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4 Directions from the Tech Director

September is the month when you suddenly wonder where the year has gone and really begin to assess what has worked and what hasn’t.

As the Technical Director at Reckless, I’m constantly reviewing the market and challenging my own thinking about ‘what’s next?’. I listen to our customer’s challenges so I can advise about technology implications for their brands and how they can adapt for the future.

Recently, I attended Laracon EU in Amsterdam with a number of the PHP world’s brightest minds, including Shopify, Oberlo, aboutyou, and Taylor Otwell, creator of Laravel, Forge, Spark and Envoyer.  There were four recurring points about key considerations for projects and business changes, particularly for international brands.

Here is what was discussed and why you should care.

1. Building bridges, not walls, across cultures

Often when practitioners think of multilingual sites, we think of switching out text for a different language or changing the imagery for specific markets. Similarly to how I advise my teams, Jenny Shen, Senior UX and Product Designer, gave a great talk on how to design systems for different cultures. Like me, Jenny was of the mindset that we really need to consider how different users and cultures behave online.

Take the Mozilla website, for example. By comparing the UK homepage to the China homepage you can see clear differences. The UK website is clean, with clear calls-to-action. Mozilla wants us to download Firefox, but there is the option to scroll down for more content or search for it if we want it.

The China website, however, is very different and can seem much busier. What’s more, the Firefox download button isn’t highlighted above the fold and the green button on the right is to create a new forum post, rather than to download Firefox. But why is it so different?

From a cultural perspective, Mozilla knows that typing in Chinese can actually be quite difficult and time-consuming. There are over 3,000 symbols and often, many have different meanings. This has led to a culture where text searches are rarely used. Instead, a browsing approach is preferred so users can find what they need by clicking through a series of links. This results in a lot more content on the page!


2. Privacy in the age of data

In many ways, data privacy is an area that has been greatly neglected. Some might say it has been abused in the rapidly growing digital world and it’s only recently, with the introduction of GDPR, that the power has begun returning to individuals. But what will this cost brands and businesses?

Rizqi Djamaluddin, a leading UX designer, discussed how individual the concept of Data Privacy is. What might be completely acceptable content to publish here in the UK, could have incredibly serious consequences for those living in a less democratic society. Will this change after Brexit?

As a developer, one of the biggest responsibilities we must take is to protect people’s data. A great deal of thought should go into the data we request, why we need this data and also the policies and tools we provide to easily remove the data.

If you received a request to delete a user’s data from your application, would you be able to action this in a matter of minutes? You should have a policy in place for handling these types of requests and the functionality in your application to action this.

3. Technical debt – declutter or replace?

Every year I am sure you have the age-old debate about how much systems and tools are costing your business. But what is the real cost?

Companies that have been operating for some time typically use software that has grown with the business. Others may just continue to bolt on individual tools or software to fill a gap or do a specific job without any real review of the overarching cost and efficiencies.

Legacy software contains lots of legacy code from requirements and processes which have perhaps changed over time or even been abandoned. But how much time are you spending on updating and tweaking what you already have? With technology changing all the time, you could be building up technical software debt which keeps growing more and more.

You might prefer to declutter and strip back systems, but the best solution can be to simply ‘bite the bullet’ and start again. Creating new applications to support the current business might be the best approach. This would be free of legacy and built with the latest technology, but with all the learnings gained from the natural evolution of the old system.

We took this approach for our client Bateaux London, the capital’s leading dining cruise experience. They wanted to transform their digital assets to increase conversions and ongoing customer engagement. We created a clear focus for them which looked specifically at user experience and began with a bold approach by ditching their old website and booking system. We then built a brand new solution which integrated with their main booking system and has lead to major efficiency savings. No admin had to be duplicated and the website converts much better than their old site.

Taylor Dondich, CTO of ProcessMaker, has often talked about his experience of migrating their 15-year-old enterprise software to Laravel. From a bespoke, unsupported framework, selected by a single developer at inception, to a new solution on Laravel, his business has been transformed. He has reduced hosting costs, boosted security through a widely supported codebase, added new patches and introduced the ability to roll out new features such as push notifications and job queuing, to name a few benefits.


4. Chatbots & AI

“Alexa, let’s build a new way to talk to our customers.”

I often have clients asking about where to build in chatbots and AI/VR extensions. But you should really focus on what you want the customer to do and what is the best way for them to do it.

If I am going down the chatbot route I have found BotMan to be a fantastic all-round framework. It was developed by Marcel Pociot and is one of the world’s leading chatbot frameworks which is also tightly woven into Laravel. He gave a great talk at Laracon EU about how to interface with chatbots.

Personally, I have used BotMan a number of times for clients. It allows you to define a conversation structure and save various parts of the conversation as your customer progresses, such as their name and email address. BotMan is easy to integrate into your existing infrastructure due to Laravel’s ability to quickly and easily consume APIs or interface with your databases. This allows BotMan to access data which is key to your business and more importantly, your chatbot.

It also works by having drivers for various connectors, which means you can create a single chatbot that works on a number of services. These include Facebook Messenger, Alexa (Amazon Echo), Slack, Telegram, Hangouts, Cisco Spark, SMS and Hangouts (Google Messenger).

For me, chatbots are the gateway to a new era of interacting with users, known as the conversational UI. They serve a purpose and can often be thought of as a search tool that also asks questions. Some companies, however, are able to go one step further.

Banks are an example of a great use case for chatbots. With the relaxation of banking legislation around sharing your data, known as ‘Open Banking’, there have been many new banking tools that have found their way to market. One tool is Cleo, an online assistant that lets you speak to a chatbot to get your balance or details of your recent spends on your bank account.

A nice resource for creating awesome conversational UIs can be found here.

Mike Griffiths

A bit about me…

Mike Griffiths, Technical Director at Reckless. I have 17+ years of proven digital solution strategy, architecture and programme delivery across multiple markets and languages. I am experienced in a large number of technologies and am a core contributor to the PHP project, documentation and website.

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