The Digital Transformation’s impact on a software development team

The other day my management asked me about my view on what a software development team would look like to face the challenges imposed by the current trends like for example digital transformation, the digital customer experience, SMAC, Big Data & cloud computing, to which I like to refer to with the term “the third platform technologies” .

When thinking about the engineering skills and capabilities my team would require to successfully face these challenges, I could list all existing ones and a few new ones. With this approach I would assure myself  I have the complete software engineering body of knowledge readily available in my team and this would enable the team to successfully address any challenge during the delivery of a solution.

However if I would move this forward, I would eventually end up with a team of such a considerable size, I highly doubt my business sponsor would provide me the funds required to assemble such a team. Also the size of the team would also create considerable overhead for the effort required for team coordination and alignment. This would greatly jeopardize the team’s capability to deliver value to the client fast and swiftly respond to any changes in the client’s business priorities or markets. I’d rather like my team to be as compact as possible, thus driving  down cost and to provide an agile environment capable to handle change. This implies I have to make few conscious choices regarding the team’s skills and capabilities, which made me decide to describe a brief profile for each member the team.

Considering the third platform technologies, which we are to leverage to deliver the solution, will for sure require new sets of skills for software engineers. The third platform era also requires a change of mindset and priorities for the team. A central theme in the digital transformation we are to support, is our clients’ transition from product to service; from only selling products to an end-to-end client experience with added value through added value services.  Service is prime, hence rather of talking about the back office for such a solution, I’d rather leverage the name service office for the same. This also distinguishes the back bone of our solution from the existing (legacy) back office of our clients, which is most likely  product & ERP focused, supported by packages like for example Siebel or SAP. This also warrants for a change of names for a few team member profiles and even the introduction of a few new profiles.

The service assurance engineer
This engineer assures the functional quality of the services provided by our solution to its users. In the second platform era this engineer was known as test engineer. However the end users’ perception of our solution and the services it provides, will greatly impact the solution’s success in the market. Assuring its quality is among the highest priorities of the team, as any remaining functional issues in a release will negatively impact the service’s reputation and the client’s bottom-line. Leveraging the traditional test engineers skill set and capabilities, the engineer’s focus shifts from validating detailed ,functional requirements, to assessing if the feature set of a solution release meet the end users’ service end user experience expectations.

Service analyst
The Service Analyst analyses the service organization and designs its processes and systems, creating new business models and their integration with technology. In the second platform era this engineer was known as business analyst. Leveraging the traditional business analyst skill set and capabilities, the focus shifts from aligning the product focus business and IT to creating new business models, leveraging all available assets of a company and venturing into new markets and services. Obviously this still requires a deep understanding of a business domain, but rather of thinking about how to support a given business domain with IT, there will be a shift towards thinking about extending this domain.

Data analytic engineer
The data analytic engineer is responsible for providing the means for the service delivery organization to govern and manage the data leveraged by the service. In the second platform era this engineer was known as the business intelligence engineer. Levering the traditional BI skill set and capabilities, the focus shifts from reporting business performance and supporting business decisions to providing data to support and enhance the service experience. This engineer will also require big data analysis skills, which will enable him to create big data solutions to provide the means for the service solution to align the service delivery with the profile, the expectation and  social context of each individual end user.

Gamification engineer
The gamification engineer is responsible for creating the part of the solution which provides the incentives which will seduce, persuade and engage the service end user to provide feedback regarding the service experience.  In the second platform era this engineer was known as computer game engineer. Levering the computer game engineer’s skills and capabilities, the focus shifts from creating stand-alone games, to adding game concepts to the service solution which focus on collecting data with have regard to the service experience, which when leveraged by the service solution will improve the service experience. As an example consider how Foursquare leveraged gamification to create a world wide data set with detailed information about venues.

Infrastructure-as-code engineer
The infrastructure-as-code engineer is responsible for creating the part of the service solution which provides the means to automatically deploy and configure the Information System (IS) & Infrastructure Technology (IT) components which deliver the service from the cloud to the devices of our service’s end user. In the second platform era this engineer was known as Infrastructure Engineer. Levering the Infrastructure engineers skills as capabilities, the focus shifts from designing  and in most cases manually deploy install and configure the solution’s infrastructure and software components, to creating solutions which provides the same through automated processes captured in software code. Ideally these solutions will in real-time monitor the performance of these components and automatically deploy or decommission components as required to provide an acceptable service experience, while at the same time minimize infrastructure service costs. This will require the Infrastructure engineer to learn about software engineering concepts & constructs, which will enable him to create maintainable and changeable code constructs. The constructs leveraged should assure a plug-able architecture which provide the means to exchange infrastructure service components from one provider by the components from another provider to overcome the issue of vendor and/or platform lock-in.

