Consumers have long expected to be able to engage with service providers – whether that’s banks, retailers, doctors, or local councils – through digital channels. However, the outbreak of COVID-19 accelerated this demand to a completely new level.
Paul Crerand is the Field CTO, EMEA at MuleSoft.
Research from KPMG found that before the pandemic, 40 percent of customers visited physical stores or branches to engage with organizations. When global lockdowns forced many stores and branches to close and consumers were encouraged to stay at home, that figure was projected to have fallen to 26 percent – even after restrictions were lifted. As such, the drive to create better online, in-app, and other digital experiences has become a key focus for organizations across all industries, as they seek new ways to engage with customers and drive revenues.
Inhibited by integration
The pressure on IT to deliver these digital experiences is therefore mounting. However, demands from the business and customer expectations are surging at a faster rate than IT management teams can keep up with. MuleSoft’s Connectivity Benchmark Report 2020 found that the average number of projects that IT teams are being asked to deliver had increased by 40 percent year-on-year. This pressure is further compounded by age-old integration challenges, which leave data locked in silos across the organization, in turn hampering IT’s ability to deliver digital transformation projects quickly.
The Connectivity Benchmark report found that 89 percent of IT leaders reported data silos were hindering their digital transformation initiatives, and 85 percent cited integration challenges as a barrier. These problems existed long before the COVID-19 outbreak, but with the subsequent disruption and demand for digital experiences, IT teams are in an uphill battle to find a way to deliver their projects faster. If organizations want to succeed in providing the best digital experiences for their customers, they need a strategy that eases the bottleneck around IT and frees up more of their time for innovation. Integration must be at the forefront of those efforts.
Accelerating innovation with reusability
One of the most effective ways of achieving this is through an API-led approach, where APIs are used to connect organizations’ applications and data sources, rather than tightly coupled point-to-point integrations. In this model, the connections between applications and data sources are re-imagined as a network of existing capabilities and assets, which are exposed in a consumable and reusable way. IT teams are therefore able to reuse these capabilities to build new products and services, without starting from scratch every time. This frees up time for IT teams, allowing them to build new products and services faster and focus on delivering the digital experiences that customers and the business are looking for.
One example of this in practice is Generali UK, the insurance company. Generali used API integration to ensure that its teams never need to start from scratch unnecessarily when building new services and applications. Instead, they can build dozens of new applications using the same functionality and data sources. With this approach, Generali UK was able to speed up innovation, reducing its digital transformation timeframes significantly.
Integration: a business-wide problem to solve
This API-led approach also enables organizations to work towards solving integration challenges beyond the four walls of IT, across the wider business. This can provide a major boost to innovation, given the widespread call for integration from other groups across the organization, such as business analysts, data scientists, and customer support teams. By exposing data, capabilities, and resources in a reusable, consumable way via APIs, organizations can empower these non-IT teams to democratize capabilities and deliver digital projects for themselves. They are thereby able to build upon existing capabilities to innovate in their own way, without needing to write a single line of code.
In this way, innovation can be democratized across the wider organization, easing the bottleneck around the IT department and offering teams greater autonomy in the way they deliver new digital experiences to their customers. For instance, retailer Ashley Stewart took this approach to empower employees across its business with integration and API-led connectivity skills, creating an Integration Trailblazers team. By improving the wider business’ knowledge and understanding of APIs and integration, Ashley Stewart was able to create new connected customer experiences and deliver digital transformation projects 2-3 times faster than before. Integrate to Innovate
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact customer and industry expectations, organizations need to be able to keep pace with the growing demand for seamless digital experiences. Instead of simply continuing to pile expectations and pressure onto IT teams, organizations should work to free up more of their time by extending the responsibility for innovation to every team. Using an API integration approach to drive reuse and enable innovation everywhere will be key in allowing organizations to quickly deliver the value-driven, digital experiences that customers will continue to crave in the aftermath of COVID-19 and beyond.
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