Having worked in technology consulting for over 20 years, I am a relative newbie to the bespoke software and app development market. Five months in, I am struck by some of the similarities with consulting but also the shift in enterprise IT’s approach to developing a modern and agile application environment for employees and customers – the latter now seems to be driving the former more than ever before. Let's explore some of the drivers behind these changes and why it makes mobile and digital solution development a key part of the modern digital enterprise.### Mobile and Digital First
There’s no getting away from the fact that customers are increasingly mobile and digital first when it comes to searching for, managing or transacting in their day to day lives. Most of those people also go to work 5 days a week and have come to expect something of the richness and dynamism that the world of the web and mobile apps has created for them in their personal lives. Equally, business leaders – acknowledging the ubiquity and centrality of mobile devices to our work and personal lives are increasingly alert to the potential to harness the power of mobile devices and improving connectivity.
Over the last 18 months we’ve observed a dramatic increase in the demand for complex mobile and digital solutions that aims to take advantage of these developments to solve some profound business problems. We see fewer and fewer ‘simple’ apps, with discrete functionality focused on a single problem or idea. This is particularly true in the enterprise space, where our client challenges are becoming increasingly multi-layered; reaching more deeply inside our client organisations. They are often characterised by challenges of business process inefficiency, digital disruption from competitors, pressing concerns related to compliance with regulatory change and an unwieldy soup of existing applications – from big ERP systems, to small workflow packages – often a mix of commercial off the shelf (COTS) and bespoke developments in ancient code. ### Mass Adoption into IT Strategy
The effectiveness of web and mobile app developments (and their ubiquitous adoption) over the last decade has meant that the ‘there’s an app for that’ mantra has become increasingly tempting for enterprise CIOs to integrate this thinking into their own IT strategy. Perhaps more crucially, it’s actually not even up to the CIO anymore – her CEO and all the employees see their work and life productivity through the prism of apps. That means (generally speaking) – simple, clean, easy to use interfaces, real-time access to data and rich functionality regardless of location.
When you take this into account and survey the typical application estate within an enterprise (large or small), it’s clear there’s still a long way to go. I am struck by the number of businesses that are increasingly open to the adoption of existing apps or developing their own as key to their digital transformation. The former replaces what might have been developed in-house hitherto – typically relatively simple, narrowly defined process driven apps (business expenses, for example). In terms of the latter, however, I increasingly see demand to develop bespoke applications that meet quite specific demands, and often provide integration between otherwise stranded and/or legacy applications. ### Digital Possibilities
Increasingly, customers want to be shown the art of the possible by digital (not IT) experts – particularly those bringing cross-industry experience from outside their own vertical.
This expertise has little to do with writing software or peddling an off the shelf solution - but a much greater focus on listening to the specific needs of the customer and co-creation; giving primacy to the user experience (UX) design; identifying the power of data to create actionable insights and the integration of business and technical silos.
It feels a bit like the management consulting I used to do, but very much with a view to delivering something that will really make a difference (and can be tested and deployed) at the end. The assignment seems similar, but the deliverable is not slideware – it’s software that can be demonstrated to make a tangible difference to a business problem. That might not be right in every situation, but it feels like a revolutionary step where clients don’t just demand expert advice, they're expecting to see that expertise turned into a workable 'product'.
Using this model of agile expertise and utility we spend quality time up front thinking about strategy, design, and UX with our clients, but can quickly move to prototype and user testing to prove or disprove what works. This seems to challenge more traditional, risky and expensive models of consulting and vendor-led sales of big company-wide systems. Mobile, cloud, big data and the consumerisation of technology seems to have changed all that forever.
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