You Experience #4 – End User, End Producer
So many opportunities for mobile apps, so little time to build. Why not let others do it? The IT department of an organization may need to shift its focus to building a mobile ‘hub’ instead of building apps itself. Such a platform consists of a catalog of secure, enterprise-grade services, tools and APIs to catapult new apps. They can be built both inside and outside the company, by individuals, business units and external partners alike. Mobilize, enable and support your mobile end users: they will produce the greatest apps in return.
By now, it would be the mother of all clichés to state that apps are here and they are here to stay. It is crystal clear that the app effect will drive the nature of solution development for years to come, with many new mobile devices and things driving the revolution even more. But there is a completely different way to leverage it. It involves letting go the illusion of grip by central IT, mobilizing de-central crowd power instead and creating nothing less than an API Economy.
Many organizations have spent a lot of money and effort building apps to engage with their customers and employees. But they feel themselves continually challenged by the need for new versions, new services and even support for new devices. What was great just a couple of months ago, is just good enough today and will be sub par in just a little time. The excitement of yesterday turns rapidly in the disappointment of tomorrow. It has become an unpredictable world where nothing stays the same for very long and the velocity of change is tremendous. Many organizations struggle with this turbulence and find it difficult to prioritize on what needs to change first. It’s a tough job to get the right requirements from the business side anyway – volatile as they are – and budgets are often limited.
The result? Impatience and dissatisfaction at the business side, at the customer base and at the work floor. In some organizations, often out of frustration, business units choose to take matters into their own hands and develop their own rogue apps or new services, potentially creating risks around security, integration and manageability.
The challenge is to find a way to be flexible and robust at the same time. Being flexible in creating and delivering new apps and features to the organization quickly; but also being robust by guaranteeing an acceptable level of enterprise-level integrity.
The good news is that there is a way to improve the interaction between the highly digitized and consumerized outside world and the internal world of corporate systems. This is where Application Programming Interfaces, or APIs, come to the rescue, giving access to crucial data and actions within the corporate systems. It also involves high-productivity frameworks, tools and services to quickly build powerful, safe and consistent mobile apps. More than anything else however, it requires the organization to challenge its incumbent mindset.
Making best use of a mobile platform, established companies must start to think more like a start-up, where the mantra is pushing out solutions to customers as quickly as possible and then carefully monitor the use by and feedback from real people. This analysis will show the way towards improvement of the next version that will again be pushed out usually in a matter of weeks. During the different iterations the vision of what need of the user is served remains the same, but how to serve it can change drastically, depending on what works and what does not.
Publishing corporate API’s outside the IT department – and leveraging external API’s, for that matter – to speed up development will bring opportunities to connect to an external ecosystem of developers: a crowd-sourced powerhouse that the organization itself would never be able to match.
One way that start-ups innovate at such an incredibly high pace is that they always look externally for reusable APIs and platforms first. Only when nothing is available, they might develop services themselves. No not-invented-here syndrome, as they know that speed of delivery trumps almost every other concern. They focus their own means exclusively on those areas where they can truly create something new and differentiating and leverage API’s and services for everything else.
This approach is logically tied to an agile way of development and operations, not only of the required IT-assets, but more and more of the business processes as well. It changes the classical predictive approach of IT along a fixed roadmap into a much more experimental journey of developing the business processes and the technology in concert, constantly adjusting the direction on feedback and data collected from real world usage.
Good tech will also lead a brand. New business opportunities will flow from publishing business information in a usable and valuable way through well-defined and publically available APIs. Customers, suppliers and partners will use that data for their own purposes, whether it is to serve a need or make their own processes more effective. Whatever the usage, sharing quality data and services improves the corporate image and thus elevates the perceived value of the enterprise.
Companies are using platforms to build ecosystems of partners to explore new – consumer-focused – business models. Take a look at IBM’s Bluemix, which is not only a prime example of a powerful mobile development platform, but also makes IBM’s entire product and service portfolio available to build on (anyone for a few Watson APIs?). And what about Google’s Nest Developer program – a complete eco-system supporting consumers to save energy? Even Apple – not necessarily notorious for sharing its assets in the open – drives new ecosystems, for example with Homekit.
Online retailer bol.com (find their APIs here) has been actively working on positioning its APIs to the outside world, rather than focusing on building its own mobile apps. The result is a whole series of apps, all incorporating access to the bol.com platform. There is an enthusiastic developer community, actively supported by the organization. Contests are held and – maybe even better – commissions are earned when an app is being used by customers to buy.
‘Users’ – whether inside or outside – thus may turn out to be the favorite producers of an enterprise. Or to put it differently: the most successful sales people might soon be developers, creating solutions with APIs. Who would have thought?
Your experts: Arthur van den Boom
Part of Capgemini’s TechnoVision 2015 update series. See the overview here.