Are your applications dated and disjointed?

Are your legacy applications powerful and rich with functionality, but looking dated and disparate? Do they compete for real estate on your users’ screens, as they switch between multiple products to complete tasks? Do users get lost between the applications risking the likelihood of mistakes, while they complain that everything’s so much easier on their mobile phones?

Every day, more organisations recognise that forcing users to navigate a multitude of disjointed applications and re-key information between them is having a direct impact on their operational costs and the quality of service they provide. Likewise, customers are forced to suffer long hold times and make repeat calls when they simply wanted to update an address, or get a wealth manager to make a portfolio change and assess the impact.

Managing, maintaining and monitoring vast numbers of applications – some of which are decades old or written in now-defunct programming languages – is a mammoth task and expensive to sustain – not to mention the increase in training costs and desktop complexity. In an attempt to regain control and improve user experiences, organisations are embarking on application consolidation projects or commission multi-app dashboards.

In an attempt to improve the experience for users, big organisations have invested millions of dollars on large-scale application consolidation projects to re-write their legacy customer-facing systems from scratch. These initiatives have largely been successful, but have required significant investment and tend to mean pausing innovation. This is often not the best approach.

An alternative approach is to use an off-the-shelf enterprise interoperability platform to integrate old and new applications on the desktop to provide a more joined-up user experience. Leveraging a pre-packaged platform to provide the core interop functionality allows your tech teams to focus on connecting your data and applications, benefiting from features and expertise that have been developed and honed with similar businesses. This approach also allows you to decommission legacy applications written in legacy technologies on a step by step basis over time.

Whichever technical solution an organisation chooses, there are still a number of challenges that must be faced. These are some of the key questions that we feel organisations should consider when embarking on an enterprise interoperability initiative:

Do we really know what our users need?

IT-driven initiatives often focus on solving the meaty, thorny technical problems. Although there is merit in proving out the technology for legacy complex programs, it often means losing sight of the most important use cases that can bring tangible value.

We often see time has not been taken to understand core user workflows and the information and functionality users need to complete their tasks efficiently and happily. It doesn’t matter how feature-rich your interop platform is, failing to invest in the user experience means failing to address user needs. This causes barriers to adoption, impacts user efficiency, and increases the development costs associated with rework and short-term fixes.

Do we have sponsorship in the firm at the right level?

Without a decisive and visionary sponsor who has both remit and authority, momentum soon stalls and time is consumed with circular discussions around minor issues. A project like this may be the first time that different development teams are asked to collaborate, but those involved likely extend wider than your application developers.

For a successful interop initiative, a senior leader must also take charge of multiple business areas, to effectively collaborate and factor resources and budgets into their planning cycle.

Do we have a governance model to ensure that users are well represented inside our firm?

Lack of leadership across individual development teams can mean duplicated development efforts, repeat components (for example, each application maintaining a separate search function) and time being wasted arguing over details. Additionally, when teams work in silos, knowledge is rarely shared.

Without strong management and a cross-project governance framework or implementation methodology it’s hard to ensure the innovations you make for one application are leveraged by other development teams responsible for the other apps that users need to use to get their jobs done.

Do we need a central UX team to ensure success?

Researching the user journeys required to achieve business goals is essential. Managing UX centrally – with a design system, component and pattern libraries, and accountability for modifications and approvals – removes individual opinion and bias from design decisions and ensures a scalable and consistent experience across all applications.

Usually, user research is confined to a discovery phase (if conducted at all) and not embedded as part of the initiative. We often see projects where IT are reluctant to engage with users, as they are fearful of scope-creep or backlash from disgruntled voices. The features or applications prioritised are driven by technical requirements and the solution drifts from what users actually require.

An obvious symptom of this is users not engaging with the new platform. Additionally, it’s common to see product teams kept at arm’s length from users, with research and feedback not relayed. This results in teams being disillusioned and detached which will also delay adoption.

Choosing a technology is just the beginning

Choosing a full-service interop platform that has been proven in similar complex organisations can mitigate some of the problems outlined above by facilitating both the orchestration of the user interface (UI) and integration of data. Finally, inbuilt soak and sanity testing, the ability to remotely debug, and the ability to handle underpowered machines through app hibernation techniques will accelerate your DevOps and QA processes during production.

However important the technology choice, it’s really just the beginning. An enterprise interoperability program is a strategic initiative that requires a long term buy in from senior management. Identify a senior sponsor capable of unifying dissimilar teams and business lines, embed robust governance and operational practices and ensure a foundation of user-centricity.

Investing in your initiative’s approach is vital for a successful and scalable interop rollout that is embraced by users and technology teams.