As mentioned in my previous article, a Digital Transformation has many side effects. One of them on the IT side is to aim for application landscape simplification, without limiting the UX. Following Gartner point of view, we all know that Complexity leads to failure.
Replying to this trend, some vendors tends to advise to go for standards (preferably their own ones of course). That is for instance the case of SAP as they explain very well their point of view in their recent article “Winning the Digital Battle with Simplicity” while promoting HANA.
But does simplication implies necessarily standardisation?
Is it actually the real keypoint?
We should never forget that our real goal is to deliver the best customer service in the most efficient way. Big actors of the digital ecosystem have already understood this, like amazon.com which won the famous “Retail Industry Award” from the US NRF in 2013 or Google which has set the focus on user interest as first principle of the enterprise culture. As a consequence, before thinking of technology, we need to think user first; In other words, we need to think “business requirements” first.
First, manage business requirements
IT has therefore to work much closer to business departments and to marketing since their point of view will hopefully reflect customers’ one although it seems that some efforts still have to be done there as well since people keep on hesitating to invest massively in that direction.
Companies choose to undertake digital transformation for customer needs over cost savings – but underestimate disruption to business.
Extract from StiboSystems’s survey analysis on business going(?) digital
This should nevertheless not refrain people to keep a critical eye on expressed demands. For this, a long education process should be applied not only to IT people but also to business people to accept to “think simple” and review any requested feature from a “real need” point of view instead of a “nice to have” one. On that sense, going for standard has a quite obvious advantage: if decision has been taken strongly enough to go for standards, business will have very limited options to push in getting specific add-ons unless an heavy customisation layer is applied, making the standard not standard anymore.
That is the choice that a Dutch insurance company has taken by developing a SAP only approach and forcing business expectations to align to this product line. One may easily imagine the fights occurring between a business line manager and the CIO in such context. To handle this risk, approach has been to setup a kind of demo showroom in which a team is putting in place a quick-and-dirty version of any required application within few weeks to then challenge business on what is really missing. After an adaptation period, this way of working together is now showing some results.
The second point that one can keep in mind while thinking of business requirements. In most of cases, mindsets are unfortunately narrowed from start and people manage only to translate their current processes to adapt them to the digital way. A study written by Capgemini and the MIT has shown that 70 percent of businesses use technology only as a substitute for previous analogue processes. In other words, many companies are only digitizing old processes without adapting to the new world. Obviously, this approach hardly makes the best use of technology.
An appropriate option could be to “reinvent the wheel” for once by starting from real customer needs and then see how to reply to them. It is now quite usual to go through a customer journey workshop to get this 360° view. Still, many pitfalls may occur in such approach and reaching a success from such a workshop requires to follow some essential rules. Oracle has given some tips on this in their 2013 white paper and many others as well but the most popular example to use as guideline is probably the ikea buying experience. McKinsey 2013 presentation on the subject is also quite inspiring. To my point of view, what will be important is:
- to limit the studied journey to a very well defined customer profile (you won’t approach the same way a retired person who never touched a computer in her life, a 35 yo mother of two kids having to solve at the same time a professional life and her private life duties, and a 25 yo geek addicted to snapchat)
- to define properly which topic will be discussed (is it the buying process by itself? the after-sale customer service? …)
- to involve people coming from different horizons (not only desk employees but also marketers, not only business line directors but also IT developers)
Learnings so far
This leads us to some learnings:
- So far it is not clear that using standard software suites is THE solution. Only the need of IT landscape complexity reduction is a fact;
- Business requirements should drive the transformation to lead to better services;
- These requirements should be set in a kind of Lean approach by making business, marketing and IT collaborating in a constructive but critical way: Eliminate the waste!
- Business requirements should be close to real customer needs, maybe by coming out of some customer workshops.
This gives already some tips on how to reshape company IT but, still, question to go for standard or not remains. To reply to this, we’ll need to seriously compare their pros and cons, and see which real IT architecture can reply the best to a digital approach. I’ll try to cover these points in my next blog entry.