Tag: Unified Communications

The role of Agile, iPaaS and the Integrations Specialist in Digital Transformation Strategy for 2022!

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Every Business management team will have their own slimline view of transformation which usually involves several siloed projects, using technology that solves a problem for one area of the business at a time based on revenue or operational cost gains.

Digital Transformation is not a onetime only play, it should be constantly evolving, fed by a wide strategy team of stakeholders across the business who constantly assess design and implementation aspects of each part of your transformative processes. 

When you begin to design your ideal Digital Transformation Strategy, it must be based around Agile Methodologies, if you have no Agile Product / Development / Architects, then you will find that your long-term vision stays just that… long term.

The Digital world moves so fast now and if you aren’t agile enough to maintain competitive advantage or respond to fast changing market conditions then you will find your business falling behind very quickly.

Traditional development styles rely heavily on framework product management processes to be able to get things done. This means your delivering new features and functionality in an ordered and structured way, not based on sales opportunity or potential pipeline but in the order that makes it easy to deliver key components and hit timelines.

Therefore, Agile thinking is a must for your business if you’re serious about Transformation, this way of thinking can significantly impact your existing software, your roadmap and your customer journey giving you increased data and understanding of your customers and leading to increased revenues per customer and more control over the customer lifecycle.

Once you start thinking in an Agile manner, you can begin to change the way your business looks at development too. 

It’s no longer necessary to “build it and they will come”, utilising teams of coders to develop new and exciting modules and features to an existing platform.

The world is a much different place from a decade ago where everyone wanted to develop, own, and maintain their SaaS applications internally.

Agile methodologies have brought with them a mindset change in the way Product Managers, Solution Architects and Designers see the SaaS world and the rise of the iPaaS vendors, (Integration platform as a Service) API integration and Connector Systems and Cloud Integration platforms give these solution designers the ability to utilise third party API integrations into their overall build plan to allow them to triple output from dev teams, achieve all the key features and functionality whilst not having the increased costs of maintaining and supporting every feature or service in the product architecture.

Sys Dev Managers are happy as they can achieve more with less resource, Product Managers are happy as they can make their roadmap a reality much quicker, and Sales are happiest of all as they can leverage that new product, service, or feature whilst its competitive to do so and they make the most revenue. However, understanding how your product stack can benefit from multiple integrations into third party SaaS offerings requires an experienced hand.

Over the last 5 years we have started to see a new role created within product and technical teams this is the role of the Integrations Specialist.

Its well known that API integration is a very important part of helping organisations who manage multiple cloud-based apps and services become more flexible. APIs simplify the design process from a product design and development perspective, and they offer more opportunities for innovation.

APIs allow your products or services to communicate with each other without the need for development or engineering to know how they are implemented.  They speed up the development process because the developer has a base from which to build his own code out from, enabling the coder to complete repetitive highly complex processes with very little work.  This is especially true for streamlining internal functions within your business infrastructure, connecting billing to CRM for instance… this saves you time and money and allows development to focus on oversight rather than on daily operations.

As more and more SaaS companies utilise APIs in their existing architecture, so more APIs are being developed.  There is now an API integration for pretty much any problem that exists in the technology ecosystem.

This is where the Integrations Manager role comes in – this could be a person, or it could be your digital transformation partner who picks up this role and works with you to achieve your transformation strategy.

The first part of the role of the Integrations Specialist / Manager is to help the business / the customer achieve seamless connectivity across their business to automate as much of the internal business processes as possible whilst increasing the quality and sources of data available between the applications and systems.

Whilst traditionally integrations are about connecting machines to a network etc.. in the digital transformation strategy, we are focusing on API Integrations which allow us to interface with multiple applications.

The second part of the role of the Integrations Specialist is to facilitate the link between automation of internal systems and the end Customer Journey. Using Integrations to improve the functionality of the end user which in turn will help facilitate better data, help understand the motivations to purchase, increase basket spend, reduce churn, increase loyalty, and add vast knowledge to the business in terms of future proofing and roadmap items.

