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Move over features, Usability and Ux design are now officially acknowledged as the differentiators of successful digital products.  Even an umpteenth attempt in an existing product domain can become highly successful if one were to place their bets on this to get it right.  The test?  User acceptance and virality. To hell with customer acquisition costs and conversion strategies…..

Design will become the mainstay for product success. Here are some of the drivers that could provide some clues:

1. An incisive analysis and focus on user journeys across interactions and actions that get a “job” done.  Don’t turn SOP’s into a user journey when creating a digital interface. Rather, a set of interactive features that help a user comply with an SOP in the background. Know where the user is, their demographics and calls to actions are key inputs.

2. It’s now a known myth that only gen x or y needs a playful interface.  Almost every human being reacts to a tool that is fun to use.  This is the place where enterprise apps are failing to make a mark by a big margin.

3. Make sure that the innovation tech behind interactivity is well validated and stable.  The ooh’s and aah’s of what is possible in tech is not necessarily a great reason for adoption, if it weren’t stable.  Sometimes, innovation needs a lot of other variables for it to deliver the true promise and intent.  The eco system in which a product needs to exist may not be ready for that yet.  Don’t do it, or set the right expectations.

4. Relative performance measures and insights are great motivators for people and make great notifiers as against alerts and mail reminders.  Analytics is not just a behind the doors tool.

5. Finally, one needs a completely new set of providers to create this differentiation. A combination of skills involving gaming, ui design, animation, front end technologies like the latest in Javascript, user experience designers can virtually turn a product idea into a radically different solution. One that intends to “talk” to the users rather than “ask” a user to do something.

Andrew Wilkinson’s blog on how they made this differentiation for the $ 2.8 Billion USD valued Slack, is a great pointer to what is possible with this radically new approach.

Posted by Mahendra Penumathsa on Sep 30
User experiences and outcomes for a better product design

Product managers begin a product design journey with the usual suspects like a market need and a set of features. And once product management has a well laid out list of product features backed by that all awesome architecture and tech stack, it ends up in defense of what was painstakingly created, almost through it’s entire life cycle.

While this may have worked in a period of restricted access and fewer options, the approach to product design definitely needs a re look in an age of increasing options and decreasing attention span. Once a use case opportunity is identified, it is probably a good time to sit down offline and work with the final set of user experiences across each role that a product intends to invite a user to, and then a list of outcomes that match those experiences.  Together they may provide a better user activation probability and therefore a more predictable product ROI for sponsors.

Here’s a simple to do guide to get started:

1. List the user roles.  Typically, a new age digital system has 3 broad categories.  The engaged, The people who manage the engagement, and the sponsors who expect a certain outcome.

2.  Ask what each user would expect as an experience from the product. Experiences are typically identified as motivators for a user role to keep coming back to the product as it would have a clear benefit or reward for participation and adoption. A good exercise would reveal the trade offs, benefits, rewards and exceptions.

3. Outcomes are about how the users find a quantifiable experience at the end of a participation cycle or a usage session.  These outcomes can be listed for each individual session, or a collective set of sessions leading to a more aggregated outcome.

4. Refine the outcomes list by verifying them against role motives that have the risk of blocking participation and collaborative engagement. Interviewing similar user roles in their current contexts can provide great insights.

5. Prepare a final list of experiences and outcomes that the product can deliver in it’s most sophisticated avatar. Work backwards to a product road map that delivers the intent and the promise in it’s initial release, more than the features that would follow.

The approach looks deceivingly simple, but as you may realize, requires a highly participative and iterative approach before you set yourself on the way to create a great product. Try this out the next time you have that idea and see what shows up on your paper, or a whiteboard, or even your wall if no one’s complaining….

Posted by Mahendra Penumathsa on Aug 26
A 4 point checklist for digital product development

The risks of next generation digital product development are widely distributed across a variety of factors impacting it. Investors and entrepreneurs are faced with a wide range of choices and questions, requiring them to navigate a digital maze of opportunities and risks. How does one distribute limited budgets? Captive vs outsourced development? or is there a hybrid? When do we launch? How do we validate assumptions? How do we support and ensure business continuity?

