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What Do Digital Agencies Think 2021 Holds for Their Business and Their Clients?

If 2020 has taught us anything, it's that predictions and forecasts can be thrown out the window in an instant. That said, talk to technology and innovation leaders at digital agencies and there are a handful of trends that are safe bets for 2021.

My conversations with agency partners often focus on delivering digital transformation to clients by integrating the right mix of solutions and creating a 360 degree view, not only of the client’s customer but of the client’s business itself. I wanted to know what other trends our agency partners are advising clients to get on board with in 2021 – and why.

From adopting an ‘API first’ methodology to the shift to ‘Value Engineering’ and the rise of ‘Headless content’, we got some intriguing responses from Wunderman Thompson UK, Succeed Digital, 4Roads, Monsoon Consulting, 383, RizkMcCayTribe, Jitterbit, Rufus Leonard and Priocept.

I’m also curious about what technologies agencies are embracing internally so we also asked our agency partners to share insights into their own best practices. In particular, one trend I see is that agencies are recognising remote working needs to be balanced with the continuing importance of community (online and in the physical sense). To source, find, hire and retain talent, agencies and indeed their clients will have to offer more than bean bags, free coffee and a gym membership as the genie is out of the bottle now in terms of people’s expectations of work-life balance. Getting that balancing act will need the right mindset and investment in the right technologies but once achieved, it’ll play a pivotal role as we craft new, more humanistic ways of working.

Digital Transformation wise, what is the one thing you are advising clients to get on board with in 2021 – and why?

Brad Smith, Director & Founder, Succeed Digital:

Use this year as a year of stabilisation. Go back to basics. Sort out the remote working. Focus on wellbeing. Transform how people feel and digital transformation will follow. Make sure the culture is one that people love being part of. For some, it may mean focusing less on the profit or growth and more on enabling that for 2022 and beyond. If you are cash rich and those things are in place then use the opportunity to widen the opportunity between you and your competitors. Move from archaic legacy systems to modern effective ways of working. Impact assess the benefits of ditching the old and replacing with the new and then use 2021 to achieve those small achievable and realistic goals. Small Progress is still progress and brings people with you on a positive mindset - something really needed right now.

Mandhir Gidda, Chief Technology Officer, Wunderman Thompson UK:

In 2020 we saw the marketing technology product estate expand by 13% to over 8,000+ products. As a marketer, this can be intimidating. At Wunderman Thompson we help clients navigate this by focussing on ‘value engineering’; interrogating and stress test products against our clients’ needs, with the ultimate goal to enhance digital real estate.

This mindset of ‘never stop improving’ goes hand in hand with our value engineering proposition - make the software work for you, rather than you working in to software. In turn, it brings significant benefits that span across budget, technical infrastructure and many others.

James Browne, Director, 4Roads:

The way to prevent digital silos is to make sure data is passed freely around within the business. This cannot be encumbered by the capacity of the IT department to wire together different services. Platform-as-a-Service gives businesses an opportunity to have a much more dynamic approach to data sharing and processing. Competitive advantage from digital transformation does not come from implementing the solutions, it comes from finding the innovations that other businesses in your sector are not leveraging.

Tadhg Bowe, Magento Solution Specialist, Monsoon Consulting:

Customer Service and Experience initiatives. Principally "Click and Collect", "Courier Integrations" for more real time delivery intelligence. Moreover, for traditional distributors to embrace new D2C eCommerce models. Think more about AI-driven technologies like Search and Chat.

Leon Barrett, Product Director, 383:

For us, this is 100% being focused on defining a clear product strategy. This means having a North Star to guide, clear target benefits for the end user and business and a theme based roadmap that defines the order of the outcomes to deliver (not a time based roadmap of features).

Tracey Burridge, Director, RizkMcCayTribe:

The pull towards digital has accelerated in the last year and set to continue into the future. Businesses need to be digitally minded and this runs far beyond their website and social platforms. Businesses that will excel are the ones with a digital mindset in how they run the business. This means thinking in an agile way, being open to new and evolving solutions and responding to markets and customer needs with speed and innovation to name a few mindset points. If a business is set up with a digital foundation and mindset it will have greater opportunities in attracting talent and projecting its brand outwardly.

