Podcast: The shift from point solutions to a platform-first approach

“The secret to change is to focus all your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” – Socrates

The way organisations consume technology is changing. Moving from disconnected point solutions to a platform-first approach. The reason for this is simple. Advanced technology has become more accessible, more flexible, and more scalable. Innovation is finally catching up to where business users and stakeholders have wanted technical capability to be for a long time.

“Historically, an organisation would buy the software, or they would build a custom application, then deploy it, on-premise. It was very difficult to have the software and data talk with one another. You were building highly custom, highly challenging, data integrations between systems.” – Andrew Welch, HSO Platform Applications Director

As cloud technology such as the Microsoft cloud application platform – consisting of the Power Platform, Azure, and Microsoft 365 – we’ve seen the emergence of technologies like Microsoft Dataverse. This involves building solutions on top of a common data source to simplify integration between different applications.

“For a long time, we’ve had the tail wagging the dog. Most organisations have a purpose that is not technology. What we saw for a long time was that many business decisions got made because we couldn’t do something with technology, and now we’re seeing business decisions made because technology is finally able to support them.”

The platform-first approach is about technology being in service of the organisational mission, and not working slavishly counter to it. And taking a platform-first approach has made aligning technology to solve business challenges easier. A significant benefit. Yet there is another, more powerful, benefit of today’s platform-first approach.

Today’s technology is tomorrow’s problem solver

No, this is not the slogan for a ‘tomorrow’s world’ TV programme. Rather, it comes back to the point of the increasing flexibility of technology. And in being ready to solve problems you may not encounter for years to come. Powerful stuff. That many aren’t yet ready to embrace.

“Almost nobody is ready to take a platform-first approach. I would say that very few people are even thinking in these terms yet. But they should be.”

Platform-first is a challenging concept to sell because you are building towards a future that doesn’t exist. Yet it has a clear value proposition. Rather than buying or building separate applications to solve a challenge – thus creating an integration problem in itself – you maintain a single platform. Plugging in new applications as the need arises, with data flowing seamlessly between.

It’s an approach that makes it easier to deploy solutions that deliver value in less time and cost. And an approach better integrated with other processes and data. The stuff of dreams.

Andrew tells a story of the history of New York and why its serves as a lesson for organisations moving toward a cloud application-based platforms as a means to secure future success. It worked for New York, and it could work for you.

New York, New York!

Don’t think about technology, think about the future. What challenges will you want to solve to get to where your organisation aspires to be? From a strategic perspective, if considering taking a Platform-first approach, look at the way New York originally planned its now famous street grid.

“If you look at lower Manhattan, at the southern tip where Wall Street is, and the streets and buildings, they all double back on one another and it’s chaotic from an urban planning perspective. I believe it was 1810 or 1811, when New York came out with what they called the commissioners plan. And this plan laid out the pattern of north to south numbered avenues and east to west numbered streets.

“So, long before the Empire State Building stood in the place it stands now, our ancestors knew where there was going to be a street corner and that we could put a building there.”

Think strategically, and think long-term, about your transition to a platform-first approach in the cloud. Plan in a connected way and build your roadmap, your management, your governance, your infrastructure, around what you think might be in the future. Try to anticipate 80% of outcomes.

“Organisations need to build an ecosystem. They need to be looking to get a foundational platform technology they believe is going to help them meet, say, 80% of their needs going forward. There are few technology vendors able to do this, frankly, I think that Microsoft is the only one that can do this holistically.”

When the commissioners plan came together, no one could have conceived we’d be able to engineer buildings as tall as the Empire State Building. Yet with the right planning, and with the right platform, this level of innovation is possible.

How to take a platform-first approach

For organisations thinking strategically about the transition to a platform-first approach in the cloud, it’s not possible to conceive what your needs will be in ten- or twenty-years’ time, but with the right platform you can adapt to new requirements.

“I think there’s a mindset change that rather than looking to get a financial system, or an HR system, or building a custom application for a bespoke need, we need to be looking at how we get solutions that are going to snap into the platform foundation we’ve put in place. That means thinking very differently about requirements and the way to manage projects and the software development lifecycle.”

Andrew refers to what he calls, ‘the tyranny of the deliverable’. In other words, stop thinking about technology as a set of outputs. Instead, consider the platform you’re putting in place as the conduit to any future business aspirations. With the right platform in place, forming the basis on which to innovate and solve business problems, you can snap on new applications as need arises.

“We’ve got to get away from the old notion of saying, I need to meet these 300 requirements and vendor, please tell me what my deliverables are going to be over the next two years. The new way of doing this is to say, listen, I’m going to right size the capacity of expertise I have, and we’re then going to innovate, we’re going to solve business problems rapidly and continually. And we’re going to look at outcomes and at what the business value is, the efficiency gains we realise and how we make life easier for our employees and for our customers. That’s the tyranny of the deliverable.”

The tyranny of the deliverable – a platform-first approach – is a less costly, more structured, faster to deploy with, and business value led approach to getting the best out of technology. And the best results for your organisation.

Read Andrew’s blog: The Cloud Application Platform Era is a seismic, generational transition for cloud technology.