Building customer engagement in digital transformation: two decades of experience
Industry seems to increasingly talk about “digital transformation”, that is, the need to “digitize and automate” business processes used to interact with employees and customers. Would you agree that this is a major trend and if so, is now a good time for e-point to be in business with its particular approach to IT?
“Digital transformation” and similar descriptors have been used for the last 20 years to illustrate the need you describe. But, as always, the devil is in the details. In our case, we experienced a revelation when we heard Silicon Valley Strategy Guru Geoffrey Moore speak about “The Future of Enterprise IT”. In this talk Moore divides the history of Information Technology into two distinct phases. The first was when solutions providers offered something Moore defines as "systems of record" – expensive and difficult to interact with centralized databases operated by a few highly specialized IT administrators who worked on behalf of senior management. Back then the systems were focused on a few company processes and their optimization. Today, however, Enterprise IT has entered a phase where companies are using "systems of engagement", namely, highly flexible IT solutions utilized by everyone in the company, from salespersons up to the CEO, which allow direct engagement with the company’s product assortment, distribution channels AND end users in order to make new customer on-boarding and the flow of products and services as effective and easy as possible. Understanding this difference was an important intellectual breakthrough for us and caused us to realize we’ve actually been specializing in customer engagement ever since our founding- something that distinguishes us from companies like IBM, Comarch and other system integrators. What’s exciting for us is now just about the entire market is recognizing the need to utilize ” systems of engagement”. And thanks to two decades of experience, with some nice industry recognition along the way such as the 2018 SAP Quality Award, we think we can be a trusted partner in digital transformation.
e-point’s solution offering is much more focused today than it was a few years ago. Why?
Some time ago we understood that in order to successfully deliver really good solutions to clients we need to intimately understand their market and the challenges they face. So we decided to primarily focus on two large markets: the “banking and finance” sector and what’s broadly understood as” e-commerce”.
In the financial services world, we build portals and platforms for banks and insurance companies. Ones which are intended to become these institutions’ main sales channel in the digital world. A key aspect of our solutions is that they integrate all communications and interactions with the institution’s customer base. What this means is that a bank or insurance company’s portal is not only what you see on the public internet, but it’s also an integral part of their internal IT systems and a tool for their direct salespersons and agents.
When it comes to e-commerce, we focus mainly on retailers, distributors and manufacturers who face the challenge of combining classic sales with online transactions. Our specialty is to design solutions that provide a highly effective and consistent customer experience. We like to think we’re particularly good at projects that cover multiple countries where different currencies, tax codes and cultural idiosyncrasies are important considerations. Experience has taught us that when one is able to achieve a good, consistent user experience, digital platforms become the cheapest and most effective way to expand internationally.
e-point also has a strong consulting component in its services offering...
I should probably also point out that, in addition to technology, we also provide clients expertise in user experience, software development processes, design and digital go-to-market strategy. Indeed, often the biggest challenge is how to adjust a company’s current business model, in particular, how to manage the launch of digital channels, so as not to cannibalize their existing sales channels. Take, for example, companies operating solely in a B2B framework- we help them answer the question how to open up a B2C channel without harming current business partners. By the way, we are finding that this challenge now exists in nearly all new implementations.
However, the expert services you mention is quite far from technology...
True, but decisions in this area are crucial in the context of technology development. To illustrate this, let’s talk for a moment about another business aspect that significantly changes the way IT projects are done. Today’s leaders in e-commerce long ago changed the platform development paradigm that forms the foundation of their business. At present they assume a constant evolution of their digital sales platforms as they follow ever changing customer needs and seek entirely new types of value propositions. So they no longer have finite IT projects. They’re actually running an unending series of experiments and trials and making adjustments along the way. This new approach to sales system development and e-commerce is extremely difficult for many traditional players to understand, let alone implement. It means in reality that a company traditionally focused solely on say retail sales must at least partially become a software producer. The solution, of course, is to find an IT partner who, together with the retailer, will explore all the digital business possibilities and suggest the best solutions. So we’ve become good at providing such services, which means at the same time that we’ve gained good expertise on how to quickly get up to speed with the client's business processes.
