Many organizations only begin the work of replatforming once it’s an imperative. Their current technologies are making great customer experiences impossible, and the outdated tooling causes such a headache for their customer-facing teams that more resources are spent merely maintaining and finding workarounds for the system than actually bringing new customer experiences to market.
Once this state of desperation is felt throughout the organization, it can be easy to make the leap to a new platform quickly, picking the first option that seems to fit the business, or more likely the first sales pitch that wins over the leadership and seems to fit the budget.
But this is no way to make long term decisions for your teams, and for your customer experience. Replatforming is a competitive imperative, not just a tooling consideration. There are several questions that your leadership and customer-facing teams should ask before making the leap, to ensure you’re doing the right thing for your customers. These questions are designed to ensure your digital-first organization is operating in a customer-centric manner. Once you operate in a customer-first model, you can solve all challenges of customer experience that you encounter — and you can be assured that your platforms will be ready to meet those challenges, too.
Five considerations for replatforming
1. Product creation capability
Products change. The ability to create great products is timeless.
Before making decisions about new platforms or tooling, ask yourself, “Do our current capabilities allow us to create the best digital products for our customers?” The key here is that product creation capability is more important than the product itself. Digital changes fast. A few years ago, the explosion of apps on the market made every business feel like they ought to have an app, whether their customers were actually ready to interact with their brand that way or not. Your team may currently have the capabilities to build an app, but it’s impossible to predict the future of the market. In a few years, we may forget apps altogether and build all experiences in the browser. We can’t claim to know what will happen. What you can do is shift how you think about products, and how you plan.
To do this, enable your teams to experiment and fail, rather than going all-in on new products to chase trends in the market. Rapid experimentation is key. This gets you closer to your customer, and closer to the insights that matter.
When your teams are in the product ideation phase, start with ‘why’, not with the ‘how’. If you have great product creation capabilities in place, the how becomes less of a challenge. The why, ie: “Why will this product solve a compelling problem our customer is facing?” is a better question, because it ensures the great product your team can build will have great adoption in your target audience.
It’s our product philosophy at Rangle that the best digital products should start with questions, not a list of requirements. This places the customer, and their needs, at the heart of the product build, and ensures all decisions are made with them in mind — not what is easiest for the business, or what executives think the market needs.
2. An outside-in requirements strategy
Continuing the theme of focusing on customer value, the outside-in approach asks, “How do our customers view our brand and products?” Starting with the ability to create customer value as a baseline, this approach to building products ensures that what the customer needs is the priority, rather than a traditional approach which centers the capabilities of the company as the determinant for which products can be created.
If you think only about your company, and what you’ve done before, you’re limiting your possibilities — including your possible revenue. Again, the market changes fast. You must adapt to what’s “out there”, not focus on what’s inside the four walls of your office.
In our new eBook, The Better Way: Transformation Principles for the Real World, we take the case of Amazon as an illustration of this outside-in focus. When Amazon pivoted from being a bookseller to an eBook provider with Kindle, then into cloud computing and web services provider, and finally into an online marketplace, they were able to do so not by focusing on what they were already good at, but by focusing on removing non-value adding activities from the purchase path of their users, and then asking themselves what their customers wanted and needed.
The outside-in approach may seem reactive, but it’s actually a path to putting you ahead of the market. If you’re constantly chasing competitors, or fearing disruption from upstarts in your vertical, looking at customer value as a starting point will keep your brand ahead of the curve, not chasing behind it. Going outside-in, on the other hand, keeps you truly customer-centric. It removes bureaucratic noise, weak intentions, and immerses your frontline teams (those closest to your customer) in the space where real innovation happens.
3. A dynamic (cloud-centric) platform strategy
The digital value of your business is in your unique experiences. This is why in order to enable your product creation capability, your replatforming strategy should include a consideration of your supporting digital architecture. The most important question to ask for a digital-first strategy isn’t about the cloud, but rather: “Is our customer experience capability decoupled from the platform?”
Why? A modern platform accelerates time to market, while also allowing customer-centricity through continuously evolving the digital customer experience. Your customer-facing teams do this through insights and learning gained while they interact with customers digitally.
