Collaboration in the Time of COVID

By Brian Busch in API Industry Trends Posted May 5, 2020

I saw an interesting article in Vox a while back, an interview with Adam Tooze who wrote the book Crashed about the Great Recession. He mentioned that looking at the responses to COVID-19 “seems incredibly familiar to anyone who spent a lot of time in the 2007-’08 story and its aftermath… On the other hand, there’s this incredibly unfamiliar trigger.” 

That “incredibly unfamiliar trigger” has created a sudden, sideways shift in so many lives in constant forward motion. Said another way, this is not just an economic downturn, but also a reshuffling of daily life; that reshuffling has created unexpected opportunities for some companies.

This post is not meant to understate the crisis we face nor undervalue the efforts of first responders and medical professionals working to save lives. Nor are we taking sides on the ‘health vs economy’ debate. Rather, I want to share a few anecdotes we’re reflecting on from customers and colleagues as we and businesses like ours grapple with the response.

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Retaining New Customers With a Top-Tier User Experience

A colleague’s partner works for a wholesale annuities firm. Like many firms in the life insurance and annuity space, this firm has long required ‘wet signatures’ (ink on paper). That is, until social distancing put an abrupt halt to exchanging physical forms (almost) entirely.

Many large esignature vendors like DocuSign had already won the low-hanging fruit for esignatures domestically, according to analysts. Outside of the early majority adopters were companies like the annuities firm above who found wet signatures good enough

Now, however, it’s likely that esignature tools will see some new users. The question becomes: if their value prop is agreement automation and management, can these companies deploy the new integrations they need quickly enough to capture these new users for good? Or, will firms such as the annuities wholesaler above return to wet signatures as things get “back to normal?” Talking to our customers, it seems to me that beyond the new user experience, seamless integration that drives i) a better customer experience or ii) clear productivity gains for these new users, is the best shot of retaining these firms as customers long term.

Reducing Manual Work For Finance and Accounting Teams

Cloud Elements switched to 100% remote work in mid March — we’re fortunate the transition was not more disruptive and, personally, that meant less time commuting. But, like so many, as I’ve worked from home for the past several weeks I’ve come to recognize the things I took for granted at the office. 

On the other side of the remote work coin, several of our customers work with small and medium businesses that still process paper invoices, follow up with delinquent customers’ payments with spreadsheets and sticky notes, write paper checks, or export supplier payment files from the accounting software.

We’ve already heard of increased demand for cloud computing infrastructure, sometimes called hyperscalers, to meet demand spikes that on-premises infrastructure cannot. I assume that also means increased demand for customers migrating to the hosted versions of key finance and accounting apps (ex. moving from QuickBooks Desktop to QuickBooks Online).

But what about the accounting and finance work that was previously manual and paper-based? Several of our customers, including American Express, Tipalti, and Western Union (as well as several of the banks we work with), offer digital payment platforms for businesses. Will this be the trigger to bring a new wave of small and medium businesses, landlords, and others onto digital payment platforms considering they are currently the only way these businesses can make and collect necessary payments? If so, seamless API integrations could become critical to avoid the massive headaches associated with old, file-based transfer mechanisms (which have a 30% error rate, on average).

Enabling seamless collaboration

To say “collaboration tools have become more important” would be an understatement. 

We’ve used Zoom for video conferencing at Cloud Elements as long as I’ve worked here. And we all marveled as its stock shot up while the markets crashed in March, even as they dealt with a raft of new issues. With the meteoric growth in usage, not just for Zoom but also (I presume) for Microsoft Teams, BlueJeans (now Verizon), WebEx, and others, it’s only a matter of time before sales and marketing apps start integrating directly to Zoom, Teams, etc... just as many already integrate with Slack and Salesforce.

Why a renewed interest in integrating with collaboration tools? As a friend in marketing said, you fish where the fish are. Anecdotally, we’ve seen renewed interest in Elements that help SaaS companies build seamless integrations with collaboration tools like Zoom, Teams, and Slack. You can imagine that instead of a chatbot on a vendor’s webpage offering help scheduling a call, it would instead offer a live Zoom link to chat with a rep, as an example.

To Wrap it Up

We have a number of customers in the collaboration space already, from esignature vendors to document management and imaging companies to business process management (BPM) and workflow automation companies. I think it’s fair to assume that this is a busy time for them as well.

Many of these companies target large enterprises with a variety of cloud and on-premise document and data storage options. It’s not surprising that they would leverage Cloud Elements to connect to various cloud repositories from AWS S3, Box, or SharePoint. Workflow and information management can become their own arcane silos if not thoughtfully integrated into their users’ daily lives.

But let’s be honest, “integrated into their users’ daily lives” can quickly become an abstract concept. Talking to a customer in this area recently, they complained that not enough of their customers were taking advantage of their integrations. As we dug in, we quickly realized that their sales and success teams were aware integrations exist, but not actively promoting them to customers. Nor was there any broader marketing campaign to drive user adoption of integrations the way you might try to promote adoption of a new feature. Instead, it was ‘build it and they will come' (2011, seems almost quaint in that thinking).

We realized there is no better time to redouble efforts to let users know a) that your integrations exist and b) to deploy new, highly visible automations for users (what else is an integration, really?) Remote work stresses processes and exposes the cracks among the applications that your users leverage to get work done. And if history is any guide, companies that come through this downturn stronger will invest in automation along the way.

 

Across all these examples, easy-to-implement and highly usable integrations are a common thread that can help businesses adapt and respond to the current challenges. If you think that applies to you, reach out—we’d love to see if our technology can help you move faster.

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