Sandro Petterle, Technology Director, Rufus Leonard:

Think headless, composable and API-first. Headless - so content is not tied down to the presentation and you can reuse on any channels. Composable - which means choose from the best platforms you can and connect them. And think API-first - if you consider your business as a catalogue of API services, it will be easier to extend in the future. If appropriate, use SaaS that reduces your need to manage your own infrastructure and pay for consumption.

Dan Norris-Jones, Director & Co-founder of Priocept:

Adopt an "API first" approach to product development. This is not a new concept, but the number of organisations that are doing this effectively right now is still relatively small. You should aim to build a set of APIs that will make your platform as "open" as possible, even if this is only for use inside your own organisation. This approach will also avoid excessive "tight coupling" of systems and help you to avoid becoming too "locked in" to any particular software vendor’s product.

Internally, what kind of technologies, platforms, solutions, integrations are top of your list for implementation this year – and why?

Brad Smith, Director & Founder of Succeed Digital:

CMS and CRM, Commerce and CMS. Bringing together the customer journey means the CRM and the website need to really engage from a sales and marketing perspective. It can’t be a case of one or other - you need a seamless and joined up unified experience that creates a compelling end to end journey. Likewise a number of brands are delving into e-commerce having perhaps only having had physical bricks and mortar stores historically and I think the commerce and retail space for brands looking grow and brands moving from B2B to B2C as well and dealing direct will exponentially grow and create when need for tighter integrations and ways of working.

James Browne, Director of 4Roads:

Platform-as-a-Service is a valuable tool to help brands achieve an experience that we term “Intelligent Self Service”, where customers can engage with brands on their terms and use the channel of their choice, whether that be an online community, a chatbot and so forth. It's certainly something that we have been and will continue to utilise on projects where appropriate. Our intention is to talk less about technology and more about platforms and solutions that solve problems.

Tadhg Bowe, Magento Solution Specialist, Monsoon Consulting:

Enhanced Cloud/AWS infrastructure, Security including 2FA, Penetration Testing, Data Connectivity and transformation, B2B Self Service, Alternative Payment Gateway implementations and 3DS2, EU VAT Change Implementations, Customer Feedback and Research Initiatives. More customer personalisation, Adobe AEM for high/content rich brands and online estates.

Tracey Burridge, Director of RizkMcCayTribe:

We are in the process of moving all our systems to a cloud-based platform. This will give greater flexibility for our business and also mean we’re not restricted to where any members of our team are based. With a more flexible working culture it opens up a talent pool on a global level that we haven’t accessed before.

Sandro Petterle, Technology Director, Rufus Leonard:

We're lucky in the sense that our proposition has always been about delivering a meaningful difference, and the way we deliver a meaningful difference is by being agile and innovative. So as an agency, we're able to really flex with whatever challenges come our way and actually help our clients unlock new opportunities within that.

Dan Norris-Jones, Director & Co-founder of Priocept:

At Priocept we are big fans of Google Cloud Platform - it has some way to go to catch up with Amazon Web Services in terms of market share, but offers some key advantages in terms of features, ease of use and integration with other technologies.

Mandhir Gidda, Chief Technology Officer, Wunderman Thompson UK:

A keen focus for us this year is moving to more composable architectures. Models that can make use of web services and capabilities of different platforms, usually exposed externally as API’s and combining these together to form applications that use best of breed functionality. To this end, we are making use of integration platform as a service (iPaaS) capabilities like Jitterbit and Microsoft Azure Integration.

As a subset within this space, there has been a more natural focus on low code/no code approaches. Allowing business analysts in our client organisations create new web services for their businesses without recourse to programmers or web developers. Again, extending the theme of deriving the most value from a client’s application estate, this approach combines ‘best of breed’ services to elevate functionality.

Barry is the Head of Strategic Alliances EMEA for Jitterbit

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