October 22, 2020

cedric-lachat

education gives you strength

A modern approach to application development helps Humana adapt and thrive in the new normal

6 min read
The days when a website and mobile app were all it took to provide an...

The days when a website and mobile app were all it took to provide an outstanding ​customer experience are over. CIOs who were slow to face this fact have been forced to accept it by the global pandemic. Customers now expect to engage with organizations on their own terms, using the channel, device, or interaction modality that they prefer. Whether they choose to do business using a desktop, mobile device, wearable device, voice assistant or chatbot, your customers demand a consistent experience across all interactions. 

This new reality calls for Business & IT teams to shift from ​channels to moments​ by expanding our mindsets from ​products to platforms​. Traditionally, applications are developed channel by channel, function by function, and product by product. Now, companies must meet customers in what Forrester calls “​the mobile moment​”—the moment when they need to accomplish a task. To meet these “mobile moments,” we must look beyond the problem at hand and create solutions that adapt quickly and continuously. ​To shift from channels to moments, our mindset must expand from products to platforms.

Organizations stuck in old ways of developing software will struggle to realize the shift from channels to moments. That’s because traditional app development requires multiple development teams, each with a unique skill set, to repeatedly build the same functionality for each application or channel. It’s a time-consuming process that slows development and hinders innovation.

Some IT teams use off-the-shelf software packages to speed app development. But what they gain in speed, they lose in scalability and customizability. Ceding control of your customer experience to a prepackaged solution poses huge risks in today’s highly competitive environment. As the software scales, modifying or updating it can become costly and time-consuming, often eliminating any savings the off-the-shelf solution delivered. 

Overcoming app dev challenges

Speed, scalability, and customizability were key challenges we faced at Humana, a Fortune 60 health insurance company with over 16 million members nationwide. As Digital Channels Director, I believe that to be an agile organization, you have to launch new apps and capabilities frequently. 

But that was easier said than done. Our teams had no shortage of projects, but old methods of app development slowed releases. With multiple teams working with multiple technologies, months or years of coding were required to get applications live. Something as simple as upgrading our brand guidelines would take nearly a year to replicate across all properties. Similar to a funnel, plenty of initiatives poured in at the top, but only a few slowly made it out of the funnel to market. 

Last year, our team made the decision to move to the OutSystems modern app development platform, which automates repetitive tasks and uses visual development​ to speed app development. Using the OutSystems platform, developers and designers can build application components once and reuse them across channels and applications. This provides a consistent approach to app development that optimizes customer and employee experience. 

Humana’s first project using OutSystems was Agent First Look. Our goal: Educate 40,000 insurance agents nationwide about new Humana offerings three months before Medicare open enrollment.  The build was daunting. Our IT team needed to pull in 12 backend data systems to design the app, which allows agents to quickly navigate to the markets they sell in, view Humana plans offered in their area, and see side-by-side comparisons of plan features. 

The result? The project took just 8 weeks, compared to the 8 months’ time we had projected using traditional development methods, and cost one-fourth of the original cost. What’s more, we were able to over-deliver, launching Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the app concurrently. 

We were so confident that we launched the app during business hours–with no problems despite having 20,000 concurrent sessions, or 50% of the user population on site at the same time. We had load tested it and knew we could handle up to 100%. 

From funnel to pipeline

Our agile transformation continued with an app we developed to support patients’ annual physicals. Since this is the only time many patients see their provider, we wanted to proactively engage patients via an app giving providers tools and materials they can share with patients during the annual visit. 

When word of the upcoming project spread, designers with web developer experience who were part of our previous OutSystems projects began asking to work on it. Using OutSystems’ support materials and training, they got up to speed quickly and started working on the project in their spare time. Originally slated to launch in 2020 due to competing IT priorities, the app actually launched in Fall 2019—and since our designers created it in their free time, there were no associated costs. 

In the past, creating consistency across channels or devices often meant building to the lowest common denominator. But using the OutSystems platform, we were able to replicate the experience of face-to-face interactions digitally, creating a highly customized experience to meet patients in the moment on any channel or device. 

Building on an agility backbone

The agility backbone OutSystems provided equipped us to pivot quickly when the pandemic struck and we wanted to help customers find testing sites. Our call center was struggling, using a giant spreadsheet to direct customers to COVID-19 testing centers.

Because OutSystems makes it easy to reuse previously built components, over one weekend we were able to turn the spreadsheet into an app. Next, we expanded that app into a full suite of back office applications that over 30 reps use to track testing locations nationwide. Additionally, we created the ability to load testing location data from 3rd​ ​ party sources by simply uploading files into the back-office. Finally, we built a customer-facing app to give our members a Google-like map search experience to find testing locations themselves. The ability to build once and reuse components enabled us to build all three apps within 30 days. Not bad for a month’s work.

The OutSystems platform means we can be intentional about consistency across customer journeys. Traditionally, we’d have an iOS team, Android team, web team and back-end team(s). Given this, consistency came only as a miracle with tremendous coordination to converge the efforts of different teams working on different channels and technologies. Now, the front-end teams are empowered to create native iOS, Android and web experiences with a single common set of skills: HTML/JavaScript/CSS. 

Our costs have gone down because the OutSystems platform lets us leverage our existing developers’ skills rather than outsourcing or hiring for specialized skill sets. Instead of rebuilding interactions for each channel or application, developers build once and reuse components across interactions. We used to have teams of people who monitored the build for interoperability and integration with APIs. Now, teams don’t even think about things like versioning anymore; it just happens.

Harnessing this new breed of app development platform has transformed our feature funnel into a pipeline. Our backlogs are shrinking and are now challenged to “keep up with the build team”. We are seeing ideas come to market in days rather than months or years. For example, this year our brand guidelines were updated by January 12. The IT team has eliminated their backlog of projects and can focus on bringing great ideas to the forefront. For developers, it’s like taking the handcuffs off so they can let their imaginations run free.

Building an agile organization

Companies that innovate frequently are the companies that win. Having one platform where everyone works together is empowering Humana to serve customers in new, innovative ways. By solving the problems of speed, scalability, and customization, OutSystems is helping Humana truly live up to our promise to deliver “Humana Care”. 

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