This blog is brought to you by a basic truth in the world of digital technology: the more easy to use, simply designed (with a clean, clear graphical UI), and painfree any kind of digital interface/service is – from apps to websites, IoT, games etc… the MORE time, money, resource and expertise it has taken to create that digital interface.
Despite our perception that “technology solves all our problems” and that “tech makes everything so much easier” … that digital beats analogue and that automation of existing manual/human tasks is super easy. None of these things are true.
Yes it is possible for technology to deliver some amazing things, but all of these amazing things take thousands of human hours to design, code, test, bugfix and maintain.
The digital world is full of more variables than we can possibly imagine from an analogue perspective. As a comparable example, think of all the parts and functionality required to make a car run smoothly.
Think how much you invest in buying a new vehicle, and how much you continue to invest over the years to protect your investment and possibly get some of it back when you sell it on to a new owner. Think about how many people have been involved in the process of creating that car and getting it into your garage at home.
Designers, engineers, marketers, strategists, testers – then the people who create the manufacturing production line, set up the tooling and equipment, design/build/maintain the robotic parts of that production line, train the staff who are assembling the cars, source the variety of parts made elsewhere etc, right through to the interior with its upholstery, stereo, air conditioning, blue tooth connections, backing camera, and more.
And once you own it, buying petrol to keep it running, getting it serviced, replacing tyres etc, insurance to cover theft or accident, and the cost of any modifications you might choose to make.
Digital is just as complex
Creating a digital presence is no less complex. And any part of that chain can have an issue at any time. Sometimes more than one part of the chain has issues at the same time. And perhaps a big difference with cars and digital technology, is that in the world of digital, we also have to deal with malicious, intentional attempts to break or hijack that tech – from all around the world.
The parts of the chain that lead ultimately towards you having that beautiful, clean, highly functional app or website on your mobile device include:
1) The training and continuous upskilling of millions of software, web and app developers around the world. No sooner have they mastered one set of technologies, those technologies change or are updated, and new ones are launched daily that customers expect their digital suppliers to keep on top of.
2) The continual process of developing and releasing new hardware – of course older hardware still functions well, so with every new device and operating system that is released, the workload to ensure a smooth, seamless experience on YOUR device (no matter how old it is) gets longer and more challenging.
3) The platforms we work with – browsers, software, hosting, languages, CMS and more – these all are expected to work seamlessly with the whole range of devices and frequently they don’t do this straight out of the box. What does that mean? That means we need to spend more of our time and your money to ensure that your product or service is delivered seamlessly across those platforms and devices.
4) Security is a continuing issue – as you will have seen across the media via everything from Wikileaks to naked Jennifer Lawrence pics or the Sony hacks. Passwords, encryption, credit card safety and personal data protection are all just a part of the total picture to be considered when we are aiming to apply comprehensive security protection to client sites/apps and for the customers of each client. (Can you see the challenges involved in trying to produce something that appears incredibly simple and straightforward to use on the front end, while keeping everything secure, robust, updated and functional across multiple platforms in the backend?)
5) Then there’s the trend towards everything digital being highly customer-centric. That means putting the customer experience at the centre of everything. And making it seamless or omnichannel across every touchpoint where the customer engages with your brand. That brings in a whole ‘nother team of user experience or customer experience specialists. But this is a relatively new field (say the last 6 years or so) which means there are no degrees in this subject matter, and schools are not turning out thousands of UX specialists of any age. So people are shifting into this field from design or development or other areas of expertise and continually learning as they go.
6) And there’s the huge area of design and creation of relevant content … that not only looks great, is memorable and useful for readers/users, but is also search engine friendly. Of course, content is not just written or visual images, it’s also video content delivered across an increasing number of platforms and formats.
7) ‘Oh and Google’ – did we mention the giant of all search engines? Yes, these guys keep changing the goalposts, like everyone else in the digital world.
8) We also need to integrate social media smarts into whatever digital tech you are interfacing with – i.e. make that beautiful, relevant or entertaining content easy to share across all the social media platforms. Ensure that the images resize and show up properly when you share to Facebook. Oh and Facebook (and every other social channel) keep moving the goalposts too. So something that shared perfectly well the last time you set it up, might not work today. (Happens constantly).
Then there is the work to be done around testing, and re-testing and fixing the bugs that show up in the testing. But the fixing is never completely done, because of all of the above…
Goalposts on wheels
Yes, the goalposts keep moving. Like if you were to go out to start that car in your garage and the key doesn’t work any more, and instead you have to remember a 8 digit passcode that is case sensitive. And the settings for your electric seat seem to have all gone back to the factory default, and you have to call the factory to work out how to reset them again.
So the reality is that digital technology, while looking super easy and convenient on the surface (while it’s working), actually continually makes life much, much harder for those who are creating and maintaining it.
And that while our clients might think that a particular thing looks easy and should only take half an hour, often that is very far from reality.
Sometimes we don’t have the answers yet because this is a new problem that has just started happening and we have to work out which part/s of the process above are causing the issue.
But we do have the skills to work out how to solve the problem, because that is really what we do best. Continuously. Daily.
All we ask is a little understanding that it might not be easy, and frequently isn’t. And we are not always able to fix it the first time we try. But we keep trying till we find a solution that addresses the issue.
It’s a balancing act
And in reality, our days are full of negotiated compromises, because we know your budgets are not infinite, so we are constantly trying to find an affordable and realistic solution to your problem.
Sometimes it might be that you are prepared to pay more to get the issue resolved in a more comprehensive manner.
Other times, it is really not worth spending the time and money on (i.e. the problem is more of a minor inconvenience rather than a major business issue), and we would appreciate knowing that too.
So if you ask us to look at something for you, or to fix something you think is fairly minor – and we find that it would in fact be a big deal to fix, and it is not interfering with your core business, then we appreciate it if you let us know how much time or money you want us to spend looking at it.
And if we have looked at the issue, researched a solution and given you a price – but you choose not to proceed any further, be aware that we will charge you for the time to do the research, even though you don’t appear to have a tangible outcome. (In reality you do have an outcome – you now know what caused the issue and how to get it fixed if you want to spend the money.)
We don’t often lay it all out there like this, but we love working with well-educated clients who know exactly what it is they are asking for and place true value on our work.
We know that everyone in the technology sector has to deal with the same playing field, and it is less “level” and more of a “continuously shifting swamp with the occasional earthquake or volcanic eruption”.
And disruptive? Digital by definition is about disruption. But as yet, no-one has come up with the magic formula that enables the back-end of technology development to be as smooth and streamlined as the front end. Not yet.
No doubt it will happen in time. Perhaps some AI bots will address that issue for us and we can simply voice command a new app or digital experience into reality. No code required.
But we are definitely not there yet.