment our customers into individual groups, and then be able to think about how we might tailor their experiences, either in store or online, to meet the needs of those groups slightly differently.”
Today, customer engagement has advanced to become a one-on-one interaction, tailored to meet the needs of an individual customer, where companies can track and monitor customers and target them as individuals.
“We have moved from a world of mass marketing to segmentation to now being targeted one-on-one. As customers start to interact with your businesses more directly through apps and online, that makes sense because now you are tracking their actual behaviour, not just their purchases - tracking their actual interactions, not just their outcomes. That means the ability to act and respond based on their behaviour becomes more important because it is becoming the new normal.”
Steps to success
So how can IT leaders stay ahead of the curve and be competitive? Harvey said companies need to deliver experiences for customers that are context-aware, using location data in order to give customers “something that is relevant,” and not based on previous behaviour.
He said “supply chain worlds needs to change,” whereby the delivery and fulfilment mechanisms evolve to become much more effective and efficient, where systems transform to intelligently determine which products need to go where and when.
“The game is being disrupted and changed and your companies - based on however you fulfil things - have to think about how they take the costs and the inefficiencies out of your supply chain to fulfil target markets of one.”
He suggested companies embrace analytics, which is not just about understanding customers, but understanding the business, the supply chain, and the processes so they can be constantly improved and refined.
“It is giving that information to both your customer touch points, but also your supply chain and your processes so that you can inform and improve those in real-time,” he said.
“How do I use my data to make my processes and my customer interactions better? You have to make sure that all of your processes are constantly feeding data, which means you have to engineer your systems to gather data - not just to fulfill process needs, which is something we are not uniquely designed or refined for.”
Certainly, in the push towards digital transformation, IT leaders need real-time operational insights into application performance, user experience and business outcomes, agreed AppDynamics, vice-president of market development and insights, Jonah Kowall, who discussed how digital transformation requires visibility to ensure velocity.
Transitioning an enterprise to the digital era is more than just signing on the dotted line. It requires an organisation-wide effort to prepare and invest in tools and services that enables the transformation and help companies measure impact of poor user experience.
Kowall, who has a wealth of IT experience having run IT operations at various firms for 17 years and worked as an analyst at Gartner, said there’s no question that IT leaders need to embark on the digital transformation journey because it improves customer engagement and makes good business sense.
“It you build these digital channels and digital engagements and learn how to touch your customers, you end up having happier customers. And you end up making more money for your business with this other channel. But with all of the positives that come with doing this right, most people don’t feel that their expectations are being met, both in terms of the functionality of the software and solutions, and the performance of those applications.”
CEOs and CIOs now realise that the Fortune 500 companies, and the well established companies that have been around for often over a hundred years, are being displaced by those that get digital right, he said. “It is no longer an option for you to be good at your core business, and good at digital - you need to do both together. You can’t do one or the other.”
Kowall said organisations that deploy ‘systems of engagement’ will be successful. “It is the systems of engagement - the front ends - that’s what makes your business different. . . If you’re building front ends in ways to engage with your users internally and externally, that’s a business advantage.”
He said companies need to innovate and start investing in digital transformation in order to differentiate and stay ahead of the competition. “The CIOs and senior executives that understand the continual shifts in IT are trying to move away from the business being a cost centre and support - and into being part of the innovation and the driver of the business.”
As companies start on the journey, he said keep in mind some key principles including velocity, which should determine how quickly organisations change and adapt the business and the software in order to meet customer demands.
“It is all about the small steps. Gone are the days of the 24 month IT project and the rollout. Now we are trying to get sprints done in a week or two weeks, to turn code and get it out there and experiment. If we realise that change isn’t good, we can always change it back; we can try something new. It is all about breaking these big apps and projects into really small pieces. Things like microservices facilitate the software agility.”Read more: Human interactions deliver the analog foundations in a digital world
Like Kowall, Harvey agreed now is the time for each and every company to embark on the digital transformation journey - which doesn’t come without a few challenges.
“At the moment in technology most companies are facing a rogue wave. We have all had systems for recording and reporting forever, but the problem is the new world requires us to use that information in news ways, and often in more real-time than we ever have in the past. . . Now you need to be able to respond to threats and pressures that you weren’t needing to before,” he said.
Think of the bigger picture, he urged. “You need to take all the money out of running your business into investing it in new innovation and new responses. You also have to build some really clever, really high-speed analytics systems to be able to inform the other two systems to make them better. So it really is an exciting time to be in technology, but it is very hard,” he said.
“For technology to survive in the future - where it is buying services, it is touching customers - it has got to deliver outcomes overnight. Te technology teams need the tools to be able to make sense of that world. If you have such a sophisticated, multi-touch, multi-tenant world, you need the tools to be able to make sense of that and de-risk it.”
Digital demands - the future requires agility, speed and certainty:
-IT must deliver reliable compute power from multiple sources
-IT must be able to see through clouds and across networks to understand performance
-IT must feel the impact at the touchpoint of the customer to get a real view of performance
-IT must be able to respond to new threats with pace and agility
-IT must keep everyone and their data safe.