Disclosure: Walgreens is a customer of my employer,\u00a0Apigee.\nSometimes, strategic advantage relies on concealment. The formula for Coca-Cola, for example, is a famously well-kept secret.\nIn other cases, a company's secret advantage is as plain as day, and their success is premised on focused execution (as well as, perhaps, competitors hesitating to pick up the gauntlet and raise their game to the same level).\nConsider Amazon\u2019s emphasis on its third-party retail marketplace \u2014 a not-so-concealed strategy. In his 2014 shareholder letter, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos made no bones about the scope and scale of the company\u2019s third-party marketplace and the importance of the positive network effects it generates (the \u201cAmazon flywheel,\u201d as he calls them) to the company\u2019s overall strategy.\nFast forward to 2016. Traditional retail giant Walmart now has a third-party marketplace of its own. Touting more than 20 million items (and even making the CEO\u2019s latest earnings call highlight reel), the brick-and-mortar juggernaut\u2019s third-party marketplace is certainly making progress \u2014 but it still pales in comparison to Amazon\u2019s 365 million.\nFor businesses with roots in brick and mortar, the Amazon versus Walmart story should serve as a cautionary tale. The lesson is simple: when it comes to digital, playing catch-up is often a lost cause. The key to digital isn\u2019t replicating what your competitors are doing \u2014 it\u2019s expanding into new lines of digital business by leveraging digital assets in unique and innovative ways.\nThose looking for inspiration should consider looking to Walgreens as a company to study alongside Amazon for tips on turning digital into a strategic advantage.\nLike me, you may already have a sense of the Walgreens physical-world strategy from simply walking around your neighborhood or visiting different cities: the company\u2019s stores are located within 5 minutes of a staggering 76 percent of the U.S. population. Walgreens\u2019 digital strategy complements it well: my favorite pithy (but accurate) articulation highlighting a key component of their digital strategy is \u201cputting an API around the stores.\u201d\nThey have a clear vision for making digital and physical experiences \u201cbetter together.\u201d But the beauty of Walgreens as a case study is that the \u201csecret sauce\u201d to their success isn\u2019t Silicon Valley voodoo or the stuff of science fiction. It comes from focused execution that is within the reach of any enterprise.\nI wanted to understand Walgreens\u2019 approach in greater detail, so I spoke with Drew Schweinfurth, developer evangelist at Walgreens and one of the key people behind the company\u2019s successful and growing developer ecosystem \u2014 now well into the hundreds.\n\n\n \n\n\nDrew spends many of his days having conversations with different lines of Walgreens business to identify high-impact products to take to market. However, in this case the products are digital services and the market being served consists of potential consumers of the APIs with which they\u2019re implemented.\nWhat struck me about Drew is that he\u2019s not a geek \u2014 he\u2019s a brilliant, good-old-fashioned product manager (although, to be sure, he does have some serious \u201cgeek cred\u201d). Now, while being a geek may help a great deal when it comes to attracting developers, for Drew, it\u2019s all about finding the sweet spot across value to the business, feasibility and marketability \u2014 classic product management.\nFinding these digital sweet spots isn\u2019t an exact science for Drew \u2014 not all bets have paid off big \u2014 but the trajectory is impressive. It\u2019s also all out in the open on the Walgreens developer blog.\nConsider the Heart Partner app from Novartis, which helps heart failure patients coordinate care and monitor vital signs, medication compliance, and activity \u2014 with the added incentive and reward of loyalty points from Walgreens' loyalty program, of course, thanks to the Balance Rewards API.\nNovartis is one of 50 fitness and health partners tapping this API. Similarly, more than 100 partners are printing photos in Walgreens stores via the Photo Prints API.\nSo where did this supply of digital services come from? Did Walgreens have to hire hundreds or thousands of developer evangelists to roam the halls of its corporate offices, infusing thousands of employees with Silicon Valley mojo? Nope.\nTo the contrary, filling the pipeline took only a strong will and few words. Walgreens leadership told every technology team at the company to build for "web scale" \u2014 that is, to build the internal services they felt were needed, and to build them to scale across an external ecosystem.\nThe internal teams were not required to know anything about developer evangelism or digital service product management. They simply needed direction to build digital products with the potential for externalization \u2014 which, in our cloud- and microservices-centric world, is simply good practice anyway!\nAs Drew describes it, \u201cOur team is the toaster. We ask other teams to give us bread, and then we make toast. We just need the power supply to keep delivering.\u201d\nWalgreens\u2019 success highlights the path every leadership team can follow to achieve focused digital execution:\n\nEvery enterprise knows how to set standards\nEvery enterprise knows how to do product management\nEvery enterprise has the wherewithal to hire a few strategically placed and empowered geeks\n\nIt follows from these three premises that most enterprises have the power to use APIs that deliver digital services that move the needle on revenue and brand equity \u2014 which means that winning scores of third-party partners ought to be within their grasps too.\u00a0\nUnless, that is, there\u2019s a barrier concealed within the organization: something like a hidden strategic disadvantage. If that\u2019s the case, now might be a good time to identify it, root it out, and raise your digital ecosystem game.