by Steven Malme

Platform priorities

Feb 19, 2018
Digital TransformationIT Leadership

Prioritizing by platform is a decision that can add significant value to our business.

high priority gauge
Credit: Thinkstock

Your transformation team is established, your business objectives are set.  But how, exactly, do we prioritize this big heap of digital transformation projects that squirt out the other end of the strategy tube?   

The default that I use when reviewing and prioritizing workloads is simple:  prioritize by platform.  Building on the significant investments and modern software design provided by most major vendors, we establish a baseline architecture at a new level of the stack.  We will define our platforms of the future at the application layer. 

This is clearly not a ‘new’ capability, with many application providers offering platform capabilities that date back a couple of decades.  Yes, that’s right, a couple of decades.  The underlying development tools and application modification / extension capabilities made available in the late 90’s offered a reasonable preview into the more capable application APIs and development environments of today (ex: Peoplesoft, Dynamics, Crystal Reports).

Building on the cloud-era capabilities of REST APIs, serverless compute and scalable cloud services that support machine learning, big data management and analytics, application customization has become a much more valuable business proposition.  The enhanced application development capabilities of many cloud applications serve as a cornerstone in both the vendors development and in downstream customer extensions and integrations. 

Start with the customer

There are a number of examples of the dramatic productivity and automation gains that can be realized via the intelligent design of these new cloud applications.  To ensure that my business immediately benefits from the impact of these new capabilities, we will start with the customer and work backward to our internal development and operations platforms. 

Starting with the customer, we first assess the capabilities of our Customer Resource Management (CRM) systems.  CRM vendors have a strong history of delivering applications as a platform.  The Salesforce ecosystem is a clear example of the power of an application / platform strategy.  If we look beyond the capabilities of Salesforce and the myriad partner applications & extensions, there is a long list of competing vendors.  Microsoft’s Dynamics CRM is built atop an entirely customizable application framework commonly referred to as XRM.  For business partners like Plexure (New Zealand based IoT CRM solution), the advantages of the XRM platform running atop Azure creates an entirely new IoT driven business model and go-to-market. 

With these solutions, enhanced customer engagement extends well beyond marketing and sales.  We have the opportunity to automate and enhance our customer connections through the entire lifecycle.  With additional vendor modules and customizations quickly applied to meet your specific process needs, we deliver integrated experiences across customer support, field service, etc.

Enhance every business interaction

CRM vendors are not the only providers of application platforms.  So, after we achieve a quick win with our customer centric digital transformation platform strategy, we take the next step and execute a parallel strategy with our Enterprise Resource Platform (ERP).  ERP has long served as an applications platform with customizations and extensions developed atop the native development environment for decades.  What’s new is the productivity and scalability that is enabled via customization of the new cloud-based ERP solutions.  My favorite cloud ERP development and customization example comes from the team at Acumatica.  Running in the AWS cloud, Acumatica provides a complete ERP solution with an architecture that is designed as a reusable platform.  Proof to Acumatica’s claims is clearly evident via their strategic partnership with Visma and similar partnerships with a host of industry ISVs.  When respected ERP providers engage and review Acumatica as the platform for their next generation offering and arrive at the same decision, it’s hard to argue the value and capability of Acumatica as a platform.

Of course, there are always preferences for other vendors / platforms based on choice of cloud provider, existing staff expertise and required business processes.  So, we have the option of selecting from a broad portfolio of ERP providers who offer development tools and extensible platforms.  As we consider each of these vendors (Netsuite, Dynamics365, Sage Intacct, etc.), I would recommend the following simple questions:

  • Environment: What development environment / language(s) are supported and how does that align with my staff capabilities?
  • Education: What costs will I incur to train, develop and deploy new applications atop my chosen ERP framework?
  • Resources: Looking beyond my own staff, where can I find external resources to develop / customize my ERP integrated applications?   And what is the average cost of these resources?
  • Tools / Runtime Pricing: How is the application framework and development environment licensed?  What do I pay for the application extensions and/or the new applications that I develop?

Connecting the dots

With consideration given to the two primary platforms at any major business, we now have the opportunity to look at the applications and related platform capabilities embedded throughout our organization.  And, as you would expect, the choices are endless when choosing new solutions for marketing (Adobe Marketing Cloud), human resources (Workday), collaboration (Sharepoint), analytics (Tableau or Power BI) and workflow (Nintex).  There is also a diverse ecosystem of application platforms designed to address specific industry needs.  As examples, check-out the application and platform capabilities available in healthcare (BlueEHR), education (Teachable) and retail (Vend).  As we review each of these application environments, we consider not only the application capabilities but also the pre-existing integrations and the underlying platform and development environment to ensure that our team can quickly adopt, integrate and customize the application for our specific business needs. 

With this long list of examples, prioritizing by platform is a decision that can add significant value to our business.  Thinking in terms of platforms and knitting together a complimentary set of applications (with similar or the same set of development environments) reduces costs and complexity by an order of magnitude and brings a new level of productivity to your I.T. organization. 

The adage of “If you build it, they will come” still serves us well and can prove even more valuable when we leverage the value for our own organization.  Repeat after me, “If they build it, we will build.”  Enjoy your new platforms and all the fantastic applications that they enable.