The iPhone and the Duck: Achieving Simplicity Means Managing Complexity

Achieving Simplicity Means Managing Complexity
With more customers using more devices on more channels to generate even more data, the world is only getting more complex.

My iPhone—that indispensable object of affection and productivity—is a lot like a duck in a pond. On the surface, everything is ease and simplicity: the iPhone is wonderfully easy to use and the duck skims effortless across the surface of the water. But in both cases, there is a lot going on beneath the surface to make that happen.

The duck, of course, is paddling like crazy. And behind the iPhone’s sculpted aluminum case and “retina display” it has been meticulously engineered to contain a CPU, memory, multiple antennas (Wifi, cellular, GPS) and sensors (a gyroscope, the touch display, a fingerprint reader), plus a powerful battery.

It takes real effort—and sheer engineering power—to turn complexity into a simple experience.

Organizations are constantly under pressure to simplify the experiences for the customers and their employees. In its Customer 2020 study, Accenture reports that customers “seek quicker resolution and fewer hassles—and if companies don’t move faster, they’ll move on.”

Large enterprises, however, are complex beasts. They have multiple operational silos that have expanded either organically or through acquisitions, and those silos are serviced by hundreds of back-end systems running on multiple different technologies. Process reengineering and technology consolidation projects can eliminate excess complexity, but those projects are often risky and slow. And much of the complexity is inescapable. If you want to do business in different countries, you need to manage the regulations of each jurisdiction and the cultural differences in each region. If you want to sell multiple products, you need to manage rules for each one. If you want to treat customers as individuals, you need to tailor each interaction to their unique needs. With more customers using more devices on more channels to generate even more data, the world is only getting more complex.

Complexity is a way of life for large enterprises. The goal is to turn that complexity into a simple and coherent “end-to-end” experience for their customers and employees.

Organizations looking to simplify are often tempted by shiny toys—software applications and platforms designed first and foremost to be easy to use. And they often are, at least for the first project. For subsequent projects, however, things get much messier. Application code must be copied, creating new application silos. Drag-and-drop tools are replaced by the custom coding to meet more sophisticated requirements, degrading agility. What started as simple soon collapses under the weight of its own complexity. A UK telecommunications provider recently abandoned the implementation of a cloud-based customer service application because it could not meet the complex needs of servicing its customers. Applications built to be easy for SMB clients to use don’t always scale to the complex needs of the enterprise.

At Pega, we’ve architected our technology from the ground up to manage enterprise complexity. The Situational Layer Cake architecture at the core of our Pega 7 Platform was built to manage the variations in jurisdiction, channel, product and customer that enterprises must manage. At insurer AIG, Pega manages the global complexities of end-to-end claim processes in a single application, enabling more than 100,000 claims professionals across 250-plus contact centers in 80 countries. Despite handling more than 40 million claims a year, they’ve achieved a 20-30% reduction in cycle times for higher frequency claims. The architecture worked so well that AIG used it for managing customer complaints and requests globally and recommended the “layer cake” architecture for global projects going forward.

Everyone wants their customer and user experience to be simple, like an iPhone, but delivering on that simplicity means managing complexity, and that takes much more than simplistic technology.