So what then is the extent of the technological dimension in digital transformation projects?
This dimension concerns mainly the selection of appropriate tools and technologies. We, for example, are focused on web technologies that have been - and will remain for years to come - the “language” of the Internet. Web technologies dominate despite occasional challenges from other standards, such as the case in recent years of mobile application technologies.
Is this then why you decided to develop competencies in the area of PWA?*
Correct. PWA technologies today are in the process of “re-taking” the part of the value chain that was captured in recent years by native mobile applications. Two PWA features which are making this viable are greatly enhanced system response speed and the ability to operate offline. PWAs are quite astounding in this regard and result from the fact that they’re able to interpret the type of device their running on, monitor the speed of the link they’re connected to and then adjust in real time the best means of operation and interface in order to optimize operations, even though it’s still “just” a web application. And as noted, the application can even operate offline. So PWAs are starting to enter the territory that was reserved for mobile applications. In practice, the introduction of PWA is a natural step in the development of web technologies. If you’re interested in learning more, take a look at the new ebook we just published where you can learn more about the assumptions behind and advantages of PWAs. You can download it from our website.
*Progressive Web Applications are websites that have been “upgraded” through the use of state-of-the-art toolboxes such as Reactj.s and Angular.
What are some of the concrete benefits a company experiences by upgrading their website to a PWA?
Once upgraded to a PWA your website can then function as your one and only sales platform. You no longer need to create additional platforms based on mobile apps because, if you use the Responsive Web Application (RWA) model along with the PWA upgrade, your PWA will work seamlessly on mobile devices. It will even feature an icon for launching just like a mobile app.
"A PWA’s (Progressive Web Application’s) value is based primarily on its speed of operation and ability to operate offline. This functionality is made possible because the application can actually interpret which type of device it’s operating on and the speed of the link it’s connected to. Then it adjusts its mode of operation and interface in order to optimize performance. And all this happens even though it is still “just” a web application."
So thanks to this “progressive” approach, a company’s primary sales platform becomes much more versatile?
Exactly. What's more, it becomes the heart of “digital transformation”. It’s much better to have just one place where you focus all your efforts on digitization of customer service than to have many. This allows you to avoid the time, cost and risk associated with investing in multiple technologies and platforms. And this translates into major business benefits in a very discernible way.
What tools do you use for the implementation of PWA projects?
We’re just finishing up our own framework that’s specialized for e-commerce systems, using the React library developed by Facebook. We’re integrating our solution to operate with the SAP Commerce platform (formerly SAP Hybris) which we’ve had the pleasure to implement for several of our clients. And as you might surmise, this framework will allow us to do front-end modernizations of just about any e-commerce platform, SAP Commerce or otherwise, in order to improve its performance. We plan to also use the PWA concept on portals for the banking and financial services sector.
How well do companies do in their execution of the “omnichannel approach” in IT platform implementation?
They do quite well with making sure their end user platform works appropriately independent of the type of device being used. However, it’s a completely different story if we talk about integration of internal company processes with the entire range of sales channels. These components often remain independent or non-integrated.
What distinguishes your project implementation process from your competitors?
All our projects begin with an analysis of user needs- starting with an in depth understanding of to- date experiences and a mapping of all potential responses at every stages of the sales process. We also often start new projects by coming up first with the design of the desired UX, the “User Experience”, and then from these elements lay out the overall scope of the project. An alternative, albeit much more difficult approach, but one which ultimately gives fantastic results, is to put our UX designers together with the cliient’s business experts and have them jointly specify the requirements for our programmers who are working under the Agile development methodology. This allows you in just several months to build a large system which is ideally suited to client business needs.
What are the key assumptions behind e-point’s long-term market strategy?
We want to specialize in helping companies accelerate their international expansion through the use of digital channels. So we’re intensely focused on bringing on board and developing top IT professionals as well as maintaining competencies in the latest state-of-the-art IT tools and platforms. With these resources as a foundation, our mission is to help clients improve operational efficiencies and drive expansion regionally and even globally. Our goal is for customers to fully experience the power of digital transformation as a cost effective and time effective way to globalize business.