This demands: 1) A decoupled customer experience that allows focused, agile customer-centricity; and 2) A cloud-based platform that leverages best-in-class SaaS services for rapid delivery. This is the best of both worlds, where you leverage maximum value from pre-built software, and also get the benefit of a fully unique customer experience layer that allows you to create value for your customers, totally differentiated from your competitors.
The teams who create your customer experience, generally marketers, merchandisers, and application developers, should be free to work quickly. Responding to the needs of your customers, experimenting and testing, all with a low-effort approach, is fundamental for modern orgs. If these teams have to work with engineers and designers for even small changes to your website and other digital experiences, they’re essentially handcuffed — unable to do what they know is best for your audience, at the time your customers need it.
With a decoupled architecture, creating customer-facing experiences is entirely in the control of the customer-facing teams, and the time and effort required to make changes is reduced significantly. Moreover, moving to a SaaS-based infrastructure, including a cloud-hosted stack, improves your costs, the speed of your digital experiences, and therefore your overall ability to generate new products.
Your services can and should include partner integrations like Stripe for payments, and Figma to enable your design and development teams to collaborate more closely. This list expands quickly: Okta for authentication, Salesforce for CRM, AWS, Google or Azure for cloud, and Contentful for CMS. Your legacy services can be wrapped with GraphQL.
With a decoupled CX layer, you can leverage all these systems, bring in new ones, scale them across all your channels, and never be blocked or constrained when new features are ready to be added. In this approach, the only company that controls your CX layer is your own. No lock-in, infinite flexibility, and reduced risk.
4. Team capability & culture
Enabling collaboration doesn’t end with simply acquiring new tools, however. Part of being strategic about the replatforming process is understanding the gaps in collaboration that currently exist. How can your tools become enabling technologies that help to address those gaps?
The structure of your enabling technologies informs the ways in which your teams work together. In order to create the conditions for better product creation capability, it’s essential to consider culture. Your teams must be communicating with each other, have opportunities to do so, and be truly cross-functional in support of your customer. They also need top-down enablement: to have their blockers removed by leadership so that they can continue delivering value to the customer.
Considering replatforming as part of a larger digital transformation exercise, your technology should be set up to help your customer-focused teams work together as product teams, not project teams. The shift to enabling them to be truly customer-centric requires a power shift as well: Decision making has to shift to the your product teams, because they are closest to the customer, and are therefore the experts. This can be difficult for the C-level to tolerate, as they often have decades of experience in their industry. However, the customer-centric model positions the customer as the expert, and requires the C-level to understand that the product teams are closest to these expert insights.
5. The ecosystem approach to partnerships
Most transformations are not limited by talent or capability, but by sufficient capacity — and the resulting confidence and trust in a decentralized product creation operating model. The answer is best-in-class, digital-first partners that are deeply specialized in the area of your transformation.
Partners provide knowledge transfer to your teams because they work closely and are focused on the same results and outcomes for your customers. A win for you is also a win for their business. Traditional vendors and outsourcing models don’t provide these benefits, as their goals are not aligned with your organization’s goals. Partners deliver software solutions, but more than this, they give businesses permission to prioritize the customer, cut through silos in order to deliver customer value faster, and the ability to make decisions at the product team level — closer to the customer, closer to the insights that matter.
We call this approach the ecosystem model. This is different from traditional outsourcing or augmentation. More than simply putting the tooling in place for your teams, ecosystem partners create the systems and processes that will make your teams and digital products successful. In order to transform a team’s capability, they must learn to operate differently. Partners bring new skills, new technologies, and new ways of working that can enhance your ability to bring value to the market. Moreover, in the war for talent, you have to take an ecosystem approach — it’s impossible to bring all the skills and abilities you need to create digital products and experiences in-house. Delivering value to your customer makes partnerships an imperative. It’s the way to co-create outcomes in technology and your digital operating model that you cannot create on your own.
Replatforming is usually considered disruptive to output and to customer experience, which is why companies avoid the issue for as long as possible. However, a more strategic and structured approach can ensure minimal disruption, and prepare your digital-first org culture for the shift that replatforming will enable. With clear answers to the five questions outlined above, you can make a level-headed decision about your new tech stack, your operating model changes, and the associated culture shift that ensures customer satisfaction is the center of your business strategy, not the byproduct.