How to build a Digital Business Technology Platform

Standard

Digital business is the creation of new business designs by blurring the boundaries between the digital and physical worlds due to the convergence of people, business and things. To cities, digital business means smart cities with connected parking, facilities and services. To manufacturers, digital business can mean connected factories and the industrial internet. To others, the notion of ecosystem or platform businesses (such as Airbnb and Uber) come to mind. Regardless of the variety of digital business, most enterprises do not have the technology components to support the new capabilities and models.

A digital business requires much more than technology (for example, leadership, talent and skills, and new business models). However, from a technology perspective, many will expect the CIO and the IT team to lay out the technology foundation. At a minimum, the IT organization needs to be able to design the “big picture” of all the new information and technology capabilities required to support digital business. IT can then work with the rest of the organization to define who — if not IT — will build/fund/support/own these major components.

The Platform View of Digital Business

We use the word platform to describe each of these areas — which is deliberate. Platform used in this report means that the area is built on services-based principles and architecture. The goal is to create an interoperable set of services that can be brought together to create applications, apps and workflows. This creates a symbiotic collection of technology capabilities and components that form a platform. A services-first versus applications-first mindset is one of the main attributes of a loosely coupled, interoperable platform. Think of Lego blocks (services) that can be easily rearranged to meet any need. The openness and composite nature of a platform is ideally suited to the external-facing capabilities required by new digital business processes, moments and models. The platforms described in this report are not typically purchased from a technology vendor as a single unit.

A digital business is supported by technology platforms in five areas:

Information systems platform

The purpose of this platform is to run the back-office and core systems. The information systems platform contains aspects of Employee collaboration and workplace such as Email, telephony and video, file storage and sharing, collaboration tools, productivity tools, employee app stores and personal employee apps. Also the Back Office systems such as finance, HR, purchasing, billing and other vital back-office systems are covered. Systems of record for master data are also included. Usually, these back-office capabilities are delivered by an ERP system and “bolt-ons.”

Customer experience platform

The purpose of this platform is to run the technology that enables interaction and commerce with customers (B2C, B2B, B2B2C) and citizens. The customer experience platform covers avenues like Multichannel interaction and commerce which enables customers to look up information, request services and do any of the activities associated with e-commerce, regardless of interaction channel. Ideally, these customer activities are API-based and can be combined to form any customer-facing process across any channel. Social Networks provide a mechanism for employees to engage with customers or constituents to improve experience. Customer data can be accessed from all internal and external sources (e.g., CRM, purchased data, social networks, ERP and mobile app). Enterprises will use Customer Analytics ranging from simple historical analysis and segmentation to demand analytics and advanced social sentiment. Customer analytics can be diagnostic, predictive and prescriptive (e.g., customer offer engine). The output/results of customer analysis can be fed to any other parts of the technology platform.

Multichannel capability is critical. Many enterprises strive for the principle “build once and deploy to any channel.” This requires a disciplined services-based approach and a focus on continuous experience to ensure that customers remain engaged. The customer experience platform is, in many ways, the gateway through which other platforms (e.g., IoT and information systems) provide communication and value to the customer. Ideally, inbound data, insight, requests and commerce, as well as outbound information and fulfillment of services go through the customer experience platform.

Data and analytics platform

Data permeates all platforms. The central position of the data and analytics platform (at the intersection of all the other platforms) reflects this. The purpose of this platform is to provide the context for compliance and reporting; real-time event analysis and adjustments to processes; data and models that allow decisions to be made; and algorithms that automate decisions and prescribe courses of action that can be executed in all of the platforms. Each part of the data and analytics platform can deliver insight that is descriptive, diagnostic, predictive and/or prescriptive. Data, analytics and algorithms are central to the digital business platform, and must be driven by a data and analytics strategy.

It contains the following scenarios:

  • Partner and supplier analytics — Enterprises must be able to analyze the services rendered and products delivered by vendors and partners. Data that feeds partner and supplier analytics can come from internal sources as well as partner/supplier/third-party sources. This also includes data procured from the rapidly expanding landscape of data brokers and open datasets.
  • Business and operational analytics — Insight derived from operations and business functions is critical to all parts of the enterprise. The analyses can be financial, market-focused and process-focused. Sales, production and process analytics often form the most common type of analysis.
  • Algorithm engines — Algorithm and analytics modelling workbenches are becoming an important capability for enterprises. These sets of tools create and then run the algorithms used in all parts of the enterprise.

IoT platform

The purpose of this platform is to connect endpoints such as physical assets and consumer things. The platform enables the monitoring, management, services and security of these things. The platform also brings together the connected things with existing IT and OT systems to enable further value. It contains following sections – Connectivity to enterprise-owned things, Connectivity to customer-owned things, Connectivity to partner-owned things, IoT analytics and Endpoint computing.

An IoT platform augments OT systems by providing better ways to collect, store and analyze data. It does not replace them. OT systems will always provide the real-time performance, reliability and security required by operational assets. When standardizing to eliminate silos, much of the middleware to connect things to OT and IT systems will be concentrated in the IoT platform. Once things can communicate with IT systems, a number of valuable capabilities emerge. For example, malfunctioning assets can automatically create a service request in asset and core systems, or a vending machine can create a replenishment order in a supply chain application. The IoT platform also provides additional capabilities to OT systems and assets. For example, even though a machine may have been connected to an OT control system for decades, the addition of an IoT platform extends the ability to create a mobile or tablet app to view diagnostics — effectively adding a more modern window into parts of the OT control system.

The architecture for an IoT platform can be centralized or highly distributed. Although the figures in this research imply a centrally located IoT platform, we recommend that enterprises choose architectures that meet the realities of their environment.

Ecosystems platform

The purpose of this platform is to enable an enterprise to create value from the outside in with business ecosystems in the digital world. This requires the ability to make assets like data, algorithms, transactions and business processes available through APIs to external business ecosystems; to construct ecosystems that an enterprise can host to connect new partners and developers, and to pursue new business models. It contains API Management Software, which will take care of  Proper management, security and governance are critical for an enterprise’s APIs that will be public-facing and APIs from partners that will be employed by the enterprise leveraged by a business ecosystem that, for most enterprises, will include employees, customers and partners. Also Customer-facing public APIs which are to be used by customers or other partners in customer-facing roles. These APIs are not applications or apps — they are a key functionality to be used in external applications, apps and websites. Also, Partner-facing public APIs which are designed to be used outside the enterprise, but for partners instead of customers. Enterprise-run , Industry- and vendor-run ecosystems ecosystems that can be commercial or community-based in nature. Finally Customer and Supplier portal apps

The complete digital business technology platform on a single chart looks like this:

platforms

The Final Deciding Factor

All aspects of digital platforms require capital. Even if you use a ready-made system, you need to have the internal talent to use it wisely. For the majority of companies, the right answer is to make use of the digital platforms available to them inexpensively and to keep an eye out for innovative partners while building up their internal capability — because within another decade, few companies without these skills will still be around.

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