Over the past two decades, the role of IT in the enterprise has shifted from peripheral to strategic. Businesses are now digital-first and technology plays an integral role in driving innovation, differentiation, and sharpening the competitive edge. The past two years have not only shown us what digital channels are capable of, it has placed them front-and-centre in the battle for customer engagement. This has forced yet more rapid evolution in enterprises. They are striving to build teams that can respond to the demand for seamless, multi-channel customer experience while fending off competition from disruptive digital native start-ups.
Recently we conducted research among senior IT decision-makers to uncover the key areas of focus, the challenges, and how they are writing new rules for the digital era. The results show how IT teams are effectively reprogramming the enterprise and drawing on new technologies as they seek to deliver outstanding digital experiences with reassuring security levels, while also wrestling with the challenges of talent shortages in the industry.
The “sudden” shift to a customer experience focus
Despite the increasing digitisation of customer journeys over the past decade, the recent shift to a laser focus on customer digital experience was described as “sudden” by almost three-quarters of the IT decision-makers we surveyed. This indicates that many feel somewhat on the back foot as they put the teams, tools, and infrastructure in place to meet demand.
When it comes to awareness of the current state of customers’ digital experiences eight in ten decision-makers feel that they have a good understanding, but this figure masks a potential disconnect between the C-suite and those closer to the process. While 52% of C-Suite respondents say their organisation understands digital experiences “extremely well”, only 30% of directors and 22% of managers agree. This points to a need for better communication between the business and the board when it comes to what’s needed to build out the digital customer experience strategy. If stakeholders are starting from differing perceptions of reality, these must be brought into alignment before key decisions are made, or failure could result.
One solution may be the appointment of a Chief Digital Officer (CDO), with a remit to lead the development of seamless digital customer experiences and ensure the business has the right technology and talent in place. In fact, 82% of decision-makers see the CDO as the “face of the future”.
Four key pillars for future focus
Fortunately, decision-makers at all levels are aligned on the four key areas of focus, and the investment they need to undertake to deliver better digital experiences and gain a competitive advantage.
Top of the list, unsurprisingly, is improved security, which is recognised as essential to building customer trust and minimising operational and compliance risks. There are positive signs that organisations are planning to shift left, introducing security measures earlier in the development process in 2022. This doesn’t just improve security, it also enhances speed and productivity, as security issues identified earlier in the development cycle are more easily addressed and don’t end up blocking software publication at a late stage.
Related to security is the implementation of more user-friendly and granular data control, allowing customers to easily manage the data they share. This is important for eight in ten decision-makers and will be an essential aspect of digital customer experiences as consumers grow increasingly aware of the value of managing their personal data.
Also high on the priority list is API integration. Innovation requires an engine to drive progress, and APIs provide the building blocks of that engine, allowing developers to use and reuse components to quickly assemble the new products and services the business needs. IT decision-makers have recognised the transformative effect that best practice use and integration of APIs can have on delivery schedules and developer workload, making them a key technology pillar for the coming year.
The fourth key area is cloud adoption, important for nine in ten decision-makers. This will ensure that the infrastructure has the flexibility and scalability needed to deliver on those lofty digital customer experience ambitions.
In combination, these are the technology pillars on which enterprises aim to base their strategy. However, there is a significant challenge being faced across the technology industry – the shortage of skilled developers.
Addressing the talent shortage
Interestingly, the shortage of developer talent is so pervasive that it is not seen as a major competitive issue. Only one-third of those surveyed said the dearth of talent meant they couldn’t keep up with competitors. Effectively, everyone is in the same boat.
This doesn’t mean that the boat is ship-shape, however. Existing teams have more work to do, and outsourcing is also common. While this may relieve pressure, it adds to costs. More constructively, 54% are training other employees on developer skills, and 40% are increasing automation, which will eliminate repetitive, low- value tasks and allow their skilled developers to focus on higher-value activities.
Nevertheless, enterprises need to work harder to attract talent and many are revising their recruitment strategies and incentives. Perks including payment of moving expenses, student loan repayments, and contributions to children’s education were all mentioned as financial incentives on offer. Many respondents also emphasised the importance of building a strong company culture and investing in employee career development. These are areas that may not have received as much focus in the early days of software development but now, as it is a mission-critical resource, enterprises are reprogramming their HR processes to adapt.
Supporting teams with technology to power innovation
There is no quick fix for the talent shortage. Training up existing staff takes time, and the structural changes needed to bring more candidates into the developer market overall will be a generation or more away. Enterprises must turn to technology to plug the gaps and empower existing developers in the short to medium term.
Low- and no-code development tools are a good solution. Nine in ten IT decision-makers expect to see more non-developers using them in the next three years as part of the drive to open up software innovation to non-developers. Interestingly, 73% of respondents also say they need to do more crowdsourcing to get new ideas, and by furnishing idea-generators with no-code tools, enterprises can get these ideas off the ground fast.
The difference made by low- and no-code tools is already in evidence. Among teams currently using them, 69% implement new ideas within a few days or weeks, whereas only 54% of those not using low/no-code tools can innovate at the same rate. In addition to simplifying development for non-developers, enterprises are also supporting their skilled teams by building out cloud-native development capabilities. They are also adopting AI/ML-capable software-as-a-service from third parties to accelerate innovation.
Ultimately, enterprises must undertake a balanced combination of technology investment and talent support, reprogramming the business to unlock innovation from within while working to create an environment that will attract external talent. This will enable them to achieve the digital customer experience innovations that will provide a competitive edge.