The Age Of The Customer Will Reshape Your App Dev & Delivery Landscape

As outlined in Technology Management In The Age Of The Customer, the age of the customer will fundamentally change how app-dev groups operate and interact with business leaders. This post is intended to open a discussion around the likely changes that the age of the customer will bring in the next few to several years — a reasonable planning window. I’ve seen a fair amount of change in this industry. As background, my tenure in the IT industry dates back to 1982, when at the tender age of 25, I left the Cambridge Institue for Computer Programming with a full head of hair and a fire in my belly to do great (programming) things. My first job as a batch programmer for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health lasted long enough to land my next job at Boston University, where I wrote batch and online Natural/Adabas code for a few years. In 1985, I joined Cullinet Software in Westwood, Mass. to develop commercial ERP applications in ADSO/IDMS (before the “ERP” acronym even existed). Online, fully integrated manufacturing, HR, and financial apps based on a network DBMS — it was cutting-edge technology at the time, as were the IBM PCs that began gracing our desktops circa 1987. Ironically, today my iPhone has more power than these early XT machines.

I left Cullinet just as CA bought it in 1989 for what was my biggest professional challenge to date: Building an IT department for Arbella Mutual Insurance from the skeleton of a Kemper Insurance branch office in Quincy, Mass. Starting with no staff, hardware, or applications, the things I learned as we built the IT department were as numerous as the hours we all put in to make it happen. In April 1992, my wife, son, and I relocated to Florida, where I took a developer position at the National Council on Compensation Insurance. My team built a commercial software package using MicroFocus COBOL to distribute to insurers to run at their sites. The same codebase ran on mainframes, PCs, and Unix machines — pretty progressive at the time. As the Internet trudged from infancy toward toddlerhood, I helped NCCI launch the first Internet-based information service for the worker’s compensation industry; cutting edge then, albeit pretty ho-hum today. In the mid-1990s, I took directorship of NCCI’s Y2K program, assembling offshore/off-hours remediation in India to complement onshore/in-house testing — progressive sourcing techniques for 1995-96.

In November of 1997, with the Y2K program well in hand for NCCI, I joined Giga Information Group as an industry analyst, researching and writing best practices to help firms remediate their Y2K issues. eBusiness was firing up just as Y2K wound down, and I spent the next few years as the managing director of a research team documenting eBusiness best practices. Forrester Research acquired Giga in 2003, and the last decade seems like a blur: the eBiz boom went bust, followed by the subprime mortgage and other financial crises, followed by übertrends like social media, smartphones, tablets, and wearables — the business, cultural, and technical changes go on and on.

Fast-forward 31 years from 1982, my full head of hair is long gone and I’ve got a lot more belly to have fire in. Why the trip down memory lane? First, to establish a modicum of street cred — I’ve seen some changes in this industry, and I want that cred to give weight to this next statement: The changes that I’ve seen over the past 30 years will pale in comparison to the collective changes that the age of the customer will bring in the next several years. Forrester defines the pillars of the age of the customer as including mobile, customer experience, digital disruption, and insights from big data.

Allow me to seed this discussion with some likely changes in the hopes of generating an extended dia(b)log on the impact of the age of the customer on app-dev groups:

  1. However tight your IT budgets have been, things will get worse, except for funding for mobile and social systems of engagement.
    • Why? Firms that can’t develop mobile apps are at a huge competitive disadvantage; once they exhaust the new money, they’re coming for the rest of it.
  2. Systems of engagement will wreak havoc on systems of record norms.
    • Why? Mobile apps need access to the information in systems of record, but those systems are monolithic — cadence conflict!
  3. Application rationalization will move from “Gee, we should think about that” to “We won’t survive unless we do.”
    • Why? Portfolio complexity kills the desired systems of engagement change cadence; portfolio cost can no longer be tolerated.
  4. Beyond mobile, getting cloud and integration right are your next threats and opportunities.
    • Why? Systems of engagement scale via cloud; this will force the need for low-latency integration with systems of record.
  5. Legacy on-premises packaged applications will become extinct.
    • Why? A new class of cloud-only vendors will create business-in-a-box suites of applications that fulfill most commodity business needs, on a pay-as-you-go basis.
  6. Mature firms are under threat from . . . everywhere!
    • Why? #5 enables “frictionless enterprises” to spring up with very low barriers to entry. They can focus solely on apps that differentiate — can you?

In my opinion, the impact of these and related changes on how app-dev groups organize, tool, operate, source, and work with their marketing and product organizations will be nothing short of earth-shaking.

What do you think? What’s certain? What’s likely? What’s nonsense? What’s missing?


Sobering but inspiring

Great post and powerful insights Phil.

On one hand its sobering that the next few years are going to reflect even greater technology change than the staggering changes that the past three decades have delivered. On the other hand, this is inspiring - for those organizations, and individuals, who get out in front of these changes the opportunities will be significant.

This does seem to build on the case you made back in early 2012 with the 'Software, Software Everywhere' note which still seems spot on. Systems of engagement certainly are driving considerable digital disruption.


Reply to sobering but inspiring

Thanks Bob - so what's missing from the outline? I think the packaged-app prediction is certain but has long-tails on it - will be looking into that as a gold-mine oppty for Cloud-only vendors.

Introducing the other voice in the conversation: the customer's

Phil, this is a really great start to the conversation, thanks for sharing it. I think one overarching theme that I would layer onto this take is that for most of the software industry's history, the end consumer's voice has been virtually non-existent. In Enterprise situations, the mandate is often "build tools that the company needs the employees to use". In many consumer situations, the direction has often been "we have a set of specs and personas, go build against those assumptions". In general, the skill sets and behaviors that have grown up around these practices has essentially ignored the people using software. As we move to a more mobile environment, with systems of engagement that actually invite the end consumer into the process, there will be a meaningful rethink of this assumption. In many cases, the process of software development has to be rebooted, just to try and take the customer into account on an ongoing basis. I think that this aspect, perhaps more than any other, will reshape and accelerate the development process for all companies utilizing software. I think this further underlines your point: the landscape is shifting quickly and laggards will find themselves losing faster than ever before.

Introducing the other voice in the conversation: the customer's

Thanks Robi. I think it is fair to say that the customer was once the center of the App Dev universe - but we got well away from that.

My argument? I can remember immersing myself in the (internal) customer's workplace (Now referred to as Gemba in Lean circles) back in the 1980s - to watch and learn how they worked so that I could craft software to fit.

My concession to your point? That process rarely if ever extended to external customers - so the feedback loops in new systems-of engagement that guide marketing efforts and the SDLC are new.

We're firing up an entire Playbook aimed at the CUMULATIVE impacts from these 4 trends - it promises to be really interesting work.

Thanks for helping to propel the discussion forward.

Phil, definitely a fair point

Phil, definitely a fair point - when the customers of the software were in the single digits inside of a company, that back and forth was a necessary requirement. We could do well by trying to figure out how to use software to recreate that kind of access and interaction I believe.

I am very interested in hearing more about the Playbook. Happy to help in any way possible here - this is a super interesting and relevant topic here. Just ping me via email if you'd like.