Agility. It’s the latest of those trendy business buzzwords these days like “omni-channel” or “customer-centricity.” It’s just “hard” enough where business-types can use it and sound a bit technology savvy yet “soft” enough where it doesn’t have to have a true definition. The most recent definition derives from the world of software, where the Agile process of managing software development was an iterative approach to developing requirements and software, as opposed to the Waterfall method, which is a more linear approach to the same. Recently, however, it has become the catch-all for some vague notion of moving faster than before.
Allow me, for the sake of argument, put forward a more precise definition of true agility in the context of today’s telecommunications and media companies.
- The power to move from idea to business impact in a matter of days or weeks, despite complicated legacy technology and frontline operational hurdles.
For example: Jane, the SVP of Customer Service at U-Plus Communications enabled three new customer journeys in less than 12 weeks by using an agile approach to design the journeys in the software, with business and IT working together.
Sounds nice, right? But how can you achieve true agility? Agility is fundamentally a two-sided equation in which technology and journey design interact seamlessly. Let’s explore each concept in a bit more detail.
1. Technology: Agile customer engagement layer
Most telecommunications companies have heard from a long list of “integrated stack” providers who dangle the promise of a top-to-bottom replacement of the entire technology stack, from Business Support Systems (BSS) and Operations Support Systems (OSS) right through to the front end. Often, they're offered the extra carrot of the elusive “360-degree view” of the customer. Unfortunately, I've never seen these efforts live up to their promise. Why? First, you’ll never get all of the data into one place. It’s a nice thought but data is too complex, disparate, and created in too many places to ever get this right (and certainly not in any reasonable timeframe). Secondly, the idea of linking your slow-to-change technology, like your “big iron” complex billing, rating, and provisioning systems, to your fast-changing, customer-facing activities is nonsensical. Your business will simply devolve to the slowest common denominator – i.e., the speed at which your BSS/OSS systems can change (which, let’s face it, isn’t fast). Every telco has suffered one of these efforts, either home-grown or with a vendor.
An agile customer engagement layer separates the slow-moving parts of your technology from the fast-moving ones. It places the interfaces, business logic (including artificial intelligence), and customer journeys into a separate layer. You can modify this layer easily because it is acting as a model that simply points to your data sources, using data virtualization to insulate it from legacy complexity. This way, you can modify or even swap out your underlying systems and simply repoint the model’s virtualization layer to new data sources. The logic that drives customer engagement remains separate and untouched.
Gartner called this concept of a separate system of agility their “pace layer” model. At Pega, we often refer to the agility layer as the “conscious” system, where innovation and creativity work at high speed while the BSS/OSS/data stores are the “unconscious” systems that keep working at their slow, steady, and reliable pace.
2. Business: Agile customer experience design
So you’ve made your technology more agile. Ideally, you’ve created an agile customer engagement layer, as I mentioned above. Maybe you’ve even adopted Agile methodology software development teams. However, does the way in which you’re designing the journeys that your agile software will support look something like the following?
- Step 1: Put a bunch of creative types into a room. These may be from your own organization or from a fancy consultancy, if you’re feeling flush with money.
- Step 2: Let them work for somewhere between six and 12 weeks.
- Step 3: Stand in awe of their beautiful depictions of customer journeys, best depicted on colorful posters with lots of practical real life stories.
- Step 4: Throw these over to IT and wait. Now wait some more.
- Step 5: Stand in awe at how little the result represents what you designed in Steps 1 through 3. Now claim that IT never really became agile. Watch as IT blames the business for being unrealistic.
There is a better way. What if the business and IT didn’t work sequentially but instead worked physically side-by-side to implement customer journeys? How would that happen? Well, like all communication, it has to start with a common language. The same reason why your code-division multiple access (CDMA) method and global system for mobile communication (GSM) didn’t talk to each other is the same reason why business and IT don’t talk. They speak different languages.
At Pega, we’ve created a visual development platform that underpins all of our applications that both business and IT can understand. The organizations that have achieved true agility, both in telco and in other sectors, have created blended teams of business and IT who design new journeys directly into Pega software. And I’ll let you in on a secret, many of them have been doing this for years but they were largely focused on back-office processes, and they've found that this blended team works incredibly well for complex, customer-facing journeys as well. We call this process “directly capture objectives” (you can see more in the Pega video Build for Change: Directly Capture Objectives (DCO)).
If you can take a sequential design process (first business, then IT) and make it parallel (business and IT work together) impact business faster, you're implementing the very concept of agility. Combine this with an agile technology engagement layer and you have achieved the very definition of agility that I led this post with: The power to move from idea to business impact in a matter of days or weeks, despite complicated legacy technology and frontline operational hurdles.
Agile technology is good. Agile technology plus agile customer experience design is exponentially better. This is the future for truly agile telecommunications companies.