In the dynamic digital realm, connecting different applications into a unified platform is becoming more and more common. The need for this happens because of several factors. Many companies are growing, merging or acquiring one another, which may create applications with overlapping features. And sometimes, regulatory compliance and data management are more complicated when things aren’t centralized.
How enhancing user experience reshaped industries
Microsoft, Amazon, and Alphabet (Google's parent company) have each made notable acquisitions through the years that have reshaped industries and expanded their market dominance. In particular, Microsoft's acquisition of LinkedIn had allowed them to merge the world's largest professional network with their suite of productivity tools, unifying applications for a seamless user experience. By adding LinkedIn data into Microsoft Outlook, users got insights about their professional contacts, enabling more informed conversations.
In 2014, Amazon acquired Twitch Interactive, a leading platform for live streaming and online communities mainly focused on gaming and creative content. Twitch was already a robust and functional platform with a growing user base, so when Amazon acquired it, the company integrated it into its preexisting digital ecosystem while preserving its core functionality. The smooth transition enabled a gradual introduction to Amazon's diverse functionalities through cross-promotions and associated benefits. Similarly, Google has so many different applications in its ecosystem that it’s hard to count. For example, people who already have a Gmail account will find it easy to watch videos based on their interests on YouTube, use Google Photos for backup, navigate with Google Maps, etc.
Interestingly, YouTube was a standalone application until Google’s acquisition in 2007. On the other hand, Google Maps initially started as a desktop program created by Where 2 Technologies in 2004. Google later acquired Where 2 Technologies, leading to the transformation of Google Maps into the widely-used web application we know today. These applications are now so interconnected within Google’s ecosystem that you will get video recommendations based on your travel experiences.
Benefits, strategies and challenges of unified experiences
The trend of creating unified experiences happens in many different industries, including healthcare. Telemedicine has been around for decades, but in recent years, due to COVID-19, it has become much more widely used. Patients and healthcare providers quickly embraced video consultations, as well as other services that telemedicine includes. These services range from remote monitoring, prescription refills, continuing medical education (CME), and follow-up care to integrating electronic health records (EHR), reducing administrative burdens, and more. Having as many different services as possible within your application may be the key to gaining a competitive advantage. However, it’s important to realize that simply providing services isn’t always sufficient for users to keep using your app. So remember that user experience plays a crucial role here; if it falls short of expectation, your users can turn to alternative apps or go back to traditional healthcare solutions and stop using your app altogether.
In this blog post, we will go into the details and complexities of creating a unified application that allows a seamless transition from multiple applications with shared users into a single consolidated user experience. There are a lot of challenges along the way, including data migration and integration, UX alignment, user adaptation, security, privacy, regulatory and compliance considerations, as well as unforeseen dependencies your old applications may have.
Given the amount of time and effort needed to overcome all the challenges listed, you may wonder what benefits make it worth it. Let's take a look from different perspectives:
From a business perspective, it brings cost efficiency, a competitive advantage, better market opportunities, and strategic alignment.
Developers will experience simplified development, reduced maintenance, enhanced collaboration, and standardized technologies.
Looking from a quality assurance perspective, it means efficient testing, a consistent testing environment, and standardized processes.
Users will get a consistent experience, expanded functionality, and simplified onboarding.
As we can see, despite the challenges, everyone will benefit from a unified application. But how do we actually do it?
How to unify your existing applications
The best way to comprehend something is by giving an example. It will be very general, focusing on challenges I’ve helped solve on a telemedicine project while working at Devōt.
Imagine we have three different applications providing different features; all of them already have their users. The introduction of this blog has convinced us that unifying these applications is the right thing to do.
Before we start implementing or even designing anything, we need to align our goals:
Feature integration: Assess features from individual applications and determine which to retain, enhance, or retire. This ensures a clear focus on the most valuable functionalities, avoiding feature overload.
User-centric design: Accommodate the needs and preferences of users. Those who already use any of our applications or services should be able to continue to do so without interruptions.
Cost saving and efficiency: By eliminating redundancies, streamlining operations, and reducing complexities, the platform stands to achieve long-term savings across development, maintenance, and infrastructure expenses.
Consistent UX and branding: Provide users with a seamless and recognizable experience that minimizes confusion, fosters efficiency, and reinforces the platform's identity.
Data centralization: Gather all of the necessary user data from each application into a single source. This improves data management, analysis, and reporting.
