Platform businesses exploit connectedness to create value for customers by integrating resources and assets that are not owned, but rented or shared. A curation fee is charged for managing the customer relationship and providing the transactional platform. Whether it is in high-end fashion, transportation or hospitality, consumer requirements may be met with a frictionless, mobile and personalised service. Consumers used to interacting with service providers via apps expect a level of interaction between those apps, often sharing contacts, content or account profiles for sign-up.
Today’s platform models are loud, crowd and cloud. Highly interactive messaging channels are leveraged to make the voice of the customer audible above the internal noise created by the organisations own processes. Instead of requiring a significant investment in infrastructure and expertise, modern collaboration models are open and crowd initiated. Assets to support business processes, data analytics and customer service can be leased via the cloud rather than owned.
In traditional organisations, successive waves of enterprise-wide integration projects have automated the administration of core business processes (PLM, LIMS, MES, SCM, MRP, ERP, CRM, …). In so doing, however, they have created their own silos of understanding, with new vocabularies, specialists and data integrity challenges. IT departments tend to spend more time on the maintenance of these different systems and their troublingly sensitive interfaces than they do on brainstorming new ways to deliver value to end customers.
In both environments, however, getting clarity on the return on investment in technology is equally challenging. On the one hand, platform models intent on sharing and integrating features for customers are challenged with sustainable revenue models. On the other, the ongoing investment required to keep systems up and running is difficult to explain to business owners in terms of value to customers, instead of being perceived as a cost of doing business.
What is lacking here is not technology, or data, but skills. Keeping track of the often conflicting aims of the different components of an organisation, and then communicating the related opportunities to apply technology to achieve those aims is a complex process, demanding a level of confidence in both business and technology.
Such technology led change suggests an organisational process where external customer facing goals are continually re-evaluated against the means deployed to achieve them. Those resources include people, budgets, knowledge, skills, roles, business models, processes, technology, data, analytical tools, algorithmic capabilities and partner relationships.
An analogy for such “bridging” skills can be considered on the demand side of any business. Transactional automation is required by the sales organisation so that an authorised customer order with actionable product and delivery data is designed to make the order to cash cycle as efficient as possible. Customer information is recorded once only, maintained with a high level of data integrity, and both the sale and logistics sides of the organisation share the same information.
From a marketing perspective, the same transactional information can inform customer segmentation, the identification of target audiences and market behaviours. So an investment in technology can be justified on the grounds of both efficiency of process (execution) and effectiveness of purpose (strategy).
Now, online platforms increasingly converge promotion and transaction processes. Thus, new thinking is required to join sales intuition with customer experience. Information systems change from being a platform for transacting to being a platform for selling. This transition of technology from back to front office is called digital transformation but misleadingly emphasises the technology as the key driver. It is the shared understanding of organisational goals and technology constraints that will determine an organisations ability to stay ahead of competitors in maintaining and growing market share.
Dr. Fergal Carton is an IMI associate and Programme Director for the IMI Diploma in Technology Leadership. He is faculty at UCC and specialises in Management Information Systems and Managerial Accounting Systems. Fergal worked as a management consultant for 15 years, starting with the Boston Consulting Group in London. He has been on programme committees for various European conferences (ECIME, CONFENIS, ECIS) and spearheads the FSIC research activity in mobile payment ecosystems.