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Protecting the customer experience in a digital age

Over the past decade, the speed of digital innovation has reached a turbo pace. Companies are now on an everlasting treadmill of pushing software updates to improve the customer experience and offer new functionality for users. Customers have come to expect organisations to be continually improving their services. 

This system of perpetual innovation is a crucial part of a business strategy for maintaining a competitive edge, especially considering the likes of Amazon are releasing new software updates every 11 seconds.

While most organisations aren’t innovating on the same scale as the industry giants, recent global research from Dynatrace, including Australian CIOs, shows the average business releases three software updates every working hour. However, 89% of CIOs believe they’ll be required to do so even faster in the future. 

As organisations look to innovate at previously unimaginable speeds, it’s getting harder to make sure software works perfectly, every time. The checks and balances needed to assess the effects software updates have on performance are becoming increasingly difficult due to the complexity of technology stacks. Paradoxically, this can impair the very customer experience the business is trying to enhance.

The customer experience paradox

Even huge corporations with better resources than most face a dilemma – the compromise between faster innovation, and the need for intelligence that assures a new feature or update won’t break everything. For example, in May 2017, a WhatsApp outage left many of its 1.2 billion users struggling to send or receive messages. When you consider a new version of WhatsApp is being delivered to users every few days, requiring hourly code changes, the most likely cause of that outage was a software update. 

Optus had their own crisis this month attempting to deliver exclusive coverage of the FIFA World Cup. Optus’s constant network crashes during the tournament caused outrage among Australians in addition to financial loss reaching into the millions. It’s a difficult balance to strike, but without the right processes and infrastructure in place to support a culture of rapid innovation, there’s an increased risk of service issues and outages occurring.

Build the necessary agility infrastructure

To support the shift towards greater agility, organisations must develop a solid foundation to support the process of delivering an increased volume of software updates, at a faster pace than ever before. Many businesses have identified cloud as the best way to achieve this and are increasingly migrating their services and infrastructure to hybrid, multi-cloud environments. 

Companies are also taking further steps to increase agility by re-engineering applications into dynamic microservices and containers, to achieve even greater speed and create more flexibility to innovate.

However, whilst an agile infrastructure is undoubtedly crucial to driving faster innovation, it needs to be coupled with an equally agile culture to be truly successful. Employees in all areas of the business need to be running at the same speed and working towards the same objectives to ensure innovation initiatives are successful. 

This helps prevent project overlap, clashes between processes, and unanticipated problems that create poor user experiences. If everyone has the same clear goals in mind, it makes it much easier for companies to achieve success across the entire business.

Collaboration is key

The process of driving rapid innovation demands close collaboration between the development and operations teams within IT. One way to achieve this is to implement DevOps, a software engineering culture and practice that aims to unify the software development (Dev) and software operations (Ops) teams. 

While DevOps adoption helps businesses facilitate speedy innovation without putting the user experience at risk, there are steps that need to be taken to feel the full benefits. Firstly, DevOps must be given ample resources to execute to a high standard. Our research showed nearly three-quarters of CIOs believe DevOps efforts can often be undermined by the absence of shared data and toolsets, making it extremely difficult for IT teams to obtain a single view of ‘the truth’.

To combat this, DevOps teams need constant access to digital experience management insights and real-time AI intelligence that can pinpoint problems in service performance. This information must be democratised and unified so that everyone has a single view of the truth and is speaking the same language, working in tandem to drive the business forward. 

This approach is central to the true spirit of a DevOps culture, helping to remove inefficiencies in development processes, strengthen the likelihood that updates will be a success, and mitigate the possibility of developers having to go back and rectify errors instead of pushing on with innovation projects.

Putting the customer at the heart of innovation

The need for speed is more important than ever for companies looking to keep up with mounting customer demand for new and improved digital experiences. 

Having processes in place to deal with this is crucial when trying to achieve rapid innovation without compromising the user experience. IT teams must, therefore, combine the agile infrastructure provided by hybrid, multi-cloud environments, with the collaborative culture championed by DevOps.

This enables organisations to drive innovation in a dynamic environment, both technically and operationally, mitigating any risk that rapid innovation can have on the user experience. Ultimately, that provides them with the confidence to run as quickly as the business and its customers demand, without living in constant fear of any unforeseen consequences.

Article by Dynatrace CTO Rafi Katanasho