The power of product and software development
By Edward Ngubane, DVT, head of business analysis, business enablement division
If the global pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we are living in the age of experience. Customer experience.
When a business sets out to develop a software product – be it a web application, phone app or online portal, for example, it has to keep three things in mind:
- The product must meet customer needs (solve the customer's problem);
- It must be viable from a business perspective (generate revenue); and
- It must be technically feasible (within the infrastructure and technical capacity and capabilities of the business).
It is also important that technology serves the business, and not the other way round. Too often we find software (and IT departments) dictating the direction of the business. However, in practice there should be an equitable balance between the two, because technology has spearheaded significant growth of most businesses.
Over the past five to 10 years, we have increasingly seen software development advances helping create and shape whole new business models. Banking apps are a perfect example of this. While still in their infancy, banking apps (which were preceded by cellphone banking on USSD platforms) were not considered a key service delivery mechanism by many banks. Today, they’re front and centre as the most important banking service channel with banks competing for the title of “best digital bank”. And today it’s not just banks: there’s an app for almost every business in every industry, unlocking new revenue streams that never existed before.
Herein lies the power of product and software development. Now, with COVID-19 constraints as well as the shift to WFH, new software tools for collaboration are proliferating faster than ever. This is the perfect example of opportunistic product development, which showcases innovative usage of technology. Entertainment companies have created entire self-service portals for their customers, who have grown tired and frustrated by holding on for too long to speak to call centre agents, only to be bumped from one person to another. Today a customer can log onto an app and solve almost any account or connection-related issue with little to no call centre intervention. We are also seeing new use cases of software development such as software robots for automating the resolution of simple customer queries (popularly known as robotic process automation – RPA).
Technology advances have also helped businesses better understand what their customers want. As customers, all that data we freely (and not so freely) give our service providers through interactions with online portals and apps is being put to use to better assess how we use their services – and create new and better products and services to meet our needs. Since we are closer than ever to our service providers, we are also closer to the software developers that create the products we use to get the service we want.
There is a type of symbiosis that has evolved between businesses, developers and customers that has grown out of both innovation and natural technology advances, and the sudden explosion in demand for online and app-based services in the ‘new normal’. Businesses are having to rapidly scale up their digital transformation – especially those businesses that were slow on the uptake – because customers have so many similar service offerings to choose from.
What sells them is no longer the product or service itself, but the experience of the service and service provider. Most banks, for example, sell similar products – home loans, deposit accounts and so on. Customers are increasingly choosing the banks that ‘speak’ to them, that cater to their needs, that make it easy, safe and secure for them to transact, and not necessarily the products themselves. The capability for these businesses to speak to their customers has been made possible by advances in technology, in general – and software development, in particular.
In the age of experience, technology that was already being adopted by frontrunners – cloud, web applications, self-service portals – has brought businesses and customers closer than ever before. Going forward, the victors will be those businesses that learn how to best harness the power of product and software development to deliver the best possible experience for their customers.
Lastly, in software development, it is critical for product owners (who are or should be at the forefront of product development from a business perspective) to fully understand the evolution of technology, not at a technical layer but at a business layer. They need to understand how their businesses can fully exploit the capabilities both in-house and off-the-shelf software provides. Especially in today’s business environment, faced with lockdowns and restricted movements, product owners need to know how to ensure their services and products still reach most of their customers.
Product ownership is not only about meeting with scrum teams and helping them prioritise backlogged items during refinement sessions, but also about identifying untapped growth opportunities for business and exploring them. Current ingredients in the business recipe for success: A product mindset, organisational adoption of agile methodologies that support a product approach, and an awareness of the opportunities created by rapid technology advances that allow for experimentation, innovation and shortened time to market.