Service experience engineer
The service experience engineer is responsible for designing and specifying the service experience at a conceptual level. In the second platform era this engineer had multiple faces. First of all, the engineer would have been the User Experience Engineer, who leveraged RDV (-Rapid Design & Visualization-) to create prototypes for the screen-based user interface which dominated the era. Second of all, the engineer was known as Requirement Engineer responsible for creating detailed functional specification and acceptance criteria. However for our third platform solution I would like to combine the two roles into one and add Industrial Design skills and capabilities as well to enable the engineer to create the user interfaces of the third era, like for example augmented reality, to name just one concept looming just beyond the horizon. This would create an engineer which would be able to design and specify a service experience with a compelling user interaction surface, which will attract users to the service merely by the ergonomic, visual and audible quality of the end-user surface, which can be so much more than textual representation of data on a screen.

(Mobile) Front-end engineer
The (Mobile) Front-end engineer is responsible for actually constructing the user interaction surface, leveraging the design and specification co-created with the service experience engineer. In the second era this engineer was known as the front-end software programmer. Leveraging the traditional skills and capabilities of a programmer the focus will shift from forms based interfaces to interfaces which leverage all the available user interfacing and sensor and location capabilities of the third platform devices. Obviously this will require the engineer to learn the APIs available on these devices, to enable the engineer to leverage the devices’ capabilities to their full extend.

Service Integration engineer
The service integration engineer is responsible for designing, specifying and constructing the integration between the service solution under construction with the APIs of the services provided by other service providers. (-In a case study I was involved in it was required to integrate with the APIs of transportation service providers to book a ticket or to retrieve a bus schedule for example-). In the second platform era this engineer was known as System Integration Engineer.  Leveraging the traditional skills of the System Integration Engineer the focus will shift from integrating the services provided by an organization’s internal back office information system components within one business organization to integrating the services provided by external services providers. Considering a service solution should be able to exchange the services provided by one service provider with the services provided by another, in the third platform era the engineer needs to assure all external system integrations are plug-able.

Service office engineer
The service office engineer is responsible for designing and constructing the back bone of the service solution, the defined service office information system component mentioned above. This back bone aggregates the services provided by the business for which the solution is constructed, with the services provided by other (external) service providers and interacts with the service end users’ interaction surfaces. In the second platform era this engineer was known as back office programmer. Leveraging the skills and capabilities of the back office programmer the focus will shift from retrieving, transforming and persisting data from relational databases to retrieving, transforming and persisting data through services made available by the efforts of the service integration engineer.

Back office engineer

The back office engineer is responsible for adapting the business’ (legacy) back office information system components, to enable these components to provide services to the service office. Even in the third platform era the existing back offices of our “old business” clients contain valuable assets which can be leveraged in new business models and services. However it may be required to adapt these components to enable them to expose these assets for a service. Hence in my dream team a software engineer who is able to adapt the legacy systems is a valuable asset; most likely he also knows a lot about the business domain for which the service is constructed.

Resource management engineer
The resource management engineer is responsible for managing the resources which enable the team to create the service solution. The most important resources for the team are people, time and budget. In the second platform era this engineer was known as project manager, hence one can argue if this engineer should be considered a software engineer. Leveraging the traditional skills and capabilities of the project manager the focus will shift from a plan, command and control leader to a facilitating servant leader capable of providing the resources which enable the team to incrementally develop the service leveraging agile practices. Obviously this requires this engineer to be the scrum master of the team. But the resource management engineer must also be capable to create a business case for the next release of the service solution and secure the budget required for the realization, hence the old school tricks and trades of a project manager are a valuable asset to acquisition these funds from the business who may not completely grasp the potential of the digital transformation enabled by the service solution.

Support & communication engineer
The support & communication engineer is responsible for handling all communication channels with the service’s end users with regard to the front-end applications deployed on their service interaction surfaces. (- as opposed to the service desk members which handle support and communication with regard to the service provided -). In the second platform era this engineer was known as help desk engineer. Leveraging the traditional skills and capabilities of the help desk engineer the focus will shift from providing in depth guidance to users to overcome their impediments while they are trying to use the solution without ever reading the manual to a community manager capable of positively contributing to the perception and reputation of the service solution and the front-end applications leveraged to deliver the same to the service’s end users. The engineer must be able to mitigate any technical issue, true of false, which may surface on any social network or media. He guards the solution’s reputation on the internet and as first line for support identifies and analyses any urgent issues which require immediate action. This enables the other members of the team to focus on the new service features for next release and the high priority issues reported by the service’s community members.

To wrap up this blog post the conclusion is that digital transformation not only requires a transformation of the business. A transformation of the software engineering community, its members, their skills and capabilities is also required. This will enable software engineers to take on the challenge to venture off into to new technology landscapes and business models with the business and be able to focus on the objectives required to successfully complete the journey; never the less leveraging the existing pragmatic software engineering skills and capabilities to guarantee maintainability and changeability of the service solutions they construct.

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