Douglas is a recognized leader in digital transformation. He’s a public speaker, author, podcaster, consultant, and founder of Martech Zone.
Over the last couple of decades, I’ve had the pleasure of working on either side of the digital transformation industry. I’ve helped Software as a Service (SaaS) vendors develop, innovate and scale their platforms from young pre-revenue startups through enterprise acquisitions. I’ve also helped businesses of every size to implement technology to increase internal efficiency and external customer experience.
As I’ve worked with companies to implement and migrate their technologies, there’s often regret internally for the choice in platforms that their business previously made in implementing solutions. In the vast majority of these cases, I seldom see a mistake was made. What I typically see instead are three different issues:
• Innovation: Companies are often risk-averse in their vendor selection, so they don’t give serious attention to a platform unless it’s fully established and widely adopted. Innovative technology, by definition, is not established and widely adopted, though. As companies look to incorporate emerging technologies, they should not overlook startups or smaller, agile businesses that can advance and tailor their solutions to the company’s benefit.
• Platforms: While enterprise platforms are often superior on the array of offerings, integrations and processes, they are not only slower to innovate (or acquire) new technologies, but also implementing these stacks can be labor-intensive to customize the platform to the processes of the company. In order to achieve a return on technology investment, companies must leverage as much of a platform as possible to see the results. However, that could take months or even years to fully implement within an organization and it can be incredibly disruptive.
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• Companies: Businesses that are not mature in their digital transformation and don’t have proven methodologies and processes need solutions that will not only provide the technology but the guidance for improving their business as well.
This is why I don’t ever commit to recommending one platform for every business. There’s no such thing as a best platform unless a company is able to adopt and fully leverage the platform for a return on their investment. Here are a few scenarios:
• A young company gets a small investment and wishes to invest in a CRM and sales enablement technology to grow their acquisition strategy. They have only a handful of staff and currently don’t have a process for monitoring their pipeline, prioritizing their sales staff. While an enterprise platform would provide scale and every feature they need, the implementation timeline wouldn’t provide conversions, and the resources needed to learn and implement the system would cripple the organization. An inexpensive CRM with a standard sales process would be easy to implement, require minimal training and bring a disciplined process to sales.
• A large retailer in a highly competitive e-commerce market is seeking to adopt artificial intelligence and machine learning in innovative ways that could edge out their competition. They have a complex technology stack with a ton of integrations but a highly skilled internal team. An off-the-shelf AI solution for segmenting e-commerce marketing communications could be implemented and move the needle. However, hiring an e-commerce data science service and proprietary platform would let them leverage all the skills and data they have internally to fully maximize the return on investment. Moving forward with a small AI startup would also give them the full attention of the company as they develop their product’s road map because they’d be a key client, and the data science company’s future would be largely dependent upon their success.
• An enterprise company with thousands of employees and standardized processes is being severely limited by its archaic systems and the effort it takes to automate any process or improve customer experiences. While migration and training would be a significant effort, they’ve identified an enterprise platform that can be fully customized to their needs and expanded by hundreds of productized integrations as the platform aggressively acquires new technology. The platform takes a year to migrate and implement, but the company is finally capable of digital transformation.
McKinsey & Company has done extensive analysis of digital transformation, why it’s crucial to business success and why it also has an alarming failure rate. Included in every transformation is the risk to the current business, the reward of the pace of adoption and the ability to scale. Not every platform can accommodate every business’s maturity, its competitors’ adoption and its customers’ expectations.
In short, there are solutions that are perfect for the stage of your company today that will not be the appropriate platform for your future. While migration is largely seen as an unnecessary expense, your culture should shift to seeing it as a distinct advantage that’s forever present as technology becomes available and affordable. While change is often seen as uncomfortable within organizations, it’s truly the only constant in today’s technology environment.
Analyzing and understanding the tools that your business needs today to be successful is often more important than the tools you will need tomorrow. And one should assume that tomorrow’s landscape of tools will be far different than what’s available today.
Plan Your Migration With Your Technology Purchase
If you plan for migration in the process of your vendor selection, the ability to advance and innovate will be an easier choice. When I identify the appropriate solutions for my clients, I prioritize platforms that offer comprehensive export capabilities, robust application programming interfaces (APIs) or software developer kits (SDKs). The ability to access and easily export your data will make migration much easier.
Unfortunately, technology companies don’t always make leaving an easy process. In fact, for many platforms, it’s a retention strategy to own their clients rather than to enable the freedom to move on. The cost of this is enormous, so choose wisely. The ability to export your data and all activity is an essential one. If you can’t, the cost of migration will be exponential.
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Author: Douglas Karr, Forbes Councils Member