While working on our goals, we also need to focus on the following:
Data migration and integrity: Develop a robust strategy to migrate data from applications accurately. Determine necessary historical data worth keeping.
Security and privacy: When dealing with user data, it is important to focus on its privacy while ensuring compliance with regulations across all integrated components.
Scalability: Bringing in new users means more data needs to be saved and we need to handle increased usage.
Cross-functional collaboration and standardization: Provide an environment that fosters collaboration between teams involved in different applications. Moving forward, standardized technologies, practices, and quality assurance protocols will make the teams more efficient.
Long-term strategy: Plan ongoing updates and enhancements to ensure alignment of the unified platform with evolving user needs and technological advancements.
Once the goals and focus areas are established, the next step is to create a comprehensive roadmap. This involves breaking down the process into manageable phases, each with its set of tasks and key milestones. During our first phase, we want to remove any uncertainties our initial goals had. We compile and prioritize all the features intended for application integration. We establish and brief cross-functional teams responsible for design, implementation, and quality assurance. Aside from that, we address all security concerns and conduct necessary risk assessments.
Key challenges encountered
Different applications may present industry-specific challenges depending on their nature. When Google integrates a new application, they often add a simple “Sign in with Google” button so users can quickly start using it with their existing account. However, when we are talking about telemedicine applications, things are more complex than just clicking a button. There's a lot of user data that needs careful checking and confirming, including insurance details and existing medical records. This is especially important due to the sensitive nature of healthcare information in telemedicine. Checking and validating everything, from insurance information to detailed medical records, is crucial to ensure data accuracy and provide the best possible care to patients using the application. The complexities of a seemingly simple registration flow are big enough to require a dedicated team.
Before starting to implement the registration flow, we need to have all of our data migrated and centralized. We especially need to focus on users with multiple accounts in our applications. If we decide that application 1 will be our primary platform, we will continue using its database with all the necessary adjustments for table and relation standardization.
A lot of work comes into just the migration planning. All data across different databases needs to have its naming aligned and correctly mapped. After data is mapped and migrated, you might find that certain required user information is now missing because, in application 2, users didn’t have the same required fields. We can just treat that information as “required for login,” and as long as it is missing, the user must enter it in the new registration flow.
Another problem that can occur during data mapping is when a user has different information across different applications. We need to save all of the versions of the mismatched data and let the user select an accurate version.
Now, given all of the complexities, we can design and implement our registration flow in a way that is as seamless as possible. When a user decides to log in or register for the first time after the migration, we have all of their needed data, and none of it is mismatched; the flow is simple. Users are informed about the migrated data in case they want the option of editing it in the future. Users need to be prompted to fill it in only when there is missing data. With mismatched data, our last edge case scenario can be handled by letting users pick between the possibilities, reducing the number of manual inputs needed to complete the flow.
Elevating the user experience beyond technology
In the later phases of implementation, we can shift our attention towards user adaptation. We now have a functional, unified system featuring a user-centered and uniform design that will be more appealing to new audiences. Simultaneously, we aim to ensure existing users start embracing the benefits they previously didn’t have. The goal is to motivate both new and existing users with a wide range of offerings.
These include cross-promotions and collaborative offerings that enhance the overall experience by providing access to complementary services and features. Additionally, tailored discounts and exclusive offers can serve as attractive enticements for users to explore the unified platform fully. Beyond this, we might also consider incorporating loyalty programs, personalized recommendations, and enhanced customer support services, all contributing to user satisfaction and prolonging their engagement with our application.
As we wrap up our journey through application unification, it's evident that this process goes beyond tech - it's about creating a seamless user experience. From aligning goals and integrating features to simplifying operations, the road to unity requires a thoughtful balance of strategy and execution. As we mentioned at the start, this seamless approach is vital in various industries, including healthcare and many others.
Looking at giants like Google and Amazon, the key takeaway is crystal clear: user-friendliness and consistent branding are fundamental. While their paths may differ, the core principle remains the same - putting users first. Unification goes beyond streamlined systems; it's about reshaping user interactions with your brand.
As you embark on your personal unification journey, remember that the approach should be adjusted to your core goals. Still, it always boils down to user-centricity and collaboration. By weaving together a unified digital ecosystem, you're not just merging apps but crafting an environment that seamlessly connects users to what matters most.
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