Why an Agile Process is Great for Digital Transformation

Agility is imperative to the success of any business. The aim for all of us is to be an organization that can respond to new opportunities or competitive threats as quickly and effectively as possible. Organizations that are unable to change quickly are the ones bound to be slow in capturing market shifts—and the ones facing the threat of becoming irrelevant.

The agile process in technology is an emerging approach that enterprises are adopting to introduce new applications for the digital age. This includes the quick consulting and assessment of whether a solution works for the organization or not, designing the solution, and testing it for success or failure—all as quickly and cost effectively as possible. By following this process for applications design and adoption enterprise wide, agility delivers a significantly lower risk and investment of time and resources. And gaining the experience or learning is a key to improvement.

With this process, the months that it would generally take a team to build a solution are minimized to weeks or days. The major challenge (and I would say also an opportunity) is getting consensus. The needs for customized applications vary by organization, but needs become even more specific at a business unit level and a country or culture level. Achieving consensus from the involved business units or countries early in the process enables you to design the right solution for the right team, minimizes where you could go wrong, and achieves financial buy-in from your internal stakeholders. An agile organization ultimately empowers its local units and geographies to be more responsive and adapt to local customer trends, creating the right mix of bureaucracy with nimbleness and innovation.

Moving businesses to the digital age by adopting an agile process is possible only if your technology platform has three characteristics: open, modular and easily extensible. Your platform should support the design, creation and deployment of advanced applications, without developers having to acquire specialized communications expertise. By being open, the platform will be much easier for your organization to leverage and integrate with virtually any third-party data and applications. Being modular means the platform allows you to select a range of capabilities over time to meet your company’s goals and initiatives and drive business results that will change over time. Extensible means having a platform that can expand and adapt as your business changes, shaping new, innovative and differentiated customer and employee experiences, as well as accommodating new and future requirements.

The agile process is a great new approach to deliver on your digital transformation objectives and that of your peers. It has evolved to be a proven successful approach to change. Take small cost-effective steps, and examine trial and error to keep up as the world’s technology continuously moves forward.

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Silos. Every businessperson claims to hate them, yet most businesses continue to operate in them, even in this communications-rich age.

One of the biggest reasons? The applications that we use for work haven’t caught up to the collaboration technology available all around us.

“You can’t have an agile business without agile IT, and you can’t have agile IT until your communications infrastructure is agile,” said Zeus Kerravala, the well-known ex-Yankee Group analyst during an webinar last week.

The experts on the Avaya-sponsored panel, who besides Kerravala included TMCnet publisher and editor-in-chief Rich Tehrani, Singapore business software developer Eutech’s CEO Dr. Hari Gunasingham and Avaya senior vice-president for collaboration, Gary E. Barnett, agreed that most businesspeople understand how non-communication-enabled legacy apps create and exacerbate silos. 

(Listen to a replay of the webinar or download the entire slide deck below.)

Indeed, better collaboration capabilities is their second highest priority, behind analytics, and ahead of crowd-pleasers such as mobile and cloud, according to Ventana Research:

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Indeed, they’re already dreaming about the collaboration capabilities they’d embed in their next-generation of apps:

Slide7.JPGThe struggle is that for most developers, communications remains a complex specialty field that they don’t know very well. To bring these features into their apps would require a huge investment in time and/or money.

“You can’t expect most developers to understand all of the nuances around telephony and communications,” said Kerravala.

Barnett compares the situation to the late 1990s, when Web developers used to building lightweight sites using HTML initially struggled to build rich retail and B2B sites that tapped databases and other back-end data sources. The arrival of Web application middleware such as Weblogic and Websphere greatly simplified things for Web developers.

Similarly, what’s needed today is a comprehensive middleware platform – not a set of individual APIs – that makes it easy for non-communications experts to embed communications features into their apps.

Avaya Aura Collaboration Environment, which was launched officially last week, is our attempt to fill this gap during a time of great demand. (Read InformationWeek’s take here).

Avaya already has a bunch of leading ISVs, including Esna Technologies, UserEvents Inc. and now Eutech using Collaboration Environment to accelerate their dev time.

Eutech recently built a mobile app for Middle East luxury retailer, Paris Galleries, embedded with voice and video conferencing features. Eutech’s team was able to do this despite, according to Gunasingham, “having zero knowledge of collaboration from a Unified Communications (UC) point of view.”

