Evolving your digital platform:
Practical tips from the pros
November 13th 2017
Switching to a digital platform and architecture is never a one-off job; it’s a continuous process to digitally transform.
Take these three organisations: the world’s first equity crowdfunding platform, Crowdcube; the UK’s leading games retailer, GAME; and the data-driven professional learning company, AVADO Learning.
What links them? They’re right in the middle of that big transformation.
So, while Crowdcube has been updating its IT environment to make sure of future success, AVADO and GAME have been busy integrating digital content, products and services into their digital architecture, following years where they only offered physical items.
Here, the IT leaders behind these companies’ sweeping changes provide practical tips for other organisations about how to unwrite their digital future.
Let’s start the countdown:
10. Open up avenues of communication with employees
Crowdcube Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Rich Pearce suggests IT leaders should make sure they aren’t prescriptive with their teams to get the best out of them. That’s because hierarchy can sometimes act as a barrier for digital transformation:
“The people working in digital transformation are quite intrinsically motivated, so they want to be asking lots of questions and be deeply challenging. So, if you’ve got a ‘command and control’ style leader who wants to say ‘Thou shalt deliver this piece of functionality by this date’, the first question employees want to ask is ‘Why?’.”
It’s not, he explains, because the employee thinks the IT leader is crazy or that it’s a bad idea; it’s because they need to truly understand the requirement, so they can implement the right piece of software that solves the business’ needs.
9. Raise awareness that cloud security is not a barrier
The idea that cloud computing leaves enterprises more vulnerable to cyber-threats has been around for many years and, while the perception is changing, many are yet to be convinced.
AVADO CTO, Mark Ridley, explains that adopting cloud services and infrastructure can actually help businesses to rethink their security strategies – and even bolster their ability to thwart threats:
“With the Cloud you’re thinking about security completely differently. It’s not necessarily that there are more points of security failure but there are very different ones.
“I’ve moved from a traditional data centre out into the Cloud and it forced me to rethink how we were designing for security. We were actually able to come up with a much more secure infrastructure, because we were able to consider security right down to the byte level of the data.”
It’s up to the IT leader to ensure that the team is aware of the benefits and differences of cloud computing from a security perspective.
8. Staying with traditional vendors could be expensive
While traditional IT vendors were late in supporting cloud computing and a service-based architecture, they are slowly getting there. In fact, in 2016, Oracle boasted 66% year-on-year growth in cloud revenues in its fourth quarter earnings.
But GAME’s Group CTO, Andrew Grainger, warns that enterprises can be hampered by sticking with just one vendor and one platform.
“The IBMs and Oracles are moving to a service-based architecture but that comes at quite a big cost,” he says, adding that the company is looking for technologies that support digital channels like mobile apps, and that new offerings provide more flexibility at a fraction of the costs of traditional vendors’ products.
7. Don’t be reliant on gut-instinct anymore
The more enterprises progress in their transformations, the more they’ll be able to use cloud computing and big data technologies to gain customer feedback instantly – and that means more precise data analysis to improve on services and products.
“The decisions that are made around technology don’t have to be made from so many guesses. Instead of making a big investment in something that you think is going to be successful over a three-year period, we can now be much more reactive to customer demand without taking such big gambles,” says Ridley.
6. APIs are key
Any enterprise that wants to really produce a better service for its customers will be looking at APIs to help them do that.
“Our business definitely wouldn’t be possible without APIs,” adds Pearce. Crowdcube has recently developed an iOS app, and is in the process of developing an Android app – both of which wouldn’t have been possible without a clear API in place.
“The APIs are really critical to the evolution of modern IT,” Ridley concurs.
5. Ask yourself these questions upfront
Ridley believes the first questions traditional businesses should ask themselves are: What do your customers want? What value are you providing to your customers? How can being a digital business help those customers?
“If you’re very clear that your business isn’t going to be disrupted by a start-up moving into the digital space then stay as you are, but I think that’s a diminishing number of businesses.
“Increasingly, what we’re going to see is that regardless of what type of business you are, there are going to be elements of being digital. It’s a spectrum, it’s not on and off. It’s not a binary switch, which is unusual considering it’s digital.”
4. Think about how you react to the Board’s demands
While a common theme for IT leaders is a backlash from stakeholders on big strategic initiatives and investment, digital transformation is a little bit different, according to Ridley.
He believes boards are now demanding change without necessarily knowing why they want it:
“They’ve heard that it’s powerful and they want it and so for those companies you need to take a step back first and try to think about how you really get value out of this.”
3. Be prepared for culture shock
The biggest cultural change for organisations that have gone from ‘classic’ platforms to ‘digital’ platforms, says Ridley, is that the business can invest in tools for their staff which allow for better collaboration and knowledge, as well as improved efficiency.
This means some of the jobs that may be considered dull, dangerous, dirty or repetitive can be removed, and that concepts like flexible working, remote working and diverse teams can be fully embraced.
“It’s not necessarily that you have different people or even a different ethos. The tools just allow you to work in ways that feel more natural,” he says.
2. Make sure your digital platform decisions are future-proof
Switching to digital platforms is a significantly different leap to the changes that companies have made with their IT in the past. No longer are companies just changing separate parts of their IT infrastructure, they are now looking to change core business processes, and ensure platforms are closely interlinked.
But perhaps most importantly, this is about unwriting the future – the digital platforms have to be ready for emerging technologies such as IoT, AI, machine learning, predictive analytics, virtual reality and augmented reality, and they can’t be like the rigid ERP systems of old. Companies should be able to move away from the system when they need to.
“In some of the emerging technology areas, you’re starting to see really valuable uses. If you think about the IoT, and Blockchain or distributed ledger technology, these will fundamentally change core parts of the business,” says Ridley.
1. And finally…put customers first
GAME’s Grainger hopes the company’s shift to a new technology stack will help it to plug in to other technologies which will help to improve its overall customer experience:
“We can then utilise the vast amount of data we have to give a more personalised service to customers both online and in-store.
“It would be great if you could walk into a GAME store and the technology knew you were a VIP customer or that you were the best FIFA player or which platform you play on so that you get personalised content.”
All three companies’ sole focus is the customer. And by building out their digital architecture from customers’ needs, they’ve been able to put in place technology that empowers them.