Talk to any brand or agency head and they’ll tell you that the pandemic has accelerated many existing business trends. Cloud, remote, distributed, e-commerce, shop streaming – the list goes on. One trend that gets fewer headlines but is no less significant is that brands – more in need of business transformation than ever before – are now turning to their agency partners to help circumvent their own internal development bottlenecks.
So how can agencies support clients without getting mired in the same development challenges? Mandhir Gidda, UK CTO at Wunderman Thompson and Barry Flaherty, Head of Agency Relationships at Jitterbit jumped on Zoom earlier this week to offer a high-level overview of this trend and dive into a recent Wunderman Thompson client project for a global automotive brand.
Barry: Every big brand CTO has integration horror stories they can share. Why all the pain – and why bring in agencies to help?
Mandhir: Development culture within brands has traditionally been centred on coding complex solutions, often built on-premise. Building out new services and integrating different technologies typically takes months – sometimes years. Take one of our clients for example. They’re a global vehicle manufacturer, but the operation is run centrally out of Germany. Getting new projects into the roadmap takes a significant length of time because they need France, Spain, Russia, pretty much every local territory to buy into it before they’ll press go. Consequently, their UK team can’t move as fast as the UK market, which is their second-largest for commercial vehicles after Germany. They need to go ‘off-piste’ to some extent if they want to remain competitive here. And that’s where their relationship with Wunderman Thompson comes in.
Barry: Brands are now heavily investing in cloud solutions. How does that change things?
Mandhir: Essentially, it means innovation need no longer depend on complex in-house, on-premise projects. There’s a huge scope for low-code and even no-code business transformation. Simply by connecting different APIs and integrating the data, you can open up completely new revenue streams for the client. This is where agencies have a really important new role, opening the client’s eyes to what is possible.
Barry: The project you’ve recently delivered for the client is pretty transformational – and it all came together in a matter of weeks. What was the brief?
Mandhir: Until now the client – which let’s remember is a global automotive brand – had no online sales platform for their commercial arm. It sounds extraordinary in this day and age, but it’s important to remember that many brands still have these sort of digital non-sequiturs in their businesses. In our client’s case, it’s actually the net result of a number of different issues coming together. The relationship they as a manufacturer have with their own federated dealership network; the way in which commercial sales are structured; the fact sales are usually volume deals; the nature of their legacy infrastructure… all these factors combined with the challenge of actually getting projects on the internal company roadmap. Then of course we all know what happened in March. Suddenly, the whole idea of transacting in person at a dealership was questionable. What was up until that point, let’s say, a ‘quirk’ of the UK business immediately became a critical issue. That’s when we came in to quickly deliver the sales platform for their commercial vehicles division.
Barry: As an agency, how did you avoid the same sorts of development bottlenecks that previously impeded the client?
Mandhir: We’d been looking at integration platforms as a way to deliver complex, innovative projects without having to rely on client organisations or infrastructure. And specifically working with you Barry and your team changed our mindset in terms of how we approached integration. Rather than this traditional point-to-point, almost hardwired approach, we were able to move to a low-code, cloud-based way of working where we can provision infrastructure quickly, discover new services and then integrate those as well. In the end, we used Jitterbit’s integration platform to pull in and integrate more than 15 different APIs for the online sales platform alone. And the velocity with which we were able to do it was tangible. We also had a lot more latitude using an integration platform and an agile methodology than we would have if we’d employed something on-premise provided by the client.
Barry: How have the client’s development and technical team responded?
Mandhir: They’ve all been very surprised at how easy it is to create new APIs and integrate with existing services by using the integration platform. One of the big learnings is the skill set you need in order to innovate completely changes. With just a little bit of training, our business analysts can create the integrations themselves – we don’t need teams of developers or technical architecture teams doing discovery. The integration platform itself discovers services, so you might take five granular services that do one specific task and decide to automatically compose those together into one. So it’s changed the client’s whole mentality of how you deliver big projects like this, from an almost handcrafted experience into an easy-to-use platform that is entirely decoupled from all of the spaghetti that usually goes with these types of complex integrations.
Barry: And am I right that the project has actually gone beyond the initial brief?
Mandhir: It’s actually been a bit of a revelation to the client. Their own financial services arm doesn’t have its APIs exposed out so the client saw the opportunity to use the integration platform to quickly integrate various different finance company APIs for the leasing and financing options, which is actually a bigger revenue driver in their business than the commercial vehicles themselves. And now their financial services arm is waking up to the opportunity and focusing on getting their own API exposed and integrated using the platform. We’re also looking at a project to leverage over twenty years of customer data in order to deliver new services. So this move to using an integration platform as a service is continuing to catalyse innovation internally within the organisation, which is great to see and be part of.
Barry: What’s the big take-away for your other clients and even other agencies?
Mandhir: The thing to understand about Wunderman Thompson is we’re a full-service agency. We’re not a technology agency. And that means we are coming at this looking at the problems the customer is facing and, guess what, they’re not technical problems. They are problems related to speed to market, to the user journey, to how we integrate the customers’ data. As an agency, we’re also at the same time cognisant of the client’s business challenges. Many of the world’s biggest, best-known brands are facing an almost existential crisis right now. They don’t have three years to build out all their integrations because they genuinely don’t know where their industry will be in three years. That’s the kind of disruptive times we are all living in. So working in this new agile way, focusing on automated integrations that solve real customer problems not esoteric technological ones is not just the best way forward – it’s actually the only way forward for these businesses.
Barry: Thanks Mandhir. It’s great to see you guys embracing integration innovation and embedding it across so many transformative client projects.