Without both parts 1 and 2, your digital transformation strategy can never reach a point of saturation.  Saturation in this case meaning that your whole business has adopted new internal processes, has a developed and clear customer journey in place, has access to advanced customer data and is using these to further develop your cloud based product stack into an interoperable, low cost, easy to setup and manage, minimum support, feature rich, highly functional SaaS experience.

The Integrations Specialist will work with the Product and Development teams to constantly evolve the product set.  The Product Manager will have set the strategy with senior stakeholders for how he wants his specialist products to grow over the coming year and the dev and integrations guys will be part of the team tasked with achieving this strategy.

During the initial business scenarios session, they will look at the best way to deliver the work, first asking the question “do we want to build this ourselves?” “What reasons would we have to own this over simply using an integration service?” etc.. this is where the Integrations Specialist would come in, they would be tasked with finding the right solution to achieve the goal of that piece of functionality or feature set. 

Of course, at this point there would be other considerations, “can we monetise the integration and charge the customer?” “What does the support of this integration look like?” and “what is the knock-on effect for the other relevant teams in the business?”

Its not guaranteed you will use API integrations every time… in fact in my experience its better to own the core platform you’re building on and bolt 3rd party integrations into it as you develop your roadmap where it’s just simply not cost or time effective to have your own development team building it.  

This allows you to keep your product set functionally rich whilst increasing the sales revenue opportunities in line or ahead of your competition. 

Whatever your team decide to do, the integrations specialist will be thinking not only about the quality of the integration partner but also the commercial aspects of the planned integration, the support for it and how these fit into the overall end Customer Journey.

Now let’s look at the role iPaaS can play in completing the Digital Transformation Journey. 

The Wikipedia answer to what is iPaaS….

“Integration Platform as a Service (iPaaS) is a suite of cloud services enabling development, execution and governance of integration flows connecting any combination of on premises and cloud-based processes, services, applications and data within individual or across multiple organizations.”

You may have heard the term “middleware” mentioned in your business or across the digital transformation ecosphere.  In its rawest form, an iPaaS partner provisions integration tools and middleware that help developers to build, test and run software in the cloud which they may also host for you too.

For instance, in this example the business has a complex software product to build utilising multiple third-party vendors technology and requiring data integration into their existing CRM and Analytics partner.  One size doesn’t fit all in several areas of this build, so a middleware layer is required to manage the logic required to deliver the individual solutions to the end customers. Integration into the analytics partner needs to be in a particular programming language and their needs to be a suite of custom connectors to allow the end customer to pick the connector that works for them within their organisation.

Further to this, the solution needs to handle multiple concurrent loads and real time processing of data, whilst monitoring for failures, fall over and latency.

Finally, it requires levels of security for data control, two factor authentication or single sign on and data encryption functionality.

An iPaaS platform would allow us to connect our third-party software regardless of if its on premise or in cloud systems or solutions. Its fully configurable so you can build the integrations you need into the iPaaS platform extremely easily.  You can begin to decentralise data across all apps, data management patterns, user profiles, data environments and third-party systems you’re integrating with by configuring the iPaaS middleware to automate data streams intelligently.  Whilst supporting all user profiles, system dev teams, third party IT teams and business analysts.

We would use it to simplify the technology stack we are working with, legacy, inhouse, third party operated, managed third party etc.. and connect all applications under a framework on our new virtual iPaaS platform.

It becomes simpler to manage security because you can place security responsibilities on the third-party vendors or technology owners and provide built in monitoring and threat detection tools.

Whilst opening access to ecosystems of application development, deployment and management tools that can all easily integrate via this integration platform. 2

Finally, and most crucially, because the Integrations are managed via the platform it saves your product team time, money, and resource in many of the traditional productization build, data control and documentation processes too.

The Agile Product Owner working alongside an integrations specialist can achieve faster development with instant and quantifiable results by utilising the power of the iPaaS platform in builds that require many different stakeholders and many disparate product involvements.

Futureproofing using an iPaaS platform will increase the speed at which you can fulfil your go to market strategy as you will be able to create logic to integrate new / existing / third-party / in house developed Service APIs to your your existing infrastructure.

