Omni-channel: Making Technology Disappear

By Graham Odds | 27 May 2015

Multi-channel, cross-channel, omni-channel: all modern terms that are used to describe the evolving way in which users access systems and services. With the advent of smartphones and tablets, companies adopted a multi-channel strategy where customers could access the same system on a range of devices and platforms. Cross-channel systems represented an evolution of this approach, allowing customers to engage in interactions that moved between channels. Customers now increasingly expect all the channels available to them – web, desktop, smartphone, tablet, wearables – to act as one seamless service: an omni-channel experience.

With the proliferation of platforms and devices, how can this realistically be achieved? From a technology perspective, the past decade has been a frenzy. The rapid adoption of smartphones and tablets has resulted in many businesses being reactive rather than strategically planned. This has particularly been seen in the capital markets sector where rapid adoption has been done in a fragmented manner.

This new world in which we live is a constant headache and challenge for IT departments. Is it possible to deliver a full suite of services on each device, for each technology at the same level of quality? Is it really necessary, given the potentially large investment required?

How to tackle the platform explosion?

At Scott Logic we feel the only way to tackle this platform explosion and to build an omni-channel experience is to move away from considering each platform in isolation, and away from the mindset that all systems must be available on each and every device. After all, each platform has its own unique capabilities and features that should be exploited and combined.

“Focus on the user and all else will follow” – Google

The first step is to stop providing ‘everything’ via every channel. We have found that a focus on user experience is more effective at both meeting and exceeding users’ expectations, thereby resulting in competitive advantage.

The first step in a user-centric mindset is to establish an understanding of your users. This is usually done by developing personas: fictional characters representing aspects of users that lead to an understanding of behaviours. By understanding users goals, personality characteristics and when and how your system may fit into their lives ensures that a system is built that truly reflects user needs.

It’s all about context

Once personas are created, understanding contexts is an important next step on your journey to omni-channel. The design of a system should centre on the situations that users are in and the tasks they carry out in those situations, rather than the channels where it is deployed.

Contexts provide a clear framework for identifying which channels are available to the user, what functionality should be available and what form that functionality should take. For example, does it make sense to include all administrative background tasks associated with order management or reporting on a smartphone?

Until these two important steps of creating personas and understanding contexts are undertaken, you will always be second-guessing how a user interacts with your system and potentially building tasks or services that are not needed for each and every device.

Making Technology Disappear

‘Making technology disappear’ is a strong statement but one we feel is achievable if user experience underpins technological decision-making.

The success indicator of any omni-channel experience is when technology plays a supporting role to users’ tasks and contexts. Google Docs is an excellent example of this. When it first emerged many marvelled at the fact that you could create a desktop experience online. Furthermore, it lacked a save button, it was collaborative, real-time. A true technological masterpiece! However, how often do you think about the technology behind it these days, it is no longer a technological showcase, it is the new norm.

We believe that technology drives omni-channel experiences by playing a supporting role to users’ tasks and contexts. Technology is at its best, not when it wows, or amazes, but when it becomes so natural that it disappears: it just works!

In our recent white paper, Making Technology Disappear: Building Omni-channel Systems for Capital Markets, we look at a vision for omni-channel systems for capital markets in more detail, demonstrating what is possible by understanding which channels best suit different types of engagement and workflows, and how channels can best be combined.

Click here to download the white paper in full.

By Graham Odds, Head of UX Design, Scott Logic

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