In today’s fast-moving digital economy, businesses face a stark reality: they must continuously evolve to remain competitive and deliver the best customer experience possible, or risk becoming obsolete.
For many companies, especially in the service industry, this means committing to digital transformation both publicly and behind the scenes. This is often done by developing new apps and digital services that simplify the customer journey, provide a delightful customer experience, and promote future engagement – which in turn drives ROI.
This new paradigm isn’t limited to large enterprises: In 2019 Technology Industry Outlook, Deloitte said the “democratization of innovation” will be key to business growth in the near future. As the proliferation of cloud infrastructure makes innovation both easier and faster, “medium and small enterprises can harness powerful capabilities once limited to a select few.”
That innovation might take the form of a new SaaS application, or involve emerging tech like AI or VR. Whatever they choose, the fact remains that today’s small and medium-sized enterprises have access to tools even their counterparts ten years ago could only dream of possibly creating, tools that can bring additional value for both them and their customers.
But how can companies make these new innovations a reality? Many businesses answer that question by delegating the responsibility to a freelance development team or, if they’re lucky, an in-house team of their own, but the best results are achieved by using both. Enlisting the right people from both within and outside their employee pool allows businesses to scale and deepen their innovations more effectively – and ultimately develop experiences their customers cannot live without.
Start with your home – building an in-house development team
Building the right in-house development team is more than just about hiring people with the right programming skills. Business app developers aren’t just in the programming sector; they’re also in the customer experience sector, and they need to know how to develop products that don’t just solve customer problems, but meet customer needs in an intuitive way.
Equally important for an in-house team is the culture: Many organizations hold their best employees back, often unintentionally, with ingrained cultures that prove difficult to crack. Embracing what we at Sage like to call a “fail-fast” culture rather than relying on the way things have always been done is often the first step to incorporating frequent change into business operations, which will ultimately help both your development team and your business succeed in the long run.
In a fail-fast environment, developers are encouraged to run through development cycles without waiting for multiple rounds of approvals, which means they can go from initial concept to fully testable pilot in weeks instead of months or years – which lessens the pain if their sky-high ideas crash into unforeseen obstacles.
“Fail-fast” may not be an ideal approach for all developers – it shouldn’t be a guiding principle for anyone focused on refining the core product, for example – but it’s embracing the unexpected that best leads to new offerings capable of delighting customers, improving their experience in a way that’s both surprising and exactly addresses their needs.
The businesses encouraging a fail-fast culture, meanwhile, enjoy improved access to innovation, a greater chance of identifying more effective ways of working, and more enthusiastic employees –whether they’re the ones developing the innovations or enjoying the fruits of their work.
It’s not just what you know – developing external networks
Having a wide network of external development partners can also help businesses ramp up their innovation efforts and deliver solutions that exceed customer expectations.
When working with external developers, it’s crucial that businesses remember they are not simply relying on a high-tech, large-scale section of the gig economy. With their skills in high demand, independent development companies are typically independent for a reason. The best relationships with such companies are symbiotic in nature, with each side aware of what it offers the other. For example, the smaller partner may have specific expertise which can benefit from the larger organization’s financial support and larger-scale experience, while the larger business often benefits from its partner’s diverse thinking, agility, and “challenger” mindset.
The value of developer networks is also evident when you consider domain-specific needs. One company might not have the expertise or bandwidth to solve every problem faced by an industry, but by building an effective developer network, a business can expand its areas of expertise to include many niche sectors, potentially reaching customers and markets they could not previously access. It can also help businesses deliver innovations more rapidly. After all, every company’s resources will eventually reach a limit, and additional networks can help scale their efforts.
For example, one industry currently undergoing a major cultural shift is the accounting sector, with practitioners increasingly expected to provide customers with strategic services above and beyond crunching numbers in order to maintain their competitive advantage. Fortunately, today’s accountants have access to more data than ever before, but turning that raw information into usable insights requires the developers behind their digital tools to develop innovations of their own too – and that’s where collaborating with a network of cutting-edge developers comes in.
Taking innovation out of the lab and into the market
There are other key issues to address, of course, such as c-suite buy-ins and customer-centricity. It’s essential that developers know their work is valued by senior leadership, who in turn need to trust their experts and not just allow but also champion the “fail-fast” model, or something in the same spirit.
It’s equally important that developers work closely with customer-facing teams to ensure their innovations genuinely improve customer experiences, rather than experiences the developer team imagines customers are having that on the field come off as development for development’s sake.
Whatever approach your business takes to development, the core goal should be to convert ideas into helpful reality through a collaborative working process. When development and customer service teams understand each other, they can achieve great things.
By Shivani Govil, EVP Emerging Technology & Ecosystem, Sage.
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