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How to identify a strategic technology platform

A strategic platform has to be broad enough to support a range of business functions while being open, extensible and modular at the same time, according to Forrester

Technology suppliers and user organisations often tout the power of technology platforms in driving business agility and customer satisfaction, but not all platforms are strategic in nature.

Speaking at the Forrester Technology & Innovation APAC 2022 conference, Ashutosh Sharma, vice-president and research director at Forrester India, said even as strategic platforms help organisations become “future-fit” and deserve the most attention and budget, the term platform has become overused.

“In an era where everybody’s calling their application or product and service a platform, you really don’t know how to distinguish a strategic platform from a non-strategic platform,” Sharma said in a recorded presentation.

In Forrester’s view, a strategic platform has to be broad enough to be used by an entire organisation, rather than a single department or function, and support a wide range of business outcomes.

An enterprise resource planning (ERP) system might fit the bill, but Sharma sounded a word of caution on applying the “strategic” label on such systems, which are often provided by large suppliers that are capable of supporting multiple business functions.

“You’ll end up putting all your eggs into one basket, creating lock-in and silently suffering from the promise of feature updates which include things that thousands of customers ahead of you have voted for but are of no value to your business,” he said.

Strategic platforms, Sharma said, should be open, modular and extensible through low-code and no-code development, with a rich ecosystem of technology add-ons and partners that further enable the platforms to be extended to third parties.

While the technical aspects of a platform can be evaluated under the hood, organisations should also consider less obvious aspects, such as a supplier’s innovation chops, its licensing practices and how it is allowing other partners to contribute to its platform, Sharma said.

“The truly open platforms make it easy for developers across communities to collaborate, and share code and ideas, reducing the risk of vendor lock-in,” he said, adding that an open platform is also no less secure as open communities can identify and resolve security issues faster.

But in some cases, identifying a strategic platform is not straightforward, even if there is one that ticks all the right boxes.

“Sometimes, you might go to a relatively unproven partner or platform that doesn’t meet most of your requirements because you bought into its product roadmap and have the power to shape that roadmap as well,” Sharma said.

When it comes to budget issues, Sharma urged organisations to focus on value and not just the cost of their strategic platforms.

“Strategic partners will work with you to develop the right cost model because you don’t have an infinite budget and you need to build something that conforms to your budget and requirements,” he said. “If you focus on value, your CFO will not bug you much, even if the cost may be high because you are driving value for the business.”

Key practices

To realise the full value of a strategic platform, organisations will need to embrace some key practices, particularly agile development and DevOps, so they can build and compose capabilities to suit their needs, reflecting what makes their platform strategic in the first place.

And while doing so, they should constantly adopt an “outside-in” mindset to ensure what they build is always aligned with business outcomes, Sharma said.

Given the flexible, modular and open nature of strategic platforms, organisations will also need solid governance practices, but not to the extent of stifling creativity and innovation.

“Governance should not be too loose either, so you can avoid creating a Wild, Wild West situation where it becomes difficult to manage what’s going on,” Sharma said.

Finally, having the right technology and consulting partners, as well as metrics that matter, will go a long way to quantifying the value of a strategic platform.

Sharma said technical metrics that apply in an application-centric world will not apply to platforms, and that organisations should consider business metrics such as revenue growth, customer experience scores, employee retention and profitability.

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