Gartner’s May 2017 report, “Preparing for a World Beyond Mobile Apps,” anticipates a post-app environment in which consumers have a wide variety of interfaces to choose from—including wearables, bots, ambient voice interfaces, IoT devices and AR/VR—that not only lend themselves to more immersive and seamless digital experiences, but also upend how businesses need to think about developing and delivering experiences. The post-app world, which we’ve begun to see accelerating in 2018, requires a major shift toward a rapid development framework at a time when agile methodologies are becoming overly costly and time-consuming.
Examples of the types of experiences requiring rapid development often surface in highly competitive areas such as retail. Examples include a luxury car dealer greeting customers with a large wall display with depth-sensing 3D camera, gesture-based interface and face recognition. As the customer gestures around the screen, an application recognizes his face, alerts the service manager that he’s there to pick up a car from repair, and harnesses his sales history and its loyalty program to make a special offer if appropriate.
Then there are highly scalable opportunities to offer better capabilities while lowering costs such as chatbot technologies for interactions with vendors and suppliers and numerous HR functions. Retailers such as Gap, Target and Ralph Lauren have started incorporating digital augmented reality, interactive mirrors, beacons and other advanced interactive interfaces to enhance the physical shopping experience.
Immersive experiences and physical/digital blending calls for a rapid development framework in which developer resources are utilized on infrastructure but not wasted building custom features that can be easily integrated via pre-built modules. This frees developer resources and allows lines of business to have more influence on the resulting experience.
Rapid development also demands a unique mix of emerging strategies, tools and technologies to achieve the best immersive user experience fast:
To paraphrase Steve Jobs, design thinking is not about how a device, software product or business process appears, but how it works. It requires thoroughly understanding and empathizing with the user’s needs and continually coming up creative ways to meet them, so the interaction is not only immersive but effortless. Design thinking must involve the user—whether customer or business—and must be a process of continuous exploration, prototyping, feedback, evaluation and optimization. Even then, innovation continues as needs change and evolve.
The ultimate goal of leading with design is to keep the focus on ensuring a superior user experience.
Microservice architectures allow teams to continually optimize individual components of a larger application without affecting others, thanks to loose coupling, REST and real-time APIs. Scores of application components may exist on-premises or in the cloud and can interact and pass data back and forth easily but each is limited to one or a few functions. Since changes and optimizations in one component don’t necessitate significant changes in the others, teams can optimize each function continually without having to re-engineer an entire application infrastructure. These components can also be shared with other applications if necessary.
Agile engineering is one component of rapid development, rather than the primary focus, and the goal should be improving the connection between the rapid process of design thinking and quickly evolving microservices and the challenges of software engineering. Even in an agile process the DevOps cadence required to deliver robust and secure software requires multiple sprints of two to four weeks in length. In successful projects, the majority of the layout and workflow falls onto the rapid development side. Then, the investment in additional time and resources is only required for the remaining elements that need an additional level of control and engineering rigor. Agile engineering is the perfect partner for design thinking as it is designed around the ability to accept well specified requests into backlog and turn them around with high quality in the minimum number of cycles.
The Way Forward
Rapid development tools enable quick prototyping, deployment and easy continuous integration with existing systems. Intuitive editors and extensive libraries of application components and immersive interfaces such as VR, AR, personal assistants and IoT components enable developers, business users and designers to pull together prototypes of post-mobile components in hours or days. This allows quick feedback and evaluation at very low cost.
Developers can then extend and customize the prototypes further via scripting so they become the actual production system. The best come tools with an ample supply of connectors and APIs to link with existing systems and run natively on many different mobile platforms, devices and displays. The right tools can accelerate innovation and cut costs dramatically.
Radical digital transformation has arrived and organizations will have to adopt post-mobile technologies to compete. The right mix of tools and strategies will be key to redefining the enterprise development process from application-based to immersive-experience-based regardless of device, operating system or infrastructure.