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.
We have arrived in a Mobile First world where apps are here to stay. And it is crystal clear that the app effect still drives the customer facing end-points for years to come, with many new mobile devices and things driving the revolution even further. But there is a completely different way to leverage it. It involves letting go of the illusion of control by central IT, mobilizing de-central crowd power instead and creating nothing less than an API Economy, monetizing your organizations assets and exploring new business models.
Organizations have spent a lot of money and effort building apps to engage with both their customers and employees. And after the initial launch they are quickly confronted with the need to create new versions and support new devices to meet the rising expectations of the quickly growing community of app users. Many organizations struggle with this turbulence and find it difficult to determine on what needs to focus first. It’s a tough job to get the right requirements from the business side anyway – volatile as they are – and budgets are always 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, implying a dynamic style of architecture. 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 rise of so-called ‘microservices’ - small single purpose applications – is aimed at resilience for high volume usage.
The good news is that there is a way to reconcile the highly digitized and consumerized outside world and the internal world of enterprise systems. This is where Application Programming Interfaces, or APIs, come to the rescue, giving access to crucial, in some cases privacy sensitive, data and actions within the enterprise systems. It also involves high-productivity frameworks, tools and services to quickly build powerful, safe and consistent mobile apps. Above anything else however, it requires the organization to change 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. 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.
Exposing enterprise APIs outside the IT department (and leveraging external APIs, for that matter) to speed up development will additionally bring opportunities to connect to an external ecosystem of developers: a crowd-sourced development powerhouse that an organization on its own could never match.
One reason why start-ups innovate at such an incredibly high velocity is that they always start to look at what external API’s and platforms are already available for reuse. Only when nothing is available, they might develop services themselves.
No not-invented-here syndrome here, 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. Consider the (set of) API’s as a product or service, and put product management towards it to manage roadmap and gain business value or even find new sources of revenue.
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 leverage (anyone for a few Watson APIs?). And what about Google’s Nest Developer program – a complete eco-system supporting consumers to save energy? Microsoft nowadays is embracing increasingly open ecosystems, supporting many platforms and technologies besides Windows, through their new versions of Visual Studio. Even Apple – not necessarily notorious for sharing its assets in the open - drives new ecosystems, for example through Homekit.
Online retailer and ‘software-born’ company bol.com (find their APIs here) has been actively working on publishing 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 or Hackatons are held and – maybe even better – commissions are earned when an app is being used by customers to buy. There is a strong business case for the public sector as well, at least to keep pace in the digital era and to be part of new services powered by public data, like the digital platform in France. And the start-up unicorns of Silicon Valley - like Uber - are ready to share much of their processes through publicly available API’s, realizing that every organization that leverages those connections is adding to the value of their platform.
‘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 first. Who would have thought?