2017 – The year business agility takes a leap forward

With the rise of new technology trends, changing consumer behaviour and disruption by new market entrants across industries, one thing has become clear: Speed is becoming the currency of success as organisations adapt to ever-changing market forces. 

As such, the trends that are set to take hold over the next 12 months are ones that will not only help an organisation evolve, but do it faster than the competition.

Changing role of IT

A convergence of digital forces – notably mobile, SaaS, cloud, big data, IoT and social – has created massive disruption in the market and is pushing businesses to move at much faster speeds to serve the evolving needs in their market. However, with a fixed set of resources and a constrained capacity to deliver on new projects, IT is often the handbrake on the business rather than the accelerator pedal driving it forward. 

Change will only happen if IT shifts its role from an order-taker to an enabler for the business.  Central IT needs to decentralise and distribute its capabilities across the broader organisation to drive speed and reuse of assets. We believe that 2017 will see more enterprises change their IT operating model, striving for a complete Agile and DevOps capability, with fully automated delivery pipelines. APIs and microservices will be key assets that IT teams build for developers across the organisation to use to build new apps, services and processes.  

Internal API economies take hold

As IT teams deliver their first reusable self-service APIs, they start to enable more developers, data scientists and others to discover, learn and get access to resources that have been traditionally hard or impossible to get to. These modern APIs are enabling a new economy. This internal API economy is driving the cost of integration down, increasing reuse and efficiency, and driving productivity within the enterprise and beyond. 

For enterprises to thrive in this new digital era, they need to have their building blocks set up internally, which can access the data, services and resources within their organisation. By using modern APIs to open up data and enable the wider organisation to access IT assets in a secure and governed way, central IT is able to close the IT delivery gap and free themselves from the constraints of their legacy systems and processes. The key to the new IT operating model is that it’s not just about the API; critically it is about enabling developers across the business to discover, reuse and self-serve assets.

This drives speed and agility by enabling more teams to innovate without central IT being the bottleneck. Central IT still controls, manages and monitors access, but your internal developer communities can now do things on their own. These APIs and microservices create a composable enterprise whereby technology components can be broken down into smaller pieces, be composed and recomposed into new digital products and services across the business, facilitating agile innovation to take on competition. 

From the rise of many innovative companies over the last few years, such as Amazon, Netflix, Uber and Spotify, we’ve seen that when you give people the right building blocks, they can achieve amazing things quickly. The API economy will become more crucial than before, as organisations start to unlock and gain leverage from the assets they own, deliver products and services more quickly and efficiently and react to changing market conditions.

Chatbots: a fine line between automation and human control

There are numerous potential applications for chatbots across sectors as diverse as healthcare and banking. The introduction of Mastercard’s ‘Kai’, Amazon’s Echo and Very.co.uk’s ‘Very Assistant’ demonstrates how chatbot experimentation is starting to infiltrate everyday life. The question for 2017 is: What is the right balance between automating something through software and getting humans involved, without driving the customer away in the process? Consider how the call centre technology lost its way. 

As callers became more accustomed to filtering through seemingly irrelevant layers of options, they’d bypass the system altogether and opt to speak to an agent at the earliest opportunity. Improved interaction with the customer would have created a better understanding of their need and make for a more fulfilling experience.  Chatbots need to understand the point at which human intervention is needed. For example, does the customer’s intonation change or do they say something that suggests they need to speak to an agent? When human interaction is required, it’s important that the customer service representative already has context of the customer’s situation to avoid the customer from becoming frustrated at having to repeat themselves. 

Equally, the agent should also be in a position to resolve the situation, not simply tell the caller what they already know. The chatbot trend will continue to expand. 2017 will see more announcements in this space, as organisations strive to streamline and improve the interaction between the automated and human worlds. The most successful will find new balances between AI and human intelligence interfaces that create a delightful customer experience.  

Containers and microservices: how far do you go?

One key trend we expect to see in 2017 is an increasing adoption of containerisation and microservices in the enterprise. More organisations are going down this route supporting the new IT operating model. One challenge for enterprises is how far to go. Should they start replacing the VM farms they already have in favour of an approach that enables more predictable and efficient use of resources? There’s a compelling argument for it. 

As organisations strive to create software components that are containerised, the march of microservices will continue. However, creating increasing amounts of code means that they’re not being leveraged well. 2017 will be the year that, in order to avoid macro-disasters, organisations will start to take greater control over their microservices and graduate more of them to APIs to improve visibility and connectivity across the organisation.

Security by design

Far-reaching breaches and distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks on corporate systems and the applications connected to them are forcing us to rethink the way we approach security. One trend is centered around ‘security by design’ –  where the security rules, behaviour and governance are built-in, so anything created or added to your network will be automatically secured. The role of APIs, particularly internal APIs, in a security context is very important but undervalued. 

A house wouldn’t be left with all of the windows and doors open, but that’s exactly what’s happening with enterprises. Over the years, people have opened up all sorts of entry points to access data within the organisation. This leaves it hard to lock the data down and understand who uses it, where they use it and where it goes (either internally or externally). APIs provide a single entry point for many data sources and remove these ‘backdoor’ access points. With an application network organised around well-defined building blocks that are linked via APIs, organisations benefit from ‘built-in’ security.

As services are connected and exposed as APIs, the broader organisation can then discover and reuse them. Reusing what already exists speeds up development times. Because the security parameters are already in place, there’s a greatly reduced chance of a new door being opened and an organisation left being exposed.

IT for the digital era

Every industry is affected by digital transformation, and companies are grappling with how to cope. All these trends above require IT to evolve to think and operate differently in order to move faster than ever before. Is your organisation prepared for what’s to come in 2017?

Ross Mason, founder, MuleSoft
Image source: Shutterstock/everything possible