Where do you keep your complexity?

Complexity that prevents customers from buying is bad for business. But if you enable developers to innovate, it can be used to deliver delightful, sophisticated offerings.

If it feels like everything is too complicated, it’s not you. Sixty-seven percent of Generation Xers agree that life has become much too complicated.

If you’re anything like me, you struggle daily just trying to figure stuff out. I’m often amazed that people with less of a technical thought process than I have can even get by.

It’s not the hard stuff either. For example, last night, my wife watched me try to figure out why a TiVo season pass wasn’t recording properly. Twenty minutes. That’s what it took to figure out something that’s supposed to “just work”.

Complexity around TV watching might be considered a first-world problem but when complexity impacts customer acquisition or employee satisfaction it becomes very relevant.

Complexity as a barrier to sales

Last week I was talking with the CEO of a large multinational insurance company who shares my frustration with all the things we see that just don’t make sense. He used the example of signing up for life insurance.

The CEO said his company has eliminated the complexity by simplifying the process. Their prospects can sign up on the spot for life insurance with a quick blood test. As long as the blood test comes back negative for HIV and nicotine, the policy is effective immediately.

The company no longer has sales dropout (customers who never bother to get the health checkup) or weeks long delays of premium receipt due to people slow in completing their medical review. It’s worked brilliantly for them.

Embrace your complexity

I took exception with the use of the word “eliminate”. This is important, because it’s where other companies can take a good lesson.

This company didn’t eliminate the complexity, they hid it from the customer. They still have strong underwriting capabilities. They still balance risk in their portfolio. They still price insurance properly. They just do this while simplifying the interface to the company rather than by forcing it onto the customer experience.

The lesson

When it comes to enterprise software development there is a lot of infrastructure and overhead that’s different from simple consumer apps. It’s the job of IT to hide that infrastructure and overhead, not hide behind it.

We have to learn to hide the enterprise complexity from developers so that they can simply create a user experience that delights. This is even more critical as development is done in less traditional parts of the organization.

Another way to view complexity

In some ways complexity is important. Think of it as sophistication. If we can be sophisticated, but hide the complexity we’ll create moats around our market that make it very difficult for newcomers to disrupt.

Back to the insurance example one last time. What they have done is pushed the complexity into their underwriting model and made it more sophisticated in order to simplify their customer-sales interface. If their competitors have less sophistication, or data-insight, they won’t be able to follow.

IT needs to do the same. Push the governance, compliance and enterprise-class capabilities into the infrastructure so that developers can innovate. IT will manage risk and compliance under-the-covers. Everyone wins.

Image credit: Adam Schaefer

David is VP finan­cial ser­vices solu­tions at CA Tech­nolo­gies. He is an expe­ri­enced tech­nol­o­gist focusing…

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