While the solutions and risk management approaches can vary contextually, there is a ready reckon er that can definitely guide start ups and wannabes with some pointers. Here’s a list of 4 important things to consider during those intense moments of strategy making.

1. Cost Management Vs. Cost Reduction

Good things come at a cost, but costs don’t always have to be incurred upfront. Working on a product road map is crucial to plan phase wise deployments that match your go to market and customer acquisition strategies. An initial phase that focuses on simplicity and a carefully selected set of features that express the value proposition definitively can help you manage costs in your initial phases. Most digital product development initiatives fall into the trap of doing too much too early. And this leaves very little or nothing when it really comes to adjusting to market realities later.

2. Captive development vs. outsourcing

This is one tricky subject of prolonged strategy sessions. By default, Investors are comfortable with the idea of owning development environments and core talent and often consider it to be essential in retaining intellectual property of what is being created. It is however, expensive and time consuming to go all captive prior to the idea generating real cash. In larger sized initiatives, a reasonable approach could be a hybrid strategy that combines investing in core skills to be captive while leveraging a modeled outsourcing strategy that allows the partner to transfer supportive talent at pre-determined milestones or intervals. In smaller and mid-sized initiatives, an outsourced product development mandate is not a bad idea where the output can include well documented deliveries to support future captive development and enhancements.

3. Launching early and launching quick

No digital product goes to the market successfully without a feedback phase that is often done with a familiar set of known users or a controlled group of usability testers. Agile based deliveries can definitely optimize your release strategy to include quick releases of working assets to small groups of users to validate assumptions and gain early insights on use case, usability and experience. Saving time during the beta phases can be crucial for aligning with your marketing spends and avoid frustrating delays to hit the ground running.

4. Business continuity

Setting up the support mandate, even if for a beta phase, is crucial to ensure business continuity of a digital idea. The support process itself has it’s period of settling down. Testing it in a small way during the beta phase can lay the ground for a well rehearsed digital business continuity plan. Technology, Infrastructure, User Training and User Support, are the 4 pillars of a comprehensive support mandate and should deserve equal attention as building the asset.

In summary, the road to digital asset development is a journey fraught with unknowns and surprises. However, like in a traditional business, there are experiences that could be leveraged to make it a little more predictable and less risky. Roll that dice and improve the odds in your favour.

Posted by Mahendra Penumathsa on Jul 06

User acquisition and retention is everything when it comes to measuring return on investments on any external facing digital asset. The freemium or advertising ways of acquiring users is passé, for the simple reason that they have succeeded in gaining users, but not in retaining them.  Let’s look at the top 3 aspects of generating users and their loyalty.

Context

Gone are the days where there was a reasonable change to fetch a useful result on Google. No matter how powerful that engine is made, there are still only “n” results that could be displayed in the first few pages.   With the number of active URL’s being over 300 Million, it is only now that much more difficult to find relevant information, or even engage with it. Context is everything, and is almost the basis for why opportunities have opened up for creating digital assets in contexts that provide value to users.  Context is so powerful that investors have realized the need to be very focused, even within a larger context. Eg: A digitally interactive asset for child health and wellness stands out with it’s context when compared to a generic healthcare / wellness portal. A highly contextual digital asset with a well thought out user engagement life cycle is more likely to succeed.  The success rates may vary between value propositions a bit.  Examples of some contexts currently gaining traction are – Practice specific e-Learning platforms for Skill Development & Certifications; Healthcare platforms for knowledge and care givers; E Commerce platforms that aggregate inventories for retail fulfillment.

Content

Content is and will always be King. Original content is even more valuable than a curated or user generated content that is more supportive than inventive. A parallel strategy to invest in process oriented content generation studios to support digital assets will payback rich dividends to retain user interest and loyalty. With technology and user interfaces becoming less patentable by the day, only content can become the distinguishing IP for a business.

