Ably’s Matthew O’Riordan on the real-time revolution disrupting enterprise


The impact and growth of digitalisation can’t go unnoticed, with the pace of digital change undoubtedly accelerating over the last 18 months as organisations have navigated the pandemic. In turn, this has heightened consumers’ expectations as to what is possible. A recent report from McKinsey revealed that digital transformation and a focus on customer experience will yield up to 50% more revenue and increased customer satisfaction, so organisations can’t afford to ignore this prevailing wind. Today’s consumer wants personal, immediate and enriching digital experiences that are delivered in real time. With the volume of digital interactions only continuing to accelerate, being able to deliver them in real time is no longer a nice-to-have, it’s essential.

Real-time demand is rocketing Real-time already underpins many of our most important daily digital interactions across work, education or play. Whether receiving a goal alert or payment notification on a smart device, making changes to an online document, or speaking to a voice assistant such as Alexa, today’s consumers expect real-time digital experiences as standard. If a website or application can’t provide instant feedback, people think there’s something wrong - they see it as a ‘bug’. This makes the ability to deliver real-time experiences business critical, as recent research from PwC reveals that one in three customers will walk away from a brand they love after just one bad experience.

Instant updates are just one area driving this demand for real-time capabilities. Financial and sports results are only the tip of the iceberg, as real-time can enhance a number of B2C use cases such as order tracking and dynamic pricing. Audience engagement is another. The need for real-time capabilities here is crucial, and has created new business models as the pandemic saw a vast boom in online events. As huge numbers of people attended virtual conferences, virtual quizzes, and live streamed events, being able to interact in real-time with other participants greatly enhanced the user experience. Online audience engagement needs to be bi-directional and scalable, whether that is interactions between a teacher and students; a streamer and viewers; or large-scale events (e.g. online PPVs) where demand may be volatile. Real-time is also becoming increasingly important when it comes to digital collaboration. As working models have changed, the demand for online collaboration tools and capabilities has exploded. While many users expect an intuitive, Google Docs-type experience when it comes to collaboration, the reality is often different. For example, many enterprise applications still don’t allow two users to make changes to a document or field simultaneously. This causes user frustration and lost productivity. Being able to deliver multi-user synchronisation will make or break collaborative experiences in the future, as organisations favour products and services that facilitate efficiency and productivity. There’s clearly a wealth of potential opportunity, and those companies that aren’t thinking about real-time when building applications will be on the losing side of the application battle in the next five years. Such is the pace and direction of travel that 80% of consumer-facing developer projects will become obsolete without real-time capabilities. So, what is holding organisations back from getting on top of the digital demand and delivering the real-time experiences consumers want?

Matthew O’Riordan

Overcoming obstacles It’s no easy feat to deliver synchronised digital experiences smoothly and at scale. Not only do most organisations not have the in-house expertise nor the time: building your own real-time capabilities can result in huge technical debt. Many organisations will start out with the best intentions to build such capabilities themselves, but soon they find themselves relying on a patchwork of technologies to deliver real-time updates. The issue they face is this piecemeal approach won’t meet their scalability or reliability requirements as they grow. And those that try often give up. Unless organisations have the engineering power and finances of the likes of Google or Apple, going it alone to build real-time capabilities is madness. Today you wouldn’t attempt to build your own email delivery system or content delivery network because it's simply too complex. The same should apply when it comes to building the infrastructure to power real-time capabilities. Achieving the impossible The infrastructure required to deliver synchronised experiences in real time must be able to: offer predictable performance and guarantee a low level of latency to deliver instantaneous user experiences; guarantee data integrity so data doesn’t become lost or disorganised, thus breaking the user experience; be reliable and fault tolerant - when real-time is the experience, your real-time infrastructure can’t fail; and have a high availability of service, elasticity, and scalability, so demand can be met at any time. To save on development cycles and generate additional revenue, organisations should offload this complexity to a third party organisation with the skills to synchronise digital experiences in real time at scale. This means organisations can focus solely on improving user experiences, innovating, and accelerating the launch of new products and services - not messy and costly infrastructure. The real-time revolution is impacting every industry. Organisations must have the infrastructure to support it, or they risk disruption from competitors and increased customer churn.


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