Forsyth Alexander, senior product marketing manager, OutSystems gives us her thoughts on the new digital urgency.

The global pandemic and impact of lockdown have been a massive shock to the global economy and to our daily lives – and continue to impact countries around the world. There have been more than 50 million registered infections and over a million deaths as a result of the virus, and we’re starting to see a second round of lockdowns as a result of new waves of infections.

Even though a ‘new normal’ has yet to emerge, we know that the current disruption will continue for some time to come, creating a new era of ‘digital urgency’ for organisations. This is where formerly acceptable timeframes for digital asset development and deployment have been turned on their heads and need to be thought of in terms of days, rather than weeks or months.

Research we did earlier in the year – as part of our annual survey on the state of application development – showed that half of apps (both web and mobile) took between three and six months to develop, with some taking more than a year. This is no longer acceptable, as organisations now need to be truly agile, shorten app development times and better meet the needs of their employees and customers.

With people being based away from their workplaces, wherever possible, organisations have turned to apps to help replace some previous face-to-face interactions and processes – and they can’t wait three to six months for them to be developed; they need them right now.

Planning contingency measures

We saw that with one of our UK local authority customers, Worcester County Council. As the impact of Covid-19 was becoming clear, and to help its response to the virus, it looked at how it could use apps to continue to provide its services and plan contingency measures, along with offering new services to help its more vulnerable residents.

For its internal teams, it initially developed four apps that covered existing underlying medical conditions, previous experience in the care sector and volunteer redeployments, along with reporting absences from work due to coronavirus. In addition, it also launched a community response app for its more vulnerable residents, which matched requests for help to offers from volunteers as part of its ‘Here2Help’ initiative.

Initial versions of the five apps were developed within 24 hours and then refined to meet the rapidly evolving requirements of the teams involved, including HR and Public Health. The apps then went live in under a fortnight. As a result, Worcestershire County Council was able to continue to deliver – and even expand – its services to its residents during the nationwide lockdown, whilst planning for future requirements and updating apps to meet the rapidly evolving situation.

Digital urgency drive

While Worcestershire County Council is a great example of an agile organisation that is well placed to use apps to support its service delivery in the new era of ‘digital urgency’, every organisation should be thinking this way – no matter what their sector.

And, we are seeing this ‘digital urgency’ drive initiatives across a range of different sectors, including those you might consider very traditional and not app driven. However, many customers are rapidly creating apps to solve problems and can derive real competitive advantage from doing so.

One such company is Inchcape Shipping Services which – based on a new integrated global IT system – is delivering an innovative digital strategy to create tailored applications for 1,800 international ports and 68 countries across the world.

The apps keep track of all costs incurred when a vessel visits a port. These costs come from multiple third parties, and 80 per cent are paid in advance by ship operators to port agents, so real-time transparency of disbursement and fast reconciliation offer a competitive differentiator for Inchcape.

By streamlining 90,000 port visits every year, Inchcape, which was founded more than 170 years ago, is helping its 2,000 customers trade more successfully and make better decisions in every port across the globe. These customers include owners and charterers in the oil, cruise, container, and bulk commodity sectors, as well as naval, government and intergovernmental organisations.

No matter what sector you operate in, things have changed for everyone over the last eight months. Colleagues and customers are more used to engaging digitally, but their expectations have changed – in terms of not only the user experience with apps, but also the speed at which things need to be changed. An example is if the service is not quite right or has to pivot because of external factors or requirements shift.

Many organisations do have the speed and adaptability required in these continued uncertain times. However, those organisations that don’t should consider adopting emerging software technologies that will enable them to collaborate to create new apps or change existing ones quickly so they can charge ahead in this time of ‘digital urgency’.

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