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This article was contributed by Buddy Brewer, GVP &GM, Partnerships, New Relic

In Slack channels and Zoom calls across Silicon Valley, no business buzzword has more cache at the moment than “customer-centricity.” Tech companies are obsessed with delivering better experiences for the customer, reasoning that personalized, reliable services will deliver exceptional business returns over time. Rather than developing products and working to build excitement for those products among customers, this new approach relies on the voice of the customer to drive development.

But while these large tech companies pay lip service to the idea of the exceptional customer experience, they have so far refused to address one of the biggest pain points for enterprise tech customers: a vast number of siloed SaaS tools that don’t play well with one another. While each solution plays an important role in the customer’s tech stack, the majority of developer teams are left to build cumbersome, clunky workarounds to accommodate tools that aren’t interoperable.

Siloed systems and proprietary software cause headaches for the end user both during everyday use and in moments of crisis. When you can’t connect your systems, it’s more challenging to understand what is happening throughout your tech stack and how one function affects another. In particular, it’s much more difficult to fix things when they break — imagine trying to fix a car without having visibility into how fluids flow from one part to another. The end result of this situation is the exact opposite of the stated goal of customer centricity: the user experience is slow and frustrating, with everyday tasks demanding an outsized amount of time and attention.

Collaboration’s rising tide

What is the logic behind building proprietary software and siloed services? For individual businesses, the idea is that the best technologies will rise to the top; customers will have no choice but to use the most effective solution, regardless of how it interacts with the rest of the tech stack. But over time, this strategy may deliver diminishing returns. If given the choice between the best software and a solution that is nearly as good and much more interoperable, you can expect customers to eventually choose the more flexible product.

In the short term, companies that invest in interoperability and collaboration may be sacrificing a bit of turf, but they’ll benefit in the long term from a rising tide of customer satisfaction. If software providers truly believe in customer centricity, they’ll consider how to solve the biggest pain point for enterprise software users. Shifting towards collaborative standards and interoperability for SaaS tools will have a game-changing effect on the holistic customer experience — and you can expect customers to reward the companies that make this happen.

SaaS tool solutions in standards

How can our industry move towards more interoperable software? The answer may be found in a number of existing technology standards. A valuable example of observability is the OpenTelemetry standard, an open source standard for service instrumentation that makes it significantly easier to collect and manage performance data throughout an enterprise’s systems. OpenTelemetry is just one example: today’s leading SaaS tool providers could very easily use open standards to develop solutions that work well together and enhance performance for the end-user.

If we look at specific industries, there are even more impressive examples of the way established software standards can transform the user experience. In the construction industry, buildingSMART is an open standard that helps to support application development; this has dramatically simplified the process of generating and managing building information models, the digital representations of physical buildings. For government organizations, the National Information Exchange Model provides a vital framework for information exchange among all levels of government and the private sector. When companies and industries commit to common standards, the result is consistently a more efficient and enjoyable experience for the end-user.

At the end of the day, SaaS providers need to ask if they’re truly centering the customer in their decision-making. From the end user’s vantage point, it looks instead like a sea of silos with proprietary software at the center.

Buddy leads the partnerships team at New Relic. He has nearly two decades of experience building SaaS products for DevOps and has expertise in web performance optimization, frequently speaking at leading tech conferences on the subject. 

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