Modernizing digital products has never been more important. It’s what makes or breaks a company today. And no industry is off the hook when it comes to the need to digitally transform.
From banking to retail, transportation to hospitality, customers today expect a fast, seamless digital experience. For example, more than 50% of US adults, 18+, now bank on their mobile devices, according to a recent survey by Prosper Insights & Analytics. That includes a surprisingly high 42% of the Boomer segment. A seamless cross-channel experience is the de facto expectation of every demographic segment today. For financial institutions, it has become table stakes. But other sectors have to catch up.
I sat down with Austin Vance, CEO of software development company and digital transformation consultancy Focused Labs, to talk about how companies across industries can deliver high-quality digital experiences with modern software teams.
Gary Drenik: Thanks for talking to us today, Austin. What are some of the most important things companies need to consider when delivering modern digital products to their customers and partners?
Austin Vance: I’m happy to talk to you about this, Gary. Here’s the bottom line for business leaders: you don’t have to be born in the digital age to be successful in this field. Companies that have been around for decades are in some cases thriving with digital, even outperforming players newer to the market.
The ability to digitally adapt and diversify revenues is based on a number of factors: 1) The willingness to prioritize and invest in innovation. And 2) The desire to build a culture of technical excellence within your organization. The bigger picture is about creating new behaviors and practices, in addition to new products and applications. When you have these two ingredients in place, you can start thinking about building and delivering modern applications to customers in a thoughtful and strategic way.
Drenik: What would a phased approach look like for companies that aren’t ready, or don’t have the team, funds, or infrastructure, to upgrade all at once to renew their digital offerings for customers?
vance: For starters, companies can bridge the risks and costs of hiring a significant amount of hard-to-find technical talent and put money into updating and abstracting legacy IT systems by partnering with a third party that can help build product and technical expertise alongside them. This way you strengthen your own muscles, learn on the go, and do it with experts who can guide the process until your in-house team can handle it and get on with it (which should always be the goal – be yourself maintenance from a technical and product excellence perspective).
I recommend slowly bringing more modern tooling into the engineering team work environment in most cases. This is another area where a partner can guide you on where and how to implement new systems. Legacy applications often hold you back from both product development and performance monitoring perspectives, so it’s important to determine what needs to be replaced and how to take a phased approach to upgrading tools and systems.
Drenik: Are there any good first places to start?
vance: That varies quite a bit. One area that has been a key differentiator for companies across many industries in improving their digital experience for customers is payment innovation. Modernizing the payment infrastructure was a focus area of my company. We’ve helped many businesses lately and it’s a path to tangible revenue growth and a way to accelerate new business opportunities. Consumers are no longer willing to stand in long lines to pay for a service. For example, according to a recent survey by Prosper Insights & Analytics, a fifth of American adults use their phone for mobile payments or to tap the mobile wallet feature. They want to be able to pay on the go, from the location and device of their choice. Having the tools to provide seamless online trading is critical to customer satisfaction and retention.
Drenik: What does it take to build modern experiences, and can it be done in existing businesses, given your work with clients across industries?
vance: There is no one-size-fits-all for what a good modern experience looks like. It can look like Whole Foods “Just Walk Out” checkoutless technology, where you just shop the store as you normally would and then exit the designated “Just Walk Out” area without paying on the spot. Or it could be the insurance app that uses an AI bot to build a comprehensive, personalized insurance bundle for you in minutes.
Building modern experiences can’t just be done by legacy companies, but it can needs to do to remain competitive. One example I like to give is PODS, the 25-year-old moving and storage company, which has proven its willingness to embrace digital at a time when it had to scale quickly to meet growing demand.
PODS has completed more than 1.3 million long-haul trips, yet the company is trying to deliver new offerings to better meet customer needs. One of those more recent offerings is a car shipping option. PODS partnered with my company and ACERTUS to launch the offering, which essentially provides customers with a more streamlined and comprehensive moving experience and a unique online booking process for the transportation of a vehicle and a POD.
Drenik: What’s more important to a business when it comes to improving the digital customer experience: getting back-end or front-end systems right, or both?
vance: You can’t deliver a good front-end experience without a good back-end. They go hand in hand, and while the back end is really the guts of your IT architecture that customers don’t see, it’s just as important as the interface they interact with.
Today we see the rise of headless or composable architecture where the front and back ends have been decoupled. This makes it much easier to make customer-facing improvements, push updates to production, exchange new elements of the IT stack, and ultimately build better, faster experiences for users. It has opened up new opportunities for technologists to build cool new things that amaze customers and bring new revenue streams to the company.
Drenik: That’ll be something to watch, Austin, as we’ve been hearing more about headless in recent years. We appreciate your insights on this subject and hope to contact you again in the near future.