Developers: the Heart of UK Digital Transformation

In the face of an increasing digital skills gap, the need for developer talent has never been stronger

In today’s technology-driven world, businesses need to move fast to keep pace with the demands of their buyers. This is because digital and social channels have opened up a direct relationship between company and customer; the latter are now encouraged to share opinions on products or services. This has created a virtuous circle: customers see their preferences taken into account and businesses collect this data to improve their offerings. However, for this relationship to be mutually beneficial, a company must be able to flex fast. This only possible when there is a talented development team in place to code the digital services that deliver on customer feedback

Developer-driven innovation

Disruptive businesses are marked by their ability to meet the needs of customers through a fast-paced development environment. A great example is Airbnb which is committed to facilitating effective feedback between guests and hosts to ensure a worry-free trip. Noting that delayed responses from hosts left guests feeling concerned, the engineering team recently focused on machine learning to classify the intent behind guest messages and automate responses — streamlining the experience for guests and hosts. This ability to understand customer feedback and pivot fast is helping businesses like Airbnb retain loyalty and customer spend.

Other businesses are built from the ground up with a mission to revolutionise customer experience. Take Monzo as an example; this digital bank has reshaped the personal finance industry by creating an innovative, app-based banking experience. Strategy and developer teams work hand in hand to create new services that help customers better control their finances, including the ability to instantly freeze or unfreeze a debit card, real-time engagement with customer services and spending summaries that encourage saving. Monzo has attracted over one million users since it was founded in 2015. Its success has placed pressure on traditional banks, many of whom are investing in developer talent to overhaul their own digital services to remain competitive.

The battle for developer talent

As the above examples demonstrate, developers are the unsung heroes of digital transformation. They sit squarely at the heart of organisations’ efforts to drive innovation, helping them remain relevant in a fast-evolving, digital world. It is little wonder that recent research from Stripe found that executives now deem access to developers as important as access to capital.

However, attracting and retaining the best developer talent isn’t easy. In 2018 Deloitte found that over three-quarters of UK executives are experiencing challenges in digital recruitment with only 16% believing that their teams were able to deliver on the businesses digital strategy. To tackle this, businesses are investing heavily in employer branding around their technology teams. For example, ASOS launched its tech blog in 2018 as part of an effort to appeal to developers and boost its tech headcount.

Whilst hiring is important, the talent pool is finite so many businesses are also looking to upskill their existing teams. Marks & Spencer introduced a Data Science Skills Programme to encourage staff to learn programming languages and become data literate. This will boost its in-house developer talent and create a new team of skilled staff to lead digital transformation efforts and is likely to be noted and replicated across the UK.

Empowering developers

Once businesses have developer talent in place, they need to understand how to set these teams up for success. Open source software (OSS) is an important factor here, enabling developers to share and collaborate on coding projects, and also share their feedback in an easier way opposed to traditional methods. When open source technology is used within the enterprise, it enables better and faster development. As a starting point, developers from across the businesses can leverage existing code, enabling them to solve problems and create value faster. Open source also facilitates collaboration, bringing together developers to share ideas and find imaginative, resourceful solutions to technical issues. “The more we can do this internal open source, the more flexible we can be and the faster we can release code to customers,” says Jeremy King, CTO of Wal-Mart Global eCommerce and head of Walmart Labs.

Another way to enable developers is to adopt a DevOps culture, empowering teams to move fast and fail forward. This means that developers work closely with other parts of the organisation, understanding strategic priorities and focusing on delivering against these. Digital products are created and iterated at a faster pace to keep pace with customer feedback and demand.

Finally, providing a level of autonomy can be a great way to motivate developer teams. According to an android developer at ASOSOne of my favourite parts of working here… is the fact that we’re trusted to do what we think is best for the customer. This means we get a lot of freedom to make something work the way it should without compromising the user’s experience of shopping with us.

For businesses of any size, in any sector, the key to digital transformation is staying ahead of customer expectations and the competition. It is the strength of the developer team that will make or break a business’ efforts here — and they have rightfully become the heart of digital transformation.

About the Author

Nigel Abbott is Director at GitHub. Nigel started in the software industry immediately after leaving University in 1993. In this time, he’s worked in a variety of disciplines from utilities and middleware, content and document management and more latterly on software developer platforms (since 2011). At GitHub, Nigel is responsible for its wide range of enterprise customers in the UK and Ireland, with customers in pretty much every vertical.