The Engagement Platform: the next big thing for UX, part 1

Author: Clayton Locke

The next generation of great user experiences will involve unified customer journeys that integrate multiple organisations, systems and services.    

In our business applications today, we’ve separated user experience from the back-office; so called systems of engagement from systems of record.  The architecture takes into account the major differences in requirements for these two classes of applications.  But there is a keystone missing in this architecture that is critical to successful digital solutions.  This keystone will play a crucial role in delivering the next generation of digital experiences to customers.

The next generation of experiences will unify customer journeys across business boundaries.  I call this keystone the Engagement Platform.

Perhaps the best way to explain it is by example.

The problem

Consider the process of buying a car – how would you do it? Perhaps you’d visit a number of websites to get the lie of the land before descending on Autotrader to look at what’s out there and affordable in your area.

As you zero-in on your decision about the type of car you want you might research your financing and warranty options. The type of car you buy will affect your road tax so you look into that as well and, when it’s finally time to make a purchase, there’s insurance to consider too.

Each of these considerations affects the other, each is dependent on data from the other and all of them affect and depend upon your personal finances.

Chances are you’ll do most of your research, and possibly your final purchase, online. For each decision you made along the way you’d no doubt encounter an entire ecosystem of apps and sites out there to help you.

The process is fairly efficient and a world away from what it would have looked like 5 years ago.  But it could be better.

Because it’s you that has to glue it all together.

What happens online right now for any big ticket purchase such as a house or a car is not a flow from beginning to end but a series of moments where each part of the puzzle is in a separate silo.

The car dealership’s trading website might allow you to make a side-by-side comparison of cars from their forecourt but your insurance comparison can’t consult your shortlist of cars. Typically you find yourself on a separate website in a different journey to get an insurance quote for a single vehicle – not that helpful when what you want to do is compare total cost of all the vehicles in your short-list.

Your bank can’t show you the impact of the car purchase, insurance premium, road tax and fuel you’ll consume during your daily commute on your monthly outgoings. You work that out in a completely separate process on different systems.  If you want to take out a car loan, you’re back down another alley like your insurance – often being asked the same questions.  A recent path into insurance quote for one vehicle asked for over 50 separate pieces of information.  Navigating through an auto finance quote for the same vehicle on the same website, asked for over 25 pieces of information of which 23 were exactly the same as what was entered for the insurance quote.  How many times do we need to tell the computer what our birth date is?

It’s you that records the information, remembers what questions you asked and what answers you were given, figures out the impact those answers will have, and it’s you that passes the information back and forth between systems. You are being tasked with manually integrating systems across the business boundary gap. This creates massive friction in the buying process and significantly erodes your user experience.

For all the sophistication in evidence in each silo the crucial enabling technology that ties them together is still pencil and paper.  It’s quaint, but not good enough to win customers in the near future.

To create the next generation user experience we have to do better than this – we have to start making information user-centric so that it can flow through complex processes.

That’s the problem that an engagement platform will help to solve. It is the system that marshals information from a variety of sources and presents this information in a unified journey for the customer.  It reduces the information gaps that form between separate businesses in the buying chain.  It reduces friction in the customer buying process.  High-quality user experiences often must cross business boundaries, and the keystone that holds the journey together is the engagement platform.

An engagement platform is becoming more and more critical because of two powerful long term trends that are driving the evolution of the digital experience.

The trends: content and contact distribution

The first trend is the increasing diversity of contact and content distribution channels.

In the first part of this article I showed how transitioning between organisations, systems and products in the virtual world creates gaps in real-world user journeys. As more organisations digitise more products across more channels the situation is likely to get worse, not better. The intermediaries that we depended on in the past, the brokers and sales people who put together “package deals” for us are being replaced with self-service portals that we prefer as digital natives.  But we also demand better experiences and a seamless buying process.  The only way to improve users’ digital experiences is to focus on the bigger picture and deal with concepts and concerns spanning multiple channels and business boundaries.

Open Application Programming Interfaces (APIs)

In other words, it has become a business imperative to focus on the entire end-to-end journey.

The second trend is something that will help with that task significantly; the continued rise of open standards and open APIs (Application Programming Interfaces).

Open APIs throw the doors open on the data inside applications by providing stable and well documented public interfaces intended for third party software rather than people.

Open APIs are a key underpinning for joined-up user interactions because they turn each organisation from a silo with its own concepts and user interfaces into one of many potential systems of record for platforms that sit above them.

Open APIs are extremely popular with the technology companies like Facebook, Twitter, Google and Amazon because they turn their e-commerce applications into platforms that support entire ecosystems of third party apps and websites.

What financial services should be doing

Banks and financial institutions have not been so quick to adopt open APIs (the open source Open Bank Project not withstanding) but thanks to the the EU’s newly revised Payment Services Directive and its provisions for ’Access to Account’ (XS2A) they have become an inevitability.

To make best use of these emerging trends and to create joined-up user journeys we’re going to need a new generation of highly adaptable software that can consume, aggregate and manage information from these open APIs.

I call it the Engagement Platform and in my next article I tell more about how it’s going to work.

To read part 2, click here

Further reading How far can digital go? – Opinion Piece [PDF] Simon Cadbury looks at the emerging trends in banking technology and how they impact the customer experience. 

Free download

How far can digital go? – Opinion Piece

By Simon Cadbury. Simon looks at the emerging trends in banking technology and how they impact the customer experience.

