Apps are essential for true digital transformation

Apps for business
EvenMe! is an app that aims to bridge the dap between unemployed SA youth and sustainable employment (Image Source:
Shubna Harilal, Head: DU SAP Solutions, Systems Integration at T-Systems South Africa.

An organisation’s applications are the glue that makes digital transformation possible. Without an optimised, next-generation application landscape, firms will find it very difficult to compete in modern digital ecosystems, or capitalise on the advantages of rapidly shifting markets.

As technology enthusiasts, we fall in love with sleek front-end interfaces, customer-facing apps and beautiful web portals… or funky wearable tech, and the endless potential of new immersive virtual and augmented realities. We enjoy talking about the UX, and the UI. We’re fired up by the opportunities to gather ever-sharper insights of our users’, to further refine our digital touchpoints.

But, at the heart of the organisation lies its applications; and to truly revolutionise customer experiences, these back-end apps need to work in perfect harmony with the front-end interfaces.

Consider an apparel company that invites customers to design their own running shoes. This innovative move would differentiate it from its competitors, increase brand loyalty, and enable it to charge a premium for the item.

At the front end, they’ll need an app or a website with editing software to help guide users through the process of custom-design. At first glance, this might seem to be the most complex part of the value-chain. But in the background, the entire spectrum from production, logistics, quality control, and delivery will need to be radically re-defined. Enterprise applications that can mould themselves around a new concept – such as personalised shoe design – will enable an organisation to roll out this kind of attention-grabbing service to customers.

Breaking free
Modernising one’s core enterprise applications enables the organisation to break free from traditional business boundaries and constraints – such as geography, distribution reach, industry vertical, or customer segment.

Consider a bank, for example, which may have previously been confined by the limitations of its physical branch and ATM infrastructure. As applications spur an evolution towards a platform-centric business, various Fintech firms could build new digital services that ‘hook’ into the bank’s infrastructure via secure APIs. Suddenly, new markets are served, and the distribution reach for the bank’s systems is extended outwards.

Applications are, indeed, the glue that connects the core of the organisation to new kinds of partnerships (such as a bank and a Fintech player), extending its reach and accessing new supply chains and new markets.

Africa’s new direction
When we look at this in the African context, it’s becoming clear that as a continent we’re not developing in the traditional industrial way of last century’s world superpowers. Instead, we’re evolving in a digital direction – especially in the mobile realm. Pioneering solutions like mobile money and prepaid services, born in the cradle of Africa, are now influencing markets around the globe.

Seen in this light, we understand how essential it is for African organisations to take advantage of the wonders of Cloud architectures, crowdsourcing, social business, mobile broadband and other 21st century innovations.

Many of our strategic engagements with clients, across the continent, revolve around how their businesses will evolve so that an air-conditioning company can evolve from selling air conditioning units, to selling ‘high-quality air’; or an equipment manufacturer can transition from selling machinery, to selling guarantees of output within the construction industry, for example.

This is the starting point for any discussion about application management. We need to ask ourselves how we want to evolve our businesses, and then translate that vision into a discussion about what we’ll need from an enterprise technology perspective, to turn the vision to reality.

This may not necessarily mean that all of one’s core applications must be migrated to a Cloud environment; but a focus on open standards and open architectures is generally as essential feature of application modernisation.

There are, in fact, a host of other considerations when looking at how one’s applications need to be re-modelled, to unleash new levels of dynamism. It requires a new approach to application management, new mental models, and – very importantly – an entirely new relationship between clients and ICT service providers.

By Shubna Harilal, Head: DU SAP Solutions, Systems Integration at T-Systems South Africa