… and why “what if” are two words every IT decision maker should care about

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  By Richard Parker Application Development Manager at Microsoft




Today’s consumers increasingly focus on their experience of your products.

I’m not talking about UI (how cool your interface is), or what functionality you provide. Good UX design is a factor, but what I’m talking about is something that arguably goes beyond your app, beyond the device I use it on, and shapes and colours the overall experience I have of your company both now, and into the future.

You can think of it as your digital first impression (an ‘experience fingerprint’) – and it lasts.

To understand what I mean, we need think more about what technology enables us to achieve in our professional and personal lives today, shifting our focus away to supporting our business and in turn, focusing on what we’ve always done.

Think more ‘sci-fi’!

Five years ago some of the crazy things we can do today were simply impossible, or way too expensive to be viable. Failing that, the tooling or backend services weren’t there to truly help us realise those visions.

We take IT for granted today, we’ve forgotten that it was always meant to be an enabler and instead we’ve been treating it is a servant that we gradually just ask and expect more and more of.

Take Bob, for example. Bob wants to email a report to Sharon in Finance, after he’s reviewed it now that Jane has added the sales figures Bill extracted from the sales order system a little earlier.

“Machine! Here’s some data, munge it into a report for me and email it to Sharon in Finance”.

We ‘innovate’ today by making that processing activity faster, or by supporting more simultaneous processing. And that’s great and it has a place – but what have we achieved there for Bob? Does he care that we’ve put the collective IT advancement of the past few years (probably at considerable cost) to such good use that he gets his report 2 seconds quicker than before? Maybe not…

What if we offered to read Bob just the changes since he last saw it, using text to speech on his phone, because he’s driving home from the office and wanted to set off early to avoid the traffic because Cortana warned him he’d not make it on time to pick-up his kids from school? Boom. We just transformed (a small, but impactful) part of Bob’s life.

So we start to see that great devices play into our experiences – they’re portals that can be our proverbial best friends, or the mother-in-law you have to invite to the party but don’t really want to. Do you want your business to be that mother-in-law, or my best friend? Because I can tell you for sure that I’m less likely to ditch my best friend than my mother in law when push comes to shove I’m making my purchasing decisions.

And therefore, we introduce the notion of connection, more specifically, emotional connection. Great devices amplify the kinetic experience (and therefore the emotional bond) I make with your product, but only if your product ‘feels’ at home on that device. It’s almost like the effectiveness of your product suddenly becomes less about what it looks like and how it operates but how it ‘feels’ to fling files around on, between devices both in your ecosystem and out. How I can consume and produce on that device matters equally to whatI can consume, or produce.

In tomorrow’s world, the end-to-end experience of your product should be a first class citizen on your product backlog because in order to win the battle for market share we shouldn’t be competing based on tick-the-box features alone. Ever wondered sometimes why the ‘inferior’ (feature-wise) alternatives seem to do better than yours? Sure, it could simply be they did a better job of marketing. But what’s marketing if it’s not the attempt to influence a purchasing decision by painting a picture of what it could be like to own that product? That’s emotional. And you need me to feel good about your product before I buy it or recommend it to others. Isn’t that customer experience?

You see, consumers make choices with their hearts and much less so with their minds (ask any car dealer), and we’d be foolish to think that our ‘consumer mindset’ isn’t following us to the workplace, where we tend to make larger more financially impactful decisions, than when we’re at home. We think less about consequence of making the wrong decision when we’re in the consumer mindset because we’re more focused on the promise of having it. Companies that have a great ecosystem and offer amazing experiences to their customers (their consumers) are therefore in a much better position to exploit the consumer mindset. And we can’t do that if we’re stuck in what I call the ‘business software mentality’ of 1995, which really isn’t that uncommon: we just use new tools to knock-out similar stuff (competing on similar levels but through new channels) and with more polish and speed. Is that innovation?

What is ‘business software’*, anyway? Is it software that I use at work, or that I use on my device that I take home? Is it still business software then, when I’m lying on my couch at home trying to approve that report?

Check it out, the results aren’t breath-taking…

Stop. Take a look around you. Outside your office maybe, or in your car. There are a million everyday things (or processes) you could improve with the incredible array of devices and software products at your disposal, inexpensively today. Do you honestly lever the full power and spectrum of both hardware and software available to you to create immersive experiences that I can connect with, and you can use to connect me to my information?

We’re right on the forefront of something incredible and all it takes for someone to revolutionise our connection with IT now is a truly ambitious interconnection of services (software) accessible in innovative ways through our devices.

And this, dear reader, is why I think you should care: because you’ve no doubt arrived at a similar conclusion; the concept of a union between devices and software isn’t really new. IT has always been about enabling people to do things we cannot do more easily alone or person-to-person.

You need to think about creating those end-to-end experiences, and take a 100,000ft view at the devices and services landscape to figure out what you could do to blow people’s minds. Innovate over a small business process, or transform an industry: I don’t care! Just innovate!Because when you’re in that mindset, you are your most creative, and you’re more likely to succeed.

And whether you agree or not with anything I’ve said, consider this:

You need your thinkers to be asking more “what if?”, not “what next”.

What If asks for innovation. What Next just begs for iteration.

Create, amaze, inspire; it’s easier today than it was just a few years ago.
Did you find this article helpful? If you’re a thought leader or a technical decision maker and you would like to find out more about how your business can leverage the power of software to revolutionise, inspire and create amazing moments then come along to our ‘Creating Amazing Moments’ Tech|Briefing in Reading this May