With the rapid emergence of new technologies, many businesses are on the eve of a transformation. This is possible only if the IT architecture is adapted accordingly, according to Conclusion subsidiary myBrand.
Managing Director Seger Theuns and Marketing and Communications Manager Corianne Visser of myBrand tell about the adaptive ability of organisations, the changing role of IT departments and the value of true partnerships.
How would you, as IT professionals, describe our current time?
Theuns: “Speaking for myself, I think we’re living in a fascinating era. I often find myself thinking back to the mid to late 1990s, when e-commerce first began to take off and the business world was suddenly faced with all these new opportunities, which provided access to alternative business models. This brought about an exciting new dynamic. I can see a similar dynamic now, except it’s occurring on a much larger scale, with a far greater impact.
Whereas at the time the revolution mainly involved new functionalities, it’s now about trends that will affect the current business models on a much more fundamental level – I’m talking about technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and the Internet of Things. We notice that companies are trying to figure out what impact this will have on their day-to-day operations, how sustainable their business model is, and what changes they need to make.”
But is it always clear what changes need to be made? Or would you say there are businesses that feel some anxiety or trepidation?
Visser: “What we’re seeing is that some companies have been very successful in pursuing their vision and are making great progress, while others are only just starting out. The fact is that many companies still have quite a few legacy systems in their current organisation, systems that were developed a decade ago, which tend to have a lot of customised features. These systems are limited in terms of what they can do, and making changes is difficult, time-consuming and expensive. That in itself makes it a tough decision: are we adding yet another extension to our home, or are we tearing the whole thing down and building something new?”
Theuns: “The question: ‘Will we still be around five years from now?’ is a legitimate one that people are asking in virtually every boardroom right now. Because your competitive position soon ends up being affected if you need a full year to implement every change – after all, changing your existing systems is a hugely complex process.
“The question: ‘Will we still be around five years from now?’ is a legitimate one that people are asking in virtually every boardroom right now”
We’re seeing a lot of companies developing multi-level strategies, patterned on Gartner’s PACE Layered Application Strategy, which consists of three layers.
At the bottom, you’ve got your basic IT systems, also known as ‘systems of records’. Examples of such systems include your customer database, billing system, and so on. The layer just above includes the more advanced systems that set you apart from other providers – these are known as ‘systems of differentiation’. And at the top you’ll find a layer consisting of new systems that are still under development – the ‘systems of innovation’.
When it comes to the bottom layer, you need to go back to standardised software. Phase out your customised applications and implement standardised ones as a rule, as this will make you far more flexible and less vulnerable. Where the middle layer is concerned, you should continue to invest in best-of-breed systems, so as to remain competitive in the market. For the top layer, it’s important to experiment with new ideas you want be able to quickly put into practice, without the risk of racking up sky-high expenses when they end up falling short of expectations. We provide specific services to our clients at all three of these levels.”
Tolstoy wrote that ‘All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’ Would you say this applies to businesses as well; that is to say, that each business faces its own challenge as far as transformation is concerned?
Visser: “Yes, although there are some challenges that are fairly prevalent, and then there are those that are more business-specific or industry-specific. What we’re seeing a lot is that businesses want to do what they’re currently doing more effectively or efficiently. Let’s say you’ve got sales reps who currently still have to come into the office every day to enter their orders in the system, or a maintenance technician who hands in a stack of worksheets at the end of the day. You’ll want to set them up with tablets, and you want to be able to process that data in real-time.
Many businesses are also looking for synergy and a clear process and IT landscape for businesses that are linked together based on a buy-and-build strategy. Then there are companies that are really looking to find the next step and that want to move towards a new business model that allows them to add significantly more value for their customers or clients.”
What do you feel are the greatest risks in these types of transformations?
Theuns: “Contrary to what many people might think, the technology is generally not the stumbling block in these types of processes. It’s much more important that the company has a very clear idea of where they’re going, that the top brass is truly committed to the cause, that you continue to communicate clearly throughout the process, and, last but not least, that you allow people the latitude they need to get the job done to which they’ve been assigned.”
When you’re talking about implementation failure, the cause is almost always related to flaws in change management. We believe the IT provider and the client are jointly responsible for this process, and that these roles cannot be separated. You need each other in order to be successful, and you can’t do it without strong mutual trust.”
Visser: “We’re always straightforward in our partnerships when it comes to responsibilities customers need to take themselves. Then again: we’re all still testing the waters together. So our job as a partner is to proactively come up with ideas and to have the flexibility needed whenever new options present themselves during the process. Now more than ever, at a time when the opportunities are virtually infinite but there are also many uncertainties, it’s important that you have an IT partner with whom you can really work on innovation, someone who’s intrinsically motivated to enter into that type of partnership.”
You recently became a subsidiary of Conclusion, an NPM Capital portfolio company, on account of your specific knowledge of, and experience with, the software manufactured by market leader SAP. Many people regard SAP primarily as a provider of ERP software (Enterprise Resource Planning – Ed.). Does that mean you operate mainly at the bottom layer of the Gartner model, the system of records?
Theuns: “Certainly not. The SAP suite contains a lot more than ERP alone, and also supports the latest technologies, such as Machine Learning. We are currently exploring how you can use this to essentially ‘peel away’ existing processes for clients by eliminating some of the steps in between.
Sure, we are and will remain SAP specialists, but given the speed of technological change, we need to be focusing all our energies on keeping our knowledge up to date. We also never think from an IT perspective but rather from the point of view of the client’s needs and experience. If the client makes an informed decision not to use an SAP application, we make sure it’s integrated smoothly into SAP.
“We never think from an IT perspective but from the point of view of the client’s needs and experience”
If the client wants to prioritise the go-to market and takes it for granted that the setup of the ERP systems isn’t perfect, we will support that and go along with them. And if the client wants to play around with different ideas, we’ve got ‘LEGO bricks’ we can use to create a quick prototype. So we can actually help our clients implement a PACE Layered Application Strategy. And the merger with Conclusion has actually made that easier than ever.”
It would appear that traditional IT departments within organisations are not always eager to undergo a digital transformation, as it encroaches too much on “their” territory. What is your take on that?
Visser: “That has not been our experience. We do, however, see a growing number of IT departments transforming into organisations with a coordinating role, which focus mainly on creating value for the business. They can no longer compete with what used to be their core business: keeping the organisation’s core systems running. So it makes a lot of sense to outsource this process to a reliable partner.”
“IT departments can no longer compete simply by keeping the organisation’s core systems running”