Eutech was able to build the app in slightly more than a week, compared to the months Gunasingham figures his team would have needed without Collaboration Environment.

That benefits the final end user, Paris Galleries, and its salespeople. Armed with mobile devices, they can now quickly call upon remote cosmetics and other experts when customers ask for them.

“Customers want to be pampered,” said Gunasingham. “If you want your customers to spend a few thousand dollars on impulse, it’s very important that their experience be excellent.”

Collaboration Environment is compatible with the Eclipse programming environment. “We very purposely chose Eclipse because we knew every app developer knows it,” said Barnett. 

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CE also comes with a Collaboratory – a cloud-based area where they can quickly build and test apps. “Developers don’t need to build their on-site lab; with Collaboratory, they can be up and running within a day,” Barnett said.

Collaboratory “de-risks things for developers,” agrees Kerravala, who says some Avaya developer partners he has interviewed credit CE with cutting their development time from half a year to a few days.

Eutech’s Gunasingham concurs. CE “had a real benefit for us,” he said. “Without CE, we couldn’t have gotten into this field at all.”


Another Developer's Experience with Avaya Aura Collaboration Environment

Earlier this week, I wrote about leading communications software maker Esna Technologies and their positive experience porting their popular OfficeLinx application to Avaya using our just-announced Avaya Aura Collaboration Environment.
For Esna, Avaya Aura CE saved them development time, allowed them to build a simpler app, and opened up huge new markets for them.
That harmonizes with independent communications analyst Sheila McGee-Smith’s assessment:
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Avaya CEO’s Kevin Kennedy likens Avaya Aura CE to WebSphere from IBM and WebLogic from BEA (now Oracle). These Web application servers were absolutely crucial to accelerating the creation of e-commerce sites and jumpstarting the whole dot-com economy. 
I personally see parallels between Avaya Aura CE and SAP’s Mobility Platform, a popular mobile middleware that enables developers to write apps faster and for multiple operating systems (i.e. iOS, Android, Windows) at the same time.
Esna wasn’t the only ISV I spoke with. I also had a chance to interview Jeff Thompson, CEO of UserEvents Inc., a New Brunswick, Canada startup, about Avaya Aura CE.
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UserEvents’ flagship application, called CxEngage, enables organization to deliver consistent, exceptional customer experiences by monitoring customer journeys in real-time, across all touchpoints. Blending big data analytics with customer experience management, CxEngage gives organizations the ability to engage in the moment with a phone call, email or SMS. It’s a potent combination that Thompson wanted to bring to the Avaya Aura contact center user base, the largest in the market according to various analysts.
“I deliberately assigned a small team of developers that had no SIP or Avaya experience to integrate CxEngage with Avaya Aura,” he told me during an interview at IAUG’s Converge 2013 conference in Orlando this week. 
Their lack of experience was not surprising. Most of UserEvents’ developers are Generation Y Millennials who didn’t grow up in an Avaya or Nortel era. Your classic Silicon Valley hoodie-wearing developer more comfortable developing applications in Clojure, a Java-based language designed for high performance applications like CxEngage, than the complexities of SIP.
Despite their lack of familiarity with the platform, “Avaya Aura Collaboration Environment allowed them to build a Proof of Concept in just 4 full programmer-days,” Thompson said.
Was that because UserEvents’ developers are really, really bright? Perhaps, though Thompson also credits the platform. “Collaboration Environment masks a lot of complexity by providing us an efficient interface that we can snap into so that we can enjoy the richness of what’s powered by the Aura stack,” he said.
Aura CE is also powerful. “It gave us access to a lot of rich communication capabilities while minimizing the number of developers and their time needed,” Thompson said.
I put the same question to Thompson and his team as I did to Esna’s Petralama: what do you think about WebRTC? Their answers were similar.
“We’ve started to look at WebRTC,” he said. “The challenge is that it’s relatively new.” As a result, most of CxEngage would-be clients, the large Fortune 500s, who are unlikely to abandon current communication and contact center applications overnight. 
Thus, something like Avaya Aura CE “provides a brand that is well-known and trusted in the market, while delivering today on the capabilities that WebRTC will someday provide,” he said.