Business agility is often touted as one of the main drivers of digital transformation — and the importance of both has been underlined by the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns. But, as someone responsible for the Customer Experience (CX) within your company, what does business agility mean for you? And how can you go about delivering on your agile ambitions?

2020 has seen unprecedented volatility across almost every industry sector. Many businesses — particularly those in the non-essential retail, travel and hospitality industries — largely shut down at the start of the lockdown and are only beginning to re-open on a limited basis. We’ve seen automotive manufacturers shifting gears completely to produce Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Retailers have seen unprecedented demand for online services — and have struggled to keep pace with demand for produce in their brick and mortar stores. And in financial services, the normal face-to-face interactions between customers and brokers and branches have been effectively banned.

A Symbiotic Relationship

This urgent need to respond quickly to this volatility has only underlined the need for agility; which in turn is one of the key drivers for digital transformation. As EY noted in its recent report on digital transformation,

“What comes across loud and clear is a symbiotic relationship among digital business models, customer experience, and efficiency and agility gains.”

The lockdown and the massive move of customers online has pushed the accelerator pedal on companies’ digital ambitions to the floor.

But digital transformation does not necessarily deliver agility. If you take an inefficient off-line process and simply move it onto a digital channel, this does not increase agility — it merely migrates a cumbersome process from one platform to another. So, what does agility actually mean?

Well, it means many things to many people: typing “business agility” into your search engine will generate almost 80 million results. Wikipedia describes it as:

“The ability of an organization to rapidly adapt to market and environmental changes in productive and cost-effective ways” and goes on to say that “an extension of this concept is the agile enterprise”.

Agility and the Customer Experience

In a CX context — and particularly in the strange circumstances in which we all find ourselves — agility translates into the ability to use digital channels to serve existing customers effectively and continue acquiring new customers — all without relying on physical offices that are no longer open or call centers  that are understaffed and overworked. This sounds straightforward in theory, right? But, how do you go about delivering that?

Well, traditional ‘waterfall’ models of digital development — in which large teams worked diligently for months on a monolithic application then threw it over the fence to the relevant business unit in the hope that it might work — simply don’t cut it. Even so-called 'agile’ methodologies can’t meet the accelerated deployment schedules that businesses now demand: month-long coding sprints can’t serve up the necessary functionality to the tight deadlines required. (So, the clue isn’t in the name!)

However, according to John Rymer, VP and principal analyst at industry analyst Forrester, companies that had already leveraged low-code platforms like OutSystems were able to respond faster when their business was required to pivot during the lockdown. In fact, half of developers had already adopted or planned to adopt a low-code platform as part of their workflow, according to a Forrester study.

OutSystems – Doing Things Differently

What’s OutSystems secret sauce? Firstly, OutSystems allows you to create applications using a visual 'drag-and-drop’ approach and has many pre-built components that cover 60-80% of common application development needs. It also automates connections to back-end services, such as data structures and storage, freeing up developers to do more productive work. So, building an enterprise-grade application can be done in a couple of weeks – not several months.

One of the hallmarks of agility is the ability to serve customers where they are, rather than dragging them to a channel of your choosing. For example, an online food delivery service may offer a dozen different ways of taking an order – web, app, smart speaker, call centre, etc. However, most of the processes and core experience are, or should be, the same for each channel – choosing a base and a topping for your pizza, inputting address details, making a payment and so on. With OutSystems, you create these core experience components once, using a single platform and technology, and deploy them across whichever channel or application requires it. You create what we call an “Experience System”, a set of core digital experience components that can be reused on any digital touchpoint or application, massively accelerating time-to-market for new services - and, no less important, ensuring the consistency of customers’ experience.

Situations like the one we live in today carry an extreme urgency: as Rymer puts it

"Companies needed applications they didn’t have for use cases that hadn’t been thought of before – and needed them quickly."  

You will inevitably find that there are places in customers’ journey where the going gets too tough and many simply drop off – and no business can afford to disappoint their existing or prospective customers. Or perhaps you have identified additional functionality that will enhance the experience or remove friction from the journey. With OutSystems, these fixes can be created once and deployed wherever they are needed. So, the revised code that was written for the website chatbot can be added to the IVR system of your call centre or used with a voice assistant.

And, of course, the process of enhancing a customer-facing application never ends: OutSystems allows you to easily make those enhancements in a rapid series of small iterative steps that quickly add up to a complete overhaul. And, as our customers tell us, writing to a user to say, “thanks very much for your feedback: this has now been implemented” – and to be able to do that one day after they made the suggestion – is so powerful. Now, that really is agility.

Adapt or Perish

The pandemic and the lockdown are creating a set of circumstances where an inability to adapt becomes an existential threat. Those with the necessary agility are counted among the winners – and they are swallowing their competition.

We are seeing many acquisitions in for, example, retail and food manufacturing; and whilst M&A activity in the financial services sector has ground to a halt, it is expected to resume with a vengeance once the economy stabilises - “once things reset it will probably bounce back and accelerate much faster than it did after the financial crisis.” (Source.)

Post-pandemic, being customer-centric is all there is. Have you removed silos in the way you serve your customers, applying channel-less thinking so you show up where they need you to be? Have you minimised friction from your digital processes? Are you there to help them when they run into problems? If not, then you may find yourself among those that are vulnerable in the months and years to come.

Survival is dependent upon how well you serve your customers and adapt to their changing needs – and OutSystems may have a critical role to play in you becoming the agile digital enterprise you need to do just that.