Today’s IT challenge: Delivering simplicity

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By Yasir Afifi

It was with a mixture of amazement, delight and pride that I watched as my 18-month-old child unlocked my phone, selected the YouTube application, browsed until he found a video he liked, skipped the advert after five seconds and sat down to enjoy a video of…children playing.

I was convinced that I had bred a genius who could operate a complex device before even being able to utter a sentence to the world. When I started boasting about my child’s superior talents, I was swiftly humbled by the fact that his digital capabilities were, in fact, merely average and that it was ‘normal’ for children to know how to use technology to watch these types of videos. In fact, some can even use cameras to take selfies and the personal assistant, opening to them a new world of adventure.

It occurred to me that the real geniuses in all of this are the people who engineered an experience which was so innate that a child who could hardly walk, talk or even go to the bathroom independently, could operate their device with relative ease.

What became even more apparent is just how our children have new expectations of reality; the new reality of customers. This has evolved to a degree where consumers, whatever their age, demand a personalised service, wherever and whenever they are exposed to an organisation, all in an exquisitely sensory, satisfying way. Similarly, e-government and other online services are no longer seen as a value-added luxury, but an expectation.

The challenge of personalised service
Providing each user with a personalised service, based on their needs, previous behaviours and a calculated judgment on what they might want to do, is one of the greatest challenges for the modern day organisation. In Qatar and elsewhere, whether the user of a product or service being offered is external or internal, what the customer demands is simplicity. Users are demanding that digital services are effortless, self-explanatory and combine modest, yet engaging ascetics.
To create simple, innate systems and ways of working requires a shift in mindset and culture, and a transformation in the processes, capabilities and governance used to deliver digital services. IT departments need to move up the value chain, take a leadership role and understand that, without them pushing to define the vision and strategy of the organisation, there is no way to meet the expectations of customers. The fact is that, if they do not adopt nimble ways of working and deliver exceptional digital services, organisations run the risk of becoming irrelevant. At a swipe of the phone screen, customers can switch suppliers, compare prices and share negative experiences with thousands of others.

The challenge is that the IT department (and its capabilities, organisation, governance, processes, tools and technology, i.e., operating model) is often set up as a back-office support function, which as a result is not ready to be a strategic business partner to the organisation.

Yasir Afifi, Technology and Digital Advisory Manager, KPMG

Meeting the changing realities of today
In modern IT departments, to deliver exceptional digital services and keep up with the competition, the IT operating model needs to account for functions, capabilities and technologies, such as enterprise architecture, user experience and customer journey, data science and analytics, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and cyber security. However, before all of this, IT departments need to undergo a paradigm shift to free up resources and focus on the ‘value-add’ activities. The whole point is to engineer an experience that, although may be complex in technological terms, to the customer and users, oozes simplicity. Underpinning this is a philosophy and culture of close collaboration between software developers and IT operations – DevOps – to be able to push out services seamlessly and efficiently.

In most organisations, developers ensure services are ready for deployment whilst IT operations deploy these services. However, there is pressure on both sides and collaboration between the two functions is often lacking. By integrating the two teams, and improving productivity by automating processes, an organisation is able to push new services to customers to meet their expectations in a much more pro-active fashion.

To meet the evolving digital needs of Qatar’s population it is imperative that organisations increase the rate of software delivery and time-to-market. An example displaying Qatar’s digital sophistication is the Metrash2 application, which allows users to access a multitude of services from renewing residencies to selling vehicle at a touch of a button. Another example is the ‘one-stop-shop’ connected banking experiences so common in the Qatar market, where customers can check balances, pay electricity, water and mobile phone bills, send money abroad, apply for loans, track spending, and connect with bank representatives, again at a touch of a button.

By integrating (vendor or in-house) development teams and IT operations teams in a DevOps-oriented model, businesses and organisations potentially reduce deployment times from weeks and months, to hours and days. Using and embedding a DevOps philosophy, an organisation will have the ability to unlock some of the following benefits:

* Reducing the time to market and introducing rapid development cycles: based on the new reality between development and operations, it takes less time to jump from engineering code into executable production code.

* Freeing up resources for value add activities: through the automation of the labour-intensive processes needed to deploy code into the production environment, whole teams are able to focus their efforts on activities that add value.

* Enabling continuous service delivery: rapid development cycles mean that code is released into production quicker and the gap between requirement building and release into production can be reduced drastically.

* Deploying higher quality software: by having a more manageable codebase, and increasing the collaboration between teams, defects can be detected and resolved more rapidly.

* Becoming agile: through improved collaboration and coordination, development permits innovation whilst operations brings it into production.

By implementing this paradigm shift, an IT department can move up the value chain and act as a strategic partner to help define the organisation’s evolution, helping to meet the expectations of the constantly connected customer and reduce the risk of becoming disconnected and irrelevant.