Customer ExperienceWhat are the technology trends you see going into 2017?

Customer experience is still the king. This is driving an enhanced focus on omnichannel, or interacting with users-whether employees or customers-across a range of devices and experiences. The supporting technology is maturing, particularly in Web APIs and API management. In addition, cloud-based offerings are maturing, allowing for the creation of cloud-based Web APIs. There is also an enhanced focus on data and analytics and how to use that to drive the customer experience.

In 2017, we'll see enhanced focus on data and analytics. Companies have gotten through the hype cycle and the tools have matured, so businesses now understand how they can leverage data and analytics to continuously improve customer experience. It's not about data for data's stake; rather, it's about having a fully developed understanding of your customer and their expectations-who they are, what they want, and how they want to interface with you. That is a major trend.

New technology in the Internet of Things (IoT), such as Amazon Echo, is also shifting how we develop for omnichannel. There is really no user interface created for the Echo; rather, a set of Web API services that Amazon Echo knows how to interface with. For example, I recently got a new printer that can be set up with Amazon Prime so that, when the printer knows it is low on ink, it auto-orders more ink, which shows up at your door. That's a web service endpoint that was created specifically for that printer. Another example involves home appliances, many of which now have sensors that know when parts that are heavy-wear items are due for replacement, and they alert you when that happens.

As we go into CapTech's 20th year in business, what has changed and what has remained the same over the past two decades?

What has stayed the same from a technology perspective is the criticality of an organization's owning their middle tier of services. Building that tier in a disciplined way to achieve scale and to handle fail-over and recovery has always been the most critical part and it still is. You could say that mobile apps, IoT, websites and business partners are all consumers of the middle tier. To properly enable omnichannel, address customer experience, or engage with partners, that same set of internal services is crucial. Yet, all too often vendors and sometimes companies focus on the edge devices. They focus on over-engineering a phone app or a phone platform or overengineering a website. You want those to be simple view tiers that call the middle tier.

What has changed is the comfort level with moving those middle tier services to a cloud environment. As the comfort level with the cloud increases-because of the maturity of products and improved security-we're seeing increased adoption of the cloud and increased willingness to participate in platforms and software as a service (SaaS) as key components of that model.

Nevertheless, businesses still need to own the canonical model of what they do. In other words, in addition to owning the middle tier, they need to own the organizational system that says that these words are abstractions of commonly understood and agreed-upon principles. For example, having a single definition of a purchase order that is understood enterprise wide. You still need to own that, but you no longer have to build a data center or own the physical hardware that supports the middle tier.

One of the challenges we, at CapTech, are solving for our customers involves mergers and acquisitions. As a result of a larger merger, an organization could be facing multiple back-end systems with disparate sets of data. From a data perspective, across different systems, you may have multiple definitions of the same item, and each app owned by the business will have to be able to handle that item, such as a purchase order, in different ways. The canonical model addresses that problem. It is a data quality and normalization process so that all the systems in an organization are speaking the same language. It's that type of encapsulation that allows omnichannel to be successful-it keeps you from re-solving complexities of your back-end systems across multiple devices.

What are the biggest challenges you see clients facing today?

Competition for customer attention is the biggest challenge. When you talk about mobile devices and IoT, businesses aren't just competing within their own industry verticals today. They're now competing across industry verticals. A financial services organization, for example, may think they're competing with other banks, but they are actually competing against the digital experience of all of the companies their client engages with. Customers typically don't have multiple banking apps, but what they do have-and it's right next to your app-is Amazon Prime, iTunes, and eBay. That is what you're being compared to. That is what is being used to determine whether you're a mature online company. So, you're now competing with everybody, and that is a mind shift.

Making this even more challenging is the fact that your customers have divided attention. How do you make yourself interesting and compelling? There is a technical astuteness or maturity that your products must have-in terms of usability and basic functionality-if they are to gain customers' attention. You also need to establish differentiation. What is unique about your app? What is the "surprise and delight" aspect of the app that makes people develop a positive brand affinity with you? Third-and this is not just a technical concern-how do you remain genuine and authentic? The services and features that you offer your customers need to have an obvious benefit for them, as opposed to an obvious benefit for you.

How do you think our culture impacts our clients?

This is directly tied to our core values. At CapTech, we strive to serve as trusted advisers to both our clients and each other. We believe in servant leadership-lifting up those around us and empowering our clients' success. We are flexible and bring unparalleled enthusiasm and intellectual curiosity to every engagement.

Our employees must have these values. It's a prerequisite to the rest of the interview process. What's great is that is this doesn't just benefit us, but it benefits our clients as well. Someone who is a trusted adviser, who is a servant leader, and who has intellectual curiosity brings our clients the attributes of a creative problem-solver, willing to offer expertise outside his or her targeted domain.

How do you see CT impacting the community where we live and serve?

CapTech has always been heavily invested in local communities. We participate in charitable events and organizations and make contributions of time, resources, and expertise. From a technology perspective, our involvement with board positions in education has been important. I serve the president of the Industrial Advisory Board for the Computer Science Department at Virginia Commonwealth University helping to drive the curriculum and ensure that the technology skills learned in university translate to the business world. In 2017, I will serve on the Board of CodeVA to help with the advocacy for computer science in high schools, to ensure every student in Virginia has access to computer science education.

Steve Holdych, our chief operating officer, is on the Science Museum of Virginia Board. Sandy Williamson, our chairman, is on the Virginia Commonwealth University Engineering Board. At both the high school and college levels, we are heavily engaged in making sure that computer science is available to everyone, regardless of economic background or gender, and that the programs are properly designed to strengthen the future workforce of our state. I'm passionate about that.

In addition to serving on boards, we frequently speak at colleges and universities, helping students understand what career options are available in computer science. Every year, our increased interactions with local universities-the speaking opportunities, mock interviews, teaching, on-campus recruiting and interviewing, and more-help keep the great talent we have in the region employed in the region. When I speak with city and county leaders, they always talk about not wanting to lose great students to Silicon Valley or other areas of the country. If you went to Virginia Tech, they want you to stay in Virginia. If you went to University of North Carolina, they want you to work in North Carolina. They don't want to make this great investment in you only to see you leave. At CapTech, we not only invest in helping with those education programs, but we also hire locally.