Shifting from Application-Centric to Embracing the Power of Platforms

The Significance of Strategic Platform Choices

1. Introduction

Successful organizations are continually looking for innovative ways to set themselves apart from their competitors. This is done to better serve their customers, create added value, and establish a unique identity. This likely applies to you as well. Apart from the distinctive value you offer through your services and products, it increasingly lies in the extensive digitalization of your core processes. This shift isn't just about doing more with less, but also about providing your colleagues with greater job satisfaction within a digital, innovative environment.

But what does this transformation entail? Where do you start? How do you manage it? How can you ensure that you're only developing things that truly add value? How do you make sure your organization consistently adopts new technology successfully, and that it indeed delivers the envisioned value?

With the advent of Software-As-A-Service (SaaS) solutions, the software aspect has become much more straightforward, but at the same time, more confined to standard functionalities. To stand out for both your customers and your own employees, it's essential to create innovative solutions that provide cross-application access to often fragmented corporate data (stored on network drives, Document Management Systems, mailboxes, and business applications). Many vendors offer these SaaS solutions, typically based on a generic platform, a platform that combines Digital Collaboration, Office Automation, App Development, and advanced Data and Integration capabilities, referred to by Gartner as a Digital Business Platform.

Organizations looking to transition to a Digital Business Platform must have the capability to design, configure, and successfully implement such solutions, preferably with this expertise in-house. This allows your organization to take it further after training and a few initial projects. In other words, your organization also becomes a sort of IT company.

But what does this transformation involve? Where do you start? How do you manage it? How can you ensure that you're only developing things that genuinely add value? How do you make sure the organization consistently adopts this new software successfully, delivering the anticipated value? Our proven approach guides you through this process.

This whitepaper sheds light on these aspects. Based on our experiences working with numerous organizations on similar journeys, we provide you with insights that will help you successfully initiate this process and drive innovation, delivering even more value to your organization.

We've written this whitepaper for IT leaders and their teams who aim to guide their organization through a successful transition to a (managed) cloud platform while simultaneously involving their Management Team/Directors in this transformation.

2. State of the business

In this chapter, you'll find an exploration of what you likely observe around you, but we aim to provide a clear perspective in the context of digitalization and innovation.

Today, most organizations follow a "Buy before build" and "SaaS before PaaS policy." This means:

  • When there's a need to acquire new software or replace outdated software, the first step is to check if there's an existing and proven SaaS solution available.
  • If such a solution is not available or doesn't entirely meet the requirements, the next consideration is whether it can be adapted by adding add-ons or making custom modifications to the SaaS service.
  • If custom development is necessary, it's done based on PaaS (Platform as a Service) offerings. These could involve data services, integration services, or what's known as aPaaS (application platform as a service) offerings.

As mentioned in the introduction, SaaS is increasingly becoming the standard, often referred to as a 'commodity.' It's software that is used in the same way by many organizations. However, it doesn't allow you to differentiate yourself from others. It has thus become what we call a "System of Record," a system that robustly automates common administrative processes.

Creating a competitive edge through innovative solutions relies on platform choices. These are what we refer to as PaaS (Platform as a Service) offerings. As a Microsoft partner, we focus on the following services:

  • Microsoft 365, including Teams. While Microsoft officially positions MS365 as a SaaS service, it's actually a platform where you can create various useful processes, solutions, and apps specifically tailored to your organization. So, it's PaaS. Microsoft also positions Teams as a platform where you can host your custom apps and processes, creating a unified digital gateway.
  • Power Platform. This low-code platform enables you to develop custom apps and workflows on top of your existing application landscape. These apps and flows are developed more quickly than in traditional development environments and are easier to maintain.
  • Azure data, analytics, and integration services. Azure offers numerous services in the realms of data (relational databases, document databases, data lakes, streaming data), analytics (machine learning, cognitive services, etc.), and integration (integration services, API management). With these, you can realize cross-application logic that seamlessly integrates with your legacy and new SaaS solutions.

