Insights 6 min

Agile is a magic word

Rob Blaauboer
Rob Blaauboer
Integration Consultant & WSO2 Trainer
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Agile is a magic wordFrom the definition in the dictionary we learned that agility means that you’re able to react to changing environments. And it’s true that we see a lot of change coming our way. Markets change and technology changes. Big companies don’t change so fast, and smaller companies often change quickly, because they are more agile.

Wanting to be agile is one thing, being able to do so is another thing. Do you have the IT for your business that is needed? I’ve got a list of technology must haves, but more about that later. So, you need to be agile and change as well, no matter what size company you are. If you do what you’ve always done, you might become less relevant. With change I mean change in the broad sense: new products, new markets, new channels and also new ways of doing things.

Resistance to change

But change is something that is unnatural, so to say, because we always like to go back to a state of neutrality. A good example: throw a big rock into a pond. It will make waves. But soon the surface is smooth again. The changes due to the rock thrown into the pond are not permanent. They are temporary.

Lots of people also don’t like change. Other people thrive on it, but that’s just a small group. In my previous blog about survival of the agile I wrote that you need to be agile in order to have a good chance of being successful and staying in the market as a company.

The internet has changed the playing field. Setting up a webshop is not so much rocket science, but can be done by anyone with basic to moderate knowledge of IT. The same is true for setting up a blog. For example, take a subscription to WordPress (hosted or on your own site) and you’re good to go. You can now write blogs that will conquer and change the world. The entry barrier is very low.

That doesn’t mean that everyone with a webshop will become the next Amazon. No, much, much more is needed. But it does show that the competition is just around the corner, and if you don’t pay attention you might be a victim of that competition. Especially when the market stops growing or is declining. What are you going to do? You have a number of choices to position yourself in the market. I’m just going to name two options: Race to the bottom and premium quality and services.

Race to the bottom

For example, you can be the cheapest with the lowest price for goods and services. The positive side is that people will find you and you get the revenue. However, you won’t make much money and customers looking for the cheapest price will move to another vendor  almost instantly when they find a price lower than yours. The race to the bottom is really a race you don’t want to be in.

Premium quality and services

You can differentiate with better quality and you can ask for a better price if customers experience that it adds value. Or you can offer something that will differentiate you from the competition, for instance, better shipping and return conditions. Be aware that when you offer free shipping and returns it can change the way people order. Some people will order a lot of stuff, never intending to keep it all and then just send most of it back. This is one of the most costly elements of e commerce, because it’s hard to resell a product that is not brand spanking new. So this also has a drawback, free shipping and returns are not a silver bullet.

Positive message

So, is there a positive, upbeat message in this blog? Yes, there is. All is not lost. Being at the top of your market is hard work. It’s a combination of being new and innovative, being agile and experimenting with new approaches, new products and services. You should have the guts to stop the projects that don’t deliver what you think they should deliver. In the end, IT plays an incredible role in this. Because IT is the secret sauce in these two approaches (and not only in these cases). Let’s look at a case where IT is the center of it.

Part and parcel

Logistics is a market where there’s a lot of physical stuff going on. PostNL doesn’t give up the shrinking market for letters and other mailbox services. Logistic is a ‘physical game’ in the sense that package needs to be picked, it needs to be shipped and it needs to be delivered.

In between we find agile IT solutions, really lots of advanced IT(see must haves). I think FedEx invented the track and trace code that changed the world. In a sense, that we are now suddenly able to see our packages, more or less, in real-time. As far as I know, nobody is able to plot the location of a package for instance, in the delivery truck real-time on Google Maps for general customers.

Technology allows

Technically, it would be possible, because nowadays trucks, especially those that are owned and operated by large ecommerce players like Amazon or delivery services like DHL, would be enabled with all kinds of sensors. However, that sort of information is also handy for other people with more nefarious ideas. If you know where a truck is, you might be able to hijack it in order to get the packages inside. But there must be a workaround and it’s up to you to find it.

With the track and trace code firmly in place in logistics operations, it’s up to you to be innovative and agile in trying to figure out what the solution is or the next could be, as far as tracking trace goes.

Must haves

What are the technology solutions that you need in order to make this work?

  1. 1. Enterprise Integration
  2. 2. API Manager
  3. 3. Stream Processing

Let me explain them. First of all, there is the Enterprise Integration solution that you will probably need to integrate data and information from disparate sources, formats and technological standards. This is the integration layer for which you can develop APIs.

These APIs need to be Managed APIs because you need to manage, monitor and perhaps even monetize the use of the APIs. An API Management solution will take care of these aspects (and many more) and will make the API manageable (users, use and misuse).

Stream processing can be described as listening to the streams of data from your organization and taking action on them. These streams can be more technical (performance of APIs for instance) but also more business focused, informing the customer about progress. The data in the latter case can be diverse, progress in order picking / sending, steps in a loan approval process and so on.

With these three must haves you can start innovating.

That’s sometimes easier said than done. I know it might take resources, beyond your organization. You might want to work with partners, suppliers, universities, and other parties that might bring brainpower to the table. Feel free to contact me for our take on your world changing idea, we love to add our value.

With the right team and the proverbial ‘blood, sweat, toil and tears’ you can create something to pilot.

Be brave and think outside of the box. Prototype and play around with new services and see if people like it. Use NFC enabled wearables to sign off on packages, add more waypoints in the delivery to see if you can pinpoint the time that you will deliver. Let clients change the delivery location while that package is in the van. Push the boundaries of what IT can do, don’t let outdated systems and limited interoperability dictate the future of your business.

You might say that is easier said than done, and you are right. But, as an agile organization, you can do it. I am sure about it.

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