The user acquisition funnel

Interactive digital technologies have made huge strides in user interactivity and make digital activities more aligned with real life behavior.  Personalized user interfaces offer the ability to address user profile based interests and needs while enabling a complete engagement life cycle.

A well designed user acquisition funnel for any digital platform would include the following:

1.Initial user’s interest will mean delivering region specific content and topics along with interactive surveys and stories that seek to engage the user into participation via well designed calls to action. The core objective here is to attract the attention of a user to the context based value proposition.  A minimum takeaway from this stage would be to have the user share their unique identity. Say an e mail id. A lot of digital assets make the mistake of pushing the user to a sign up form at this stage. But more often than not, this is not a stage where the user has decided to establish a relationship. It makes a lot more sense for the business to use the unique identity acquired to communicate the next level of value a user would get upon his / her return to the digital asset.

2.A returning user, if engaged with the right kind of content or fulfillment would be usually ready to sign up using their open ID’s to establish a relationship.  Social plugins from the most popular user aggregation platforms would serve well in this aspect. At this stage of the engagement, the value should clearly be more pronounced than the first visit.  Discounted values or free offers are more successful here than in the first stage and often prompt the user to buy into the true breath and scale of offering from the platform.

3.The third stage is where the business needs to convey and establish reward mechanisms for medium to long term users.  This is the stage where users normally tend to propagate the idea to their social network of family and friends. A virtual reward program would go a long way in cementing the relationship with the brand.

Across the three stages of user acquisition funnel, insights and analytics collected at each stage play an important role both at the individual user level as well as at different aggregated levels.  Even if the algorithms to find a use case for the insights collected are not readily available, businesses would do well to collect and store this critical information for further enhancements in their user acquisition strategy.

In summary, Context, Content and a well designed online User Engagement and life cycle Management strategy can make all the difference between success and failure for your investments in digital assets.

Posted by Mahendra Penumathsa on Jun 17

Digital transformation is a series of interventions, all contributing to the larger strategy of creating a virtual presence for the business in a world where the customer and the partner are willing to be present and transact, than ever before.  It is interesting to note a few seemingly disconnected digital trends that are impacting the larger picture and give you a ready reckoner to begin going digital.

1.Recommendation and personalization algorithms. Help your business deliver the right content from marketing, product or service offerings and support, to the right targets. This reduces your media spends dramatically. It is presumed that an active strategy for personalization and digitization can save anywhere between 40-50% of traditional media spends in the short term, considering the consulting money required to go digital and even more in the longer term once you have completely adopted the transformation.

2.Virtualized Presence.  A webinar or an online event is not a distant technology any more. Opting for virtual meetings using digital tools and media, along with a gradual transformation in communication habits would go a long way to keep those in person meetings minimal.  A business can easily cut down it’s travel budgets by 50% over a period of 12 months, even after absorbing investments made in virtual meeting technologies. The context for inviting users to a virtual presence should be made a little more interesting than merely replicating an offline event.

3.Multi modal digital presence of the brand. Millions of brands vying for a user’s attention across a plethora of digital channels is both a challenge and an opportunity. Digitization of the branding strategy is imperative and a plan to slowly be available on all digital channels – whether mobile, television, etc., is a must. Investments in promoting contextual relevance go a long way in optimizing a multi modal brand presence investments.

4.Mobile POS. Whether you call it e commerce or an app, POS terminals are clearly in the digital realm. Mobile seems to be leading the way here and a strategy to opt for making a beginning may pay off well in the long run.  Again, tying up the personalized and contextually relevant business presence to mobile POS is key to achieve big returns and reduce costs on maintaining physical POS terminals or processes.

5.Delivery logistics.  Digital UPC’s, scanners, soft formats and virtual delivery channels provide a networked world of options that a business does not have to necessarily own or maintain in a physical state.  Delivery logistics are increasingly virtualized with a single reference tracking option available for the business to generate a source point and return confirmation of deliveries or in a more digital sense – interaction.
In summary, adopting digital trends are not an option anymore and the rate of change and impact on your business models is much higher than what you may expect.  And you can begin the transformation by mapping available options to a cost saving strategy.