14 Mar 2016

Author: Clayton Locke

The next generation of great user experiences will involve unified customer journeys that integrate multiple organisations, systems and services.    

In our business applications today, we’ve separated user experience from the back-office; so called systems of engagement from systems of record.  The architecture takes into account the major differences in requirements for these two classes of applications.  But there is a keystone missing in this architecture that is critical to successful digital solutions.  This keystone will play a crucial role in delivering the next generation of digital experiences to customers.

The next generation of experiences will unify customer journeys across business boundaries.  I call this keystone the Engagement Platform.

Perhaps the best way to explain it is by example.

The problem

Consider the process of buying a car – how would you do it? Perhaps you’d visit a number of websites to get the lie of the land before descending on Autotrader to look at what’s out there and affordable in your area.

As you zero-in on your decision about the type of car you want you might research your financing and warranty options. The type of car you buy will affect your road tax so you look into that as well and, when it’s finally time to make a purchase, there’s insurance to consider too.

Each of these considerations affects the other, each is dependent on data from the other and all of them affect and depend upon your personal finances.

Chances are you’ll do most of your research, and possibly your final purchase, online. For each decision you made along the way you’d no doubt encounter an entire ecosystem of apps and sites out there to help you.

The process is fairly efficient and a world away from what it would have looked like 5 years ago.  But it could be better.

Because it’s you that has to glue it all together.

What happens online right now for any big ticket purchase such as a house or a car is not a flow from beginning to end but a series of moments where each part of the puzzle is in a separate silo.

The car dealership’s trading website might allow you to make a side-by-side comparison of cars from their forecourt but your insurance comparison can’t consult your shortlist of cars. Typically you find yourself on a separate website in a different journey to get an insurance quote for a single vehicle – not that helpful when what you want to do is compare total cost of all the vehicles in your short-list.

Your bank can’t show you the impact of the car purchase, insurance premium, road tax and fuel you’ll consume during your daily commute on your monthly outgoings. You work that out in a completely separate process on different systems.  If you want to take out a car loan, you’re back down another alley like your insurance – often being asked the same questions.  A recent path into insurance quote for one vehicle asked for over 50 separate pieces of information.  Navigating through an auto finance quote for the same vehicle on the same website, asked for over 25 pieces of information of which 23 were exactly the same as what was entered for the insurance quote.  How many times do we need to tell the computer what our birth date is?

It’s you that records the information, remembers what questions you asked and what answers you were given, figures out the impact those answers will have, and it’s you that passes the information back and forth between systems. You are being tasked with manually integrating systems across the business boundary gap. This creates massive friction in the buying process and significantly erodes your user experience.

For all the sophistication in evidence in each silo the crucial enabling technology that ties them together is still pencil and paper.  It’s quaint, but not good enough to win customers in the near future.

To create the next generation user experience we have to do better than this – we have to start making information user-centric so that it can flow through complex processes.

That’s the problem that an engagement platform will help to solve. It is the system that marshals information from a variety of sources and presents this information in a unified journey for the customer.  It reduces the information gaps that form between separate businesses in the buying chain.  It reduces friction in the customer buying process.  High-quality user experiences often must cross business boundaries, and the keystone that holds the journey together is the engagement platform.

An engagement platform is becoming more and more critical because of two powerful long term trends that are driving the evolution of the digital experience.

The trends: content and contact distribution

The first trend is the increasing diversity of contact and content distribution channels.

In the first part of this article I showed how transitioning between organisations, systems and products in the virtual world creates gaps in real-world user journeys. As more organisations digitise more products across more channels the situation is likely to get worse, not better. The intermediaries that we depended on in the past, the brokers and sales people who put together “package deals” for us are being replaced with self-service portals that we prefer as digital natives.  But we also demand better experiences and a seamless buying process.  The only way to improve users’ digital experiences is to focus on the bigger picture and deal with concepts and concerns spanning multiple channels and business boundaries.

Open Application Programming Interfaces (APIs)

In other words, it has become a business imperative to focus on the entire end-to-end journey.

The second trend is something that will help with that task significantly; the continued rise of open standards and open APIs (Application Programming Interfaces).

Open APIs throw the doors open on the data inside applications by providing stable and well documented public interfaces intended for third party software rather than people.

Open APIs are a key underpinning for joined-up user interactions because they turn each organisation from a silo with its own concepts and user interfaces into one of many potential systems of record for platforms that sit above them.

Open APIs are extremely popular with the technology companies like Facebook, Twitter, Google and Amazon because they turn their e-commerce applications into platforms that support entire ecosystems of third party apps and websites.

What financial services should be doing

Banks and financial institutions have not been so quick to adopt open APIs (the open source Open Bank Project not withstanding) but thanks to the the EU’s newly revised Payment Services Directive and its provisions for ’Access to Account’ (XS2A) they have become an inevitability.

To make best use of these emerging trends and to create joined-up user journeys we’re going to need a new generation of highly adaptable software that can consume, aggregate and manage information from these open APIs.

I call it the Engagement Platform and in my next article I tell more about how it’s going to work.

To read part 2, click here

Further reading How far can digital go? – Opinion Piece [PDF] Simon Cadbury looks at the emerging trends in banking technology and how they impact the customer experience. 

Free download

How far can digital go? – Opinion Piece

By Simon Cadbury. Simon looks at the emerging trends in banking technology and how they impact the customer experience.