Application modernisation – The building blocks of customer-centric innovation

It was a beautiful setting at the 12 Apostles hotel in the Western Cape. Leaders across the industry came together, nestled between the foot Table mountain and the turquoise Atlantic ocean, to share their thoughts and experiences about how to Modernise and Accelerate your Data and AI Strategy.

While there was some talk about technology, the conversation centred around the importance of leveraging technology to design for the customer.

Most of the representatives present noted that businesses continue to modernise their applications and are evolving their architectures to a more Microservices architecture.

At its simplest level, a Microservice is a small app that does one thing. These microservices are housed in a container and are effectively a single responsibility function that communicates using APIs with other services.

Businesses are finding that there are several benefits of these newer technology architectures. Some of these include adaptability and the possibility to adapt fast and improve agility. Agility is enhanced as there is less reliance on other teams when making changes to systems. Microservices have allowed companies to derisk their technology environment by minimising the blast radius.

Security is also improved, with the ability to deploy updates much quicker. Having much smaller pieces of code help programmers scan and pick up possible vulnerabilities that may be built into the system. Smaller, also allows new developers to be onboarded more quickly. It also allows more language-agnostic development. This provides developers the opportunity and freedom to build using more appropriate languages for the problem that needs to be solved.

The elasticity of services is also greatly improved. With Black Friday on the way, online shopping platforms can quickly scale their services without the services falling over, as they have in the past.

There are also several unintended benefits, which include faster innovation cycles with higher levels of customer-focused innovation.

While the benefits are many, increased modernisation efforts and the move towards a more microservices-based architecture, at times, can be over-sold. It’s prudent that leaders spend their time thinking about and deciding how atomic the structure of the microservices should be, finding the right balance and continuously leveraging the right one at the right time.

The 2022 State of DevOps report found that increased modernisation and cloud usage is predictive of organisational performance. Companies with software initially built on and for the cloud tend to have higher organisational performance.

Whether your business is running an extensive monolithic system or whether your business is one like Netflix or Amazon and natively uses these newer architectures, it’s clear that the best way to start is by starting.

While starting with the technology is good, it’s also necessary to not only look broader at the people, processes and culture of the organisation. It is evident that where businesses see themselves as digital businesses first, irrespective of the industry, it tends to perform better. This requires businesses that are organised around value. It requires structures where there is no discrepancy between business and technology, only teams that work cohesively to build innovative solutions for the customer. Organisations that see themselves as digital-first tend to have happier, more productive employees, which in turn, creates higher levels of customer satisfaction, which translates into higher sales and, ultimately, increased growth.

However, this shift requires a culture that favours experimentation, a culture of psychological safety and a culture where people are not fearful of making small mistakes. Creating space to innovate will improve innovation.

These are also strategic decisions, given that we are not just building for now; we are building for flexibility in the future.

As leaders, we must remember that customers don’t care about Microservices architectures or how the organisation is structured, whether you’re moving to the cloud or what great new technologies the company is employing. A customer wants easy to use, seamless and enjoyable experience when buying something.

Businesses must continue making it all about the customer. Using these MicroServices as building blocks will unlock innovation by allowing people to focus on the customer, improve operational performance, and create more engaging experiences.

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