This paper delves into the use of the above-mentioned platforms. How can your organization also leverage these platforms to innovate and stand out on top of the Systems of Record?

3. Differentiation & Innovation

As concluded earlier, SaaS has become a commodity. To innovate and create a distinctive edge, you'll need to roll up your sleeves and dive in. It may have acquired a tainted reputation due to numerous expensive and failed projects in the past, but we're indeed talking about custom solutions.

Customization in today's context is achieved through cloud platforms that enable rapid solution development. Often, this is done using low-code methods: creating apps, integrations, data solutions, and workflows swiftly with minimal coding. All tailored to your specific business processes, making them innovative and distinctive.

For your organization, customization involves the topics outlined in the diagram above. The "WHY" for the implementation of a platform can often be found within these elements. It's the blend of SaaS and legacy applications, along with a company-specific touch, that sets you apart. That's where innovation lies, and that's where your added value for customers can be found.

4. Platform Thinking as a Strategy

Microsoft, with its cloud platforms, holds a strong position in Gartner's Magic Quadrants and excels in marketing and acquisitions. For a CIO or IT Manager with a "Microsoft unless" policy, the choice is often straightforward. Nearly every organization has some form of Microsoft cloud technology in-house, such as Microsoft 365, Teams, Power Platform, or Azure.

Many of these decisions are technology-driven

The business might present challenges like "We want to innovate faster," "We no longer want customization in our ERP," "We want to work more data-driven," or "We want better integration with our ecosystem." IT's response is usually "We need the cloud." Setting up such a cloud platform within your application landscape is relatively straightforward. But what happens next?

It often becomes an "IT affair." The business frequently struggles to specify desired functionality and priorities. Acquiring a platform is different from acquiring an application like an ERP or CRM. The purpose of a platform is precisely to develop your solutions, which allow your organization to distinguish itself from competitors and innovate faster. However, using a platform means you have to get involved!

So, you need to become inventive yourself, rather than having the application provider do it for you

And that platform must seamlessly integrate with your existing application landscape and your supply chain partners or ecosystem to facilitate end-to-end business processes. As mentioned earlier, Gartner refers to such a platform as a Digital Business Platform. It often consists of low-code, data, integration, and a digital workplace where everything comes together. But the real work begins with the acquisition of such a platform.

The platform and the associated approach to create innovative and distinctive solutions on it are tools to achieve organizational goals. Working with modern technology makes it easier to attract IT talent, making your organization more attractive again.

5. Strategy & Business Value

To successfully embark on a platform journey, a platform strategy is essential. And that strategy begins with the "Why" and the "What." Why do we need such a platform, and what do we aim to achieve with it?

The CEO might say, "We want to differentiate ourselves, innovate, and thereby gain more market share." The CFO might chime in with, "It should be cost-effective but still compliant," and the CIO will emphasize, "It must be well-manageable and supportable, and we need to develop on it easily and swiftly." Finally, the COO will insist, "Our processes need to be more efficient, and the quality needs to improve." It appears that the various stakeholders have conflicting interests.

People working together at a table in an office

The need to collaborate with business and IT

In practice, however, people often begin by selecting and then architecting and configuring the platform without first clarifying the "Why" and "What."

In an agile organization, it's crucial for the business and IT to collaborate effectively. Different business stakeholders need to agree on the goals to be achieved. Without the business, there's no backlog. Without a backlog, there's no scrum team in action. Consequently, the platform remains idle.

By initially focusing on the business value that can potentially be created, the subsequent phases of the project will run much smoother. It's also essential to remember that the entire organization is likely to be affected, including your customers. Such a project – or better yet, a program – is a change. And change needs to be designed, guided, and embraced from the top down, setting a positive example for the rest of the organization.