Posted by Mahendra Penumathsa on Apr 22

With a hawked eye focus on cost and risk management in IT spends, organizations cannot afford to become part of the 54% cost and time overrun ERP project groups anymore. And, the reasons are more about change management challenges in organizations, as per a study from panorama consulting, reported by CIO.  http://bit.ly/1gRyXxw

As more ERP vendors join the monolithic ERP devolution game, like SAP Business One, making available a more flexible and configurable platforms, organizations will increasingly look to come up with a strategy to shorten implementation cycles and gain quicker adoption.

Combine these two and you have pointers into managing implementation risks better.  The general consensus on trending seems to be on reducing user complexity. Customer centricity and social learning UI’s , provide the users a choice to experience Mobility on either the company’s assets, or even adopting the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) philosophy. http://bit.ly/1kykT1p. Security concerns however remain, even while players like SAP and Oracle try to address these features on their cloud offerings.

Whether in Phased Roll outs or Big Bang deployments, a strategy on releasing pilots to mobile devices for gaining quick insights to adoption, may require a bold PMO to tweak the typical roll out process.  There may be a case to look at Agile more closely in parallel with known ERP implementation methodologies to facilitate this change.

Whatever the approach, the focus on user centricity for managing change and  implementation risks better, is loud and clear.

Posted by Mahendra Penumathsa on Mar 05
Blog tags: Business Strategy
CIO’s and IT Vendors: Forging a New Partnership

In mid-2008, reports began pouring in that CIOs’ budgets had shrunk from double- to single-digit growth, or had even become stagnant. The sharp business downturn in 2009 and a resultant shift of business focus on survival strategy put the spotlight on traditional IT spends.

Since 2011, there is a clear trend and acknowledgement that the new IT spending is shifting from process based optimizations to leveraging IT for revenue growth and creating newer markets

Roles like the CMO are being given more headroom to identify and spend for IT that aligns with business strategy for growth. This shift however is raising many questions on how the new focus should be integrated with the established IT Infrastructure managed by the CIO / CTO.   Many CIOs have acknowledged the new reality and are willing to play a larger role in aligning the current IT infrastructure to business focused IT strategy and spending.

Creative giants like Amazon, Disney and Netflix have shown what businesses can do when they get this re alignment right. They were able to create a transformational strategy that brings user centricity and rich digital experiences into play, which when orchestrated with established IT systems, created end to end fulfillment use cases and established a clear competitive differentiation.

It’s not all about size to be able to create this differentiation. The CIOs have an extraordinary opportunity to impact business success, if they can find and engage with new age IT Service vendors to help them with this transformation.

Business Infogram

In pursuit of New Age IT vendors, CIOs are most likely to be drawn toward providers who exhibit 5 core traits which have a significant impact across value proposition, operational processes and relationship models that define the new mindset.

1.Vendor brings a business perspective to user-centered solutions. Shares creative use cases during pre-sales, to demonstrate the ability to orchestrate with Social, Mobile, Analytics and Cloud (SMAC) stack.

2.Delivers value from partnerships with platform/IP resellers, analytics firms and digital experience consultants. Demonstrates willingness to act as a conduit for driving thoughts and market needs that fuel relevance based investments in IP.

3.Offers flexible pricing models that straddle Capex and Opex, with a willingness to create no or low-cost POCs to establish the use case.

4.Offers visual insights into effort burn, for budget planning and transparency.

5.Offers managed services that transcend a “keeping the lights on” philosophy, and establish  a robust value chain for delivering end-to-end business IT support for continuity and growth.

New age IT vendor graphic

There is another interesting take on this subject from November 2013 at http://onforb.es/1eTDEHe.

In Summary, CIO’s and new age IT Vendors have a great opportunity to establish new

partnership models for creating topline business impact.

Posted by Mahendra Penumathsa on Jan 30