Here is some typical product scenarios for utilising an iPaaS system;

  • Application-to-Application integration
  • Big Data Integration
  • Microservices integration
  • B2B integration
  • Data integration
  • IoT device integration
  • Cloud integrations
  • Event Stream Data Throughput Integrations

As the growth of API integrations takes on more and more importance for your business, maybe its time you embraced an Agile Product Strategy and created the integrations specialist role in your product organisation to help you streamline your development process, save time, money and resource whilst improving delivery timelines and future proofing your roadmap.

If you have a large product portfolio and want to create an integrated technical stack which allows you to bring multiple products and services together under one platform to enable you to get three times more out of that product set, then an iPaaS platform is something you should be looking at making your first purchase of 2022!

Utilising Chatbots in your UC Strategy

Chatbots have grown from being predominantly text-based interfaces to very personable interactive assistants in recent years. As a society we have grown used to utilising a chat bot over say, being in a queue on the phone or making a call / email enquiry to a business.

Chatbots are software applications that use Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Natural Language Processing (NLP) to manage a humans communication expectations, providing the relevant information to bring the human to their desired outcome in a quick and fully automated way like a virtual assistant if you will.

A chatbot’s value lies in its ability to handle high volumes of repetitive tasks, freeing up more experienced agents to handle complex queries and sensitive issues that require human interaction. In the Contact Centre world for instance the chatbot can provide a layer of scrutiny and evaluate a customer query and possibly resolve it before it ever hits the agent saving time and resource and ultimately increasing customer satisfaction.

The key driver for chatbot integration should be clearly identified before you begin your Chatbot journey, for instance within a Contact Centre environment the key driver would surely be to automate and scale consumer interactions whilst reducing first call resolution times, without hiring hundreds of contact centre staff.

A chatbot should provide several answers to key touchpoints on the Customer Journey and;

  1. Enable the conversant to find simple answers to questions via pre-formatted responses
  2. Utilise integrations to enable Omni-Channel connectivity and multiple ways of solving a customer problem
  3. Take payments
  4. Trigger content to enhance the customer experience
  5. Provide a clear audit trail of the conversations and interactions that take place
  6. Use existing conversation data where available to understand the type of questions people ask.
  7. Use NLP & Machine Learning to better understand context and provide better more complex answers in the future

The design and build process for a typical chatbot can be split into six key areas ;

Define – What will your chatbot do? What problems will it solve?

Flow Design – What interactions will your chatbot facilitate? What integrations will it require? What information will it need access to?

Design – Integrations (third party or otherwise) – depending on the flow and requirements of the bot, you will need to integrate third party options like payments, appointment services, CRM etc…

Design – Conversation and aesthetics – what tone will the chatbot take? What basic greetings? How will it balance between text and rich media when responding to a query?

Prototype – Build a prototype and test your conversational skills

Data Integration – Your Chatbot needs feeding to enable any machine learning functions to begin to understand more about the response classifications and word intent etc.. think of this as “training” for your chatbot.

UAT – User testing obviously… ask questions in ways that you wouldn’t normally expect and test your bot responses.

Implement – Create a full implementation plan that includes APIs, back end, connecting systems and database integration.

Whatever your reasons for employing chatbot technology in your customer flow, make sure that the flows you build enable the bot to talk to your other internal systems. To get the most out of the technology you need to make sure it fits into your multi channel communication strategy.

One bot to rule them all.. so to speak..

Final Thought…

Automated, efficient, integrated Chatbots make sticky appendages to your marketing & communications strategy not only to keep users engaged but to solve problems and allow customers to get answers and resolve issues quicker.

However people won’t stay “sticky” because they love interacting with your bot, it will be because the bot has saved them time spent talking to people. The nirvana of a bot experience is to save customer time and increase efficiencies both in dealing with your end customer issues and internally within your business in reducing talk time, agent times dealing with customers and automating tasks that would otherwise cost you time and money to employ a human whilst acting as an enabler for your other marketing and communication channels.

If you would like advice on your chat bot strategy, or help in understanding what bots can do for your business, then give me a call.