People taking notes at a table

6. Shaping your Strategy and Business Value determination

Motion10, an HSO company can assist in shaping your Strategy and Business Value determination. We engage in a two-session conversation with your entire Management Team to address topics often overlooked in strategic IT decisions.

  • What strategic objectives are served by this choice?
  • What are the consequences if we do not make this choice?
  • What are the rules we adhere to?
  • Who is affected by this choice, both internally and externally?
  • When will we consider it successful?
  • How do we make the value concrete and measurable?

By collectively answering these questions, your business goals are aligned with your IT strategy. The value is determined and shared, establishing clear frameworks and guiding principles. Additionally, the involved stakeholders become evident. Based on these findings, we quickly get to the core, knowing which roadmap to follow and how to create the most value using the platform. A genuine business case can even be developed and maintained throughout the process, which can be both quantitative and qualitative.

PitWall - Our Approach

PitWall is our approach to a "managed cloud platform" managed by Motion10, an HSO company. With a well-thought-out cloud strategy and a well-managed cloud environment for all types of data, integrations, applications, and workspaces, we help organizations continually extract maximum value from digital innovation. As an experienced strategic technology partner, we take both IT and the business on the digital road to success. Our strategy and business value approach is a crucial link in this process, bridging the gap between inspiration (what technology is available and what can you do with it) and the actual design, implementation, and adoption journey. With this approach, a successful contribution from the platform and the solutions running on it to your business objectives is guaranteed.

7. Organization of the Transition

To successfully leverage a platform, a change in the organization is also necessary at various levels. The entire organization must truly become agile and collectively responsible for innovation using the Digital Business Platform. This is made clear during the Strategy & Business Value workshops, and this chapter provides further insight.

Becoming agile: continuously working together in a cadence

Platform thinking must genuinely take shape within the organization. You have a platform on which you can develop innovative solutions yourself. Therefore, you need to be inventive yourself, as there's no supplier who has everything ready-made for you. The collaboration between the business and IT (pay attention to the order!) to create real value through such a platform is an entirely new way of working. Many organizations still need to learn this. You often see a move towards DevOps, but genuine agile collaboration between the business and IT is often not yet a reality. It is usually only the IT department that works according to DevOps principles. To fully integrate this into the organization, a real change is needed.

More time from the business side will need to be made available to jointly arrive at effective new solutions. The role of product owners per domain or value stream is crucial, but they also need to be truly empowered to represent stakeholders. They should have a mandate and be provided with the right budget, which isn't solely based on projects.

In larger organizations, the role of a product manager will also be essential. They oversee the overall product of the organization, extending across value streams. They are responsible for the complete roadmap of your products and services.

Sponsor coalition and program planning

There is also an important challenge for management after choosing to work with a platform: how do they facilitate the organization to make the necessary changes? Going to work with a platform and becoming agile at the same time are big changes. Departments cannot do it alone. The answer for management is to do it with budget, freeing up FTEs and supporting the business and IT in the belief that they need external specialists to guide them. Both technically and organizationally.

In addition, management must also support the IT manager in making the necessary changes in the IT organization, in terms of people and roles. Think about removing the wall between development and management and working much more in domain-specific DevOps teams. With full business involvement. It is important to continue to regularly monitor progress and success both in terms of deliverables and methods. Just as regular retrospectives are held in agile software development to determine what all went well and not so well, and how things can be improved in terms of approach, the same will need to be done at the board level.

Every quarter or six months, it is important to hold a so-called program increment planning day with the entire team, including both business stakeholders, product management, product owners and all those involved in the various DevOps teams. It is during this day(s), that the epics for the next phase are determined. Together. This cannot be done without deep board involvement. After all, it affects the entire organization.

8. The Path to Success

Once the platform strategy is clear, the roadmap and objectives for the coming period are defined, and the sponsors and owners are ready, the actual implementation of the platform and the realization of digital solutions can begin. Want to start with us?

Find out more?

On Cloud Platform and Strategy