A look at how the business platform can become bring multiple benefits to an organisation.
With London 2012 just weeks away, sports talk is inevitable. But, I want to pry your attention away from the regulars - Phelps, Bolt and the Dream Team - to touch upon…diving. Platform diving – the act of pitching off a platform from dizzying heights, somersaulting mid-drop in perfect symmetry, and then chopping clean into the waters – to emerge a sporting star. It's a feat that divers take immense pride in accomplishing - even more than springboard diving where the board is often fixed lower and the dive itself is less of a thrill.
The platform, for divers, is benchmarked as the gold standard. Many miles removed from all things sporting, the same can be said about another kind of platform - the business platform.
The business platform is touted as the ultimate efficiency enabler, helping organisations become agile, achieve global reach, spend their IT dollars more intelligently, and even standardise processes delivered as managed services. But what truly puts the platform in a league by itself is the fact that it breaks new ground by powering innovation-led alternate futures for enterprises; enabling businesses to adapt and thrive, even in an unpredictably dynamic environment.
Platforms trace new growth trajectories, for enterprises, in unprecedented ways. Let's begin at the beginning - the moment-of-purchase. The business platform changes the tech-buying game completely. Few would counter my view that the technology purchase process, in most organisations, is painfully similar - each deal made independent of the other and led by different owners unmindful of all but their immediate context. So, while a CIO buys IT services, a business unit invariably drives decisions around managed services. And no one compares notes. Platforms eliminate these silos by bringing all business-technology buyers on the same page.
Now all key stakeholders are aware of, or party to, key purchasing decisions, and the baby is no longer only the CIO's to hold. But, more importantly, the platform changes the very DNA of this buying process, so that it's no longer about spending on technology, but rather about investing in business results.
Organisations don't pay for the technology behind the platform; (Technology, is merely incidental.) they pay for what it delivers to their business. No measurable results, no expenditure.
To top it all, the platform provider and not the investing enterprise – is wholly accountable for everything – operations, upkeep and outcome.
So, in no uncertain terms, the business platform automates the delivery of business results. It shifts focus from process automation and efficiency improvement to the only thing that counts – impacting the organisation's top or bottom line.
Now, CIOs can confidently demand higher budgets, because they can justify each dollar of spending with directly mapped earnings. This also brings objectivity to technology evaluation, which very often suffers from a lack of concrete business metrics.
The platform partner is assessed and compensated based on predefined metrics of business success (more customers, fewer complaints, higher conversion et al) when earlier, a technology vendor would expect to be paid for project delivery, or at best, for delivering fuzzy outcomes. Suddenly, this same vendor is compelled to become an active stakeholder in the enterprise's success.
But, how exactly do enterprises expect technology partners to drive success for them? So, there's the scenario where technology mostly automates manual processes; another, where it enables rudimentary differentiation; a different situation, where technology powers business models and a fourth where it gears the business to respond to shifting dynamics and chart out alternate paths to sustain growth. It is not unusual for the same enterprise to leverage technology to drive all these mandates, at the same time, albeit in different pockets of the business; Homogenous tech-intensity is rarely, if ever, seen in the real world.
Now, the remarkable thing is that the business platform, premised on the foundation of Cloud computing, along with Software as a Service and Business Process Outsourcing, can single-handedly drive any or all of these various agendas by virtue of its modular composition and outcome-based engagement model.
And, don't discount the fact that best-in-class business platforms pack in an advisory component. Because the platform partner's remuneration is linked to results, they must go the extra mile – at no extra expense to the investing enterprise – offering advisory expertise to ensure the platform delivers on its promise, measurably.
This leaves the enterprise with an unmatched advantage. The business can now metamorphose into a full-throttled innovation engine. With the pain of operations mitigated, enterprise functions are free to focus on loftier pursuits, and dream up innovative ideas for new products or better customer experience, assured in the knowledge that the platform will turn these into tangible products and processes. Freed from the shackles of capex-heavy technology investments, the enterprise can purchase capacity in incremental denominations, and then build on (or downsize), at will, in response to a predicted or unforeseen business need - quickly, economically and without fuss. The several blueprints of ready-to-launch innovations, which the platform puts at the disposal of the enterprise, only serve to make the deal sweeter still.
And, even as organisations are considering the happy implications of this development, the business platform got even better. Seamlessly coupled with collaboration and social technology, it can now create the equivalent of a ‘semipermeable membrane' for the enterprise - allowing innovations, best practices and skills, from outside the walls of the organisation to fertilise its insides. It brings an entire ecosystem together, in collaboration, so enterprises can partner with stakeholders to co-create offerings and convert emerging opportunities to unlock joint value. And, there begins the enterprise's journey from state-of-the-art to state-of-the-best.
With excellence-consciousness growing within the enterprise, increased focus on sustainable and ethical businesses is natural. Platforms reinforce such governance and adherence to value systems. Support for processes that enable the business to identify suitable partners and verify their compliance with well-defined principles, besides bringing transparency into processes, is all in a day's work for the next-gen business platform.
The most compelling argument, yet, in favour of business platforms is really a question. Ask yourself why your business is in business. Your answer to that question is the reason the business platform even exists. Its raison d'être is your organisation's success. Now, which other business-enabler can make that claim?
(The author is Vice President and Global Head Business Platform, Infosys)