Why do you do what you do?
Without wanting to throw you into an existential crisis, it’s a crucial question for all businesses, and the people within them.
At Calvium, we’re lucky to have a hugely talented team – a fantastic blend of experienced developers, UX experts, account managers, researchers and marketers. Each of us brings something different to the table which is why we’ve been able to work with such varied clients, from large scale urban redevelopments like Battersea Power Station to customer apps like delivery firm Yodel’s.
Not only do our people each bring something different to projects, we’re driven by different passions, too. Many love the technical challenge of, say, getting an offline directory to work in the middle of the ocean or building an AR experience for mobile. For me, I love the business side of app development – working collaboratively, and long-term, with large-scale businesses like Rolls-Royce to strategise, plan and deliver apps that make a fundamental difference to the way they operate. Here’s why.
The challenge of legacy
Of all the projects we undertake, enterprise apps for engineering firms or product design companies are, for me, the most transformational. Legacy businesses, those companies that have been around for decades, are under pressure to innovate, to embrace new technology, and to do so quickly. As incumbents, the pressures on productivity, the pressures from new businesses coming to market and economic pressures are stark.
Apps and app technology are not just nice-to-have, they offer businesses a chance to survive – if they don’t embrace new technologies, somebody else is going to come in and make them obsolete. Start-up ventures are built with the newest technologies at their core, these large firms are often playing catch-up, and if they’re too slow to innovate, this can eat away at their bottom line. The ‘Kodak effect’ (where they invented the digital camera, didn’t take it to market and went under because other companies did) is a real fear.
This may sound like doom and gloom, but the challenge is the opportunity. A focus on digital transformation (and perhaps even AI transformation now) can help these companies get ahead of competitors. The problem is a large one, and the solution complex – and that’s perhaps what I love about it the most.
The really exciting thing about building enterprise apps is that you know that you can enable transformation and have a positive and sustainable impact.
Although the details of our work with Rolls-Royce are under NDA, we can say that it is a long-term, strategic partnership, not a short-term consultative relationship. Consultants get a bad rep, mainly because of the seagull effect – swoop in, make a mess and then leave. Building partnerships means we’re part of the fabric of the business, allowing us to highlight other areas where apps could potentially make a huge difference to people or process.
It’s not only identifying what needs to change, of course, it’s using apps to really think about how we can address issues and change them. The most rewarding thing is going in with a consultancy view – listening to their pains, their problems and the context of the issue – but then having a positive way of addressing these.
The mechanics of large scale businesses are fascinating, and the longer the relationship with a business, the more opportunities for improvement you uncover. Of course, once one department sees the benefit of a new app or a new way of working, other departments soon become interested. Apps in that sense become a catalyst for organisational change, not just in terms of systems, but in the mindset of the people within the business.
The human element
For all the talk of digital transformation, what often gets overlooked is the need for human transformation, too. We’re helping to improve the working day of the people on the front line of the business, and we need them to change their habits and be on board from the get-go.
Our agile approach to app development means we involve the people that matter early on. Often the demand for digital solutions comes from the top, but these are the people least affected by new systems (other than the impact on the bottom line, of course.) Agile working is a much more evolutionary approach than a consultant dictating from on high – we engage people so they’re not having change done to them, rather so they themselves are an important part of the change cycle.
Positioning change as a positive and inclusive process helps when we’re introducing what, to some, might be a brand new concept. The app is then seen as a positive new thing that they can be part of rather than a challenge. When you can go from an early discovery workshop where you’re discussing ideas, to demonstrating that you’ve understood people’s issues, to putting an early prototype in front of them in a short space of time, that’s fantastic.
I get a huge amount of satisfaction in seeing the joy in engineers’ faces when we deliver the things that we’re delivering, because in the past, they’ve been sold these life-changing solutions that for one reason or another have never quite materialised or have not been designed intelligently with the end user in mind.
Having an opportunity to deliver things rapidly – within months rather than years – that’s a real buzz.
Part of something bigger
Our work with engineering firms doesn’t happen in a silo. The mobile part of what we do is one thing, but the real value is in embracing the wider context and the wider systems in the business. One of the most satisfying relationships we build is with the IT department, making sure our work is complementary to theirs.
IT projects are often thwarted by internal pressures and politics. We can come in, be much more agile and much quicker at developing prototypes than the IT department, while simultaneously working with them to show how the solution will benefit their existing systems.
A common solution won’t just involve the mobile, it will also involve the administrative web-based apps, too. In any business, you’re not always mobile, you’re often back at the desk or you’re working in a team where some people are office-based and some people aren’t. Thinking about the whole end-to-end system is vital. IT has that wider business knowledge and understands those requirements, far more than we ever can.
Where it’s exciting is when we can actually then provide them capability that they don’t have on their own because it’s not their specialism, they don’t have that bandwidth or it’s not core to what they’ve always done.
These relationships work when everybody can play to their own strengths. When you find that dynamic, the results can be phenomenal.There are many reasons to love apps – they can be creative, beautiful, informative – addictive, even. But for the sheer impact, my favourite thing about app design and development is working with businesses and their teams to transform the way they work, think and grow.
Land Rover MENA, via Flickr