11436 SSO

The Digital Journey: Different Runners, Same Race

Jan 27, 2014

In working with a wide variety of companies in every sector that are somewhere along their digital journey, I'm often asked how the challenges and opportunities vary among verticals like healthcare, financial services, telco, or retail.

I’ve found that it's not the differences between companies, but rather their similarities that deserve our focus. Different markets present different business models and varied target audiences, but disparate modern enterprises look pretty similar when we gaze beyond their roots, and toward their goals.

The starting points of companies’ digital journeys often vary wildly, even within a specific vertical. It depends on the existing technology, the organizational structure, market conditions, and the appetite for change and innovation. This is why companies look so different. At first glance, it's easy to mistake these diverse starting points for differing concerns. In reality, they simply mask the common realities of today's business and technology climate.

Common business realities

What business doesn’t need happy and productive employees who have access to data and systems across organizational boundaries? They’ll also want to bring their own devices to work and be able to work with fluid, modern applications, not clunky relics from technology days gone by.

What business doesn't want faster time to market? Faster onboarding of new partners?  Exposure and even monetization of existing assets?

These questions point to the patterns that define the reality of today's business. Because, no matter who you are, you need to be thinking about where your customers, your partners, and your employees are living their lives, buying their products, and performing their work.

This doesn't change much from vertical to vertical. When combined with the increasing pressure to innovate and squeeze existing businesses into new shapes—and deliver them into new channels—it becomes clear that new ways of thinking are required.

Clearing a path to the edge

Most companies are choking themselves to death with process and governance designed for other tasks from another time. Heavily centralized decision making is simply not conducive to speedy innovation.

Combining a technology layer specifically designed for exposure and consumption at the edge of the enterprise with a mindshift and an organizational adjustment might just provide the necessary ingredients to start the journey to becoming a first-class participant in the digital economy.

Platformize to survive

Another point of similarity between companies is the need to “platformize” their businesses. This sounds a lot fancier than it really is. Making your business into a platform is really just as simple as enabling other people to participate. From a technology standpoint, this means putting a facade in front of your back-end systems and making sure that these systems are as “consumable” as possible.  

From an organizational standpoint, becoming a platform often means decentralizing innovation back toward lines of business—while still guided by a central API team that ensures quality and consistency—and involving constituents who might otherwise rarely interact (marketing, security, app development, and enterprise architecture).  

From a business standpoint, becoming a platform entails no longer viewing APIs as a technology, but as a channel. Instead of building walled gardens, opportunities for unforeseen partnerships emerge. Data and transactions flow through your platform, and the visibility and trend information becomes invaluable. Becoming a platform is not science fiction. This should be the reality for every business with plans of survival.

With these core drivers in mind, it should be easier (though never truly easy) to make decisions on how to proceed on the digital journey. We shouldn't get distracted by the starting point. That will be driven by the exigencies of the moment for a specific company. Instead, we should always keep in mind that this starting point is only the first step of a journey and the purpose and goal of this journey run deeper than a given project, a given quarter, or even a given industry.


image: tableatny/Flickr

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