Platform-oriented IT is universal

As options for creating and building digital platforms are expanding and becoming more complex, most enterprises seemingly want to either build or become one. A business platform strategy is an approach to entering a market, offering products and services to it and at the same time offering that channel to competitors looking to reach the same market. This method allows you to practically own the customer, and when done right forces other participants to sell through you to reach customers. This enables you to become the mall, not the tenant – or both. Think Uber, Airbnb and Amazon.

“Becoming the platform” is an ambition for many businesses, but even if you can’t or won’t become one of these industry-owning platforms as an enterprise, you still need to start planning and implementing an internal technology platform strategy. Platform-oriented IT is universal, and leading technology enterprises are leaning on this approach to grow or transform into technology-enabled and technology centric businesses.

Tech giants logically group their IT efforts into platforms, with each platform catering for a specific product, service or channel towards users. These platforms are managed independently and create a framework for re-use that accelerates product development and results in more coherent channels. If your data, systems and processes are organised this way, you’ll launch products faster, offer a more consistent customer experience across every channel, and can harness economies of scale in non-functional areas like security and performance.

Organisations of practically any size will benefit from a strategy like this, which is why it is becoming so popular:

1. Be faster to market

Platform-oriented IT allows business units to focus on what they are good at. It seems like an obvious approach to reuse the tools that are already available, but the truth is, most business units in the enterprise are still treated as silos to avoid dependencies and politics. They just build what they need from scratch, top to bottom. Creating new IT foundations for every initiative might be liberating, but it is also wasteful and slow.

There are some among us who have learned how to pick the granularity that makes sense and offer minimal friction in a dependency tree. The idea so to create and offer shared data, services, DevOps and infrastructure that the teams actually want to use and are readily available. This saves development time, releasing it for valuable product validation, testing and iteration time on core features.

2. Offer a more consistent customer experience

Customers expect the same treatment when dealing with different offerings under your brand. They aren’t interested in the fact that different services have different processes, and generally expect a level of consistency when interacting with multiple departments.

This is a question of execution in digital customer experience. It is hard enough to create beautiful, intuitive and memorable user journeys once, why exaggerate that problem by forcing every new team and project to do it alone, and again? Re-using channels which are designed to accommodate a variety of ‘tenants’ does require more planning, and technical skill upfront, but is clearly a better long-term approach to consistency for your customers.

3. Make non-functionals a shared investment

While it is very difficult to justify costly security, performance, or infrastructure upgrades for a single product, pooling these investments make enormous financial sense. In a platform-oriented IT structure, each business unit receives the benefit of communal investments into non-functional characterises of their shared platform. All for a small premium required to support the shared team, tooling and technology required.

When platforms are segmented correctly, privacy, security and scalability changes can be implemented across all departments that need to use it – without the concern that a certain unit does not have current capacity to do them.

Internal platforms are the secret weapon behind rapidly growing tech companies, and also one of the keys to leverage limited technology talent in an enterprise. It’s a no-brainer to share core IT, API and customer journey capabilities across the organisation. For the computer scientists, platform-orientation for businesses is like object orientation for software architectures.

We need to take the bad flexibility away (total control top to bottom) in order to promote the good kind: customer-centricity, shared services faster time to market. Start moving towards platform-oriented IT, centralising your internal IT thinking, and easily drive compliance and security consistency.

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