Transformational Power of a Single Platform
By Pedro Sttau, CIO, and iCar Asia Limited
Moving an organization into a Single Platform is not merely a technological initiative — it is a key strategic decision that can transform the way a company delivers value to its customers, operates and hires. It addresses one of the most fundamental principles all successful businesses share: the ability to quickly adapt to change.
As our business grow through the acquisition of leading verticals in the ASEAN market, we face important decision points that lead us to rethink about how to deliver value to our customers at scale.
To us, a Single Platform is technically a centralized platform, and operationally a set of principles we use to scale our business.
From a technical standpoint, our distributed business logic sits in the central platform. We have a customer front-end platform that exposes the business logic to customers. When our product teams build a feature and think about how it gets consumed across all devices they only need to build it once into the platform. The features are available for any of our properties to consume; at this point it is merely a UX/UI call on how to expose functionality.
Strategic Deliberate Approach
The decision to move into a central platform begins from a very clear understanding of what the vision of the business is and whether a Single Platform strategic supports it.
One mistake I often made in the past was not being able to remove myself from solutionizing before making sure I understood the problem I was trying to solve.
Before undertaking on a project of this size, a CIO needs to make sure the organization is asking the right questions and use critical thinking to build a strategy:
• Does the business intend to continue expanding beyond its current tech stack?
• Are the similarities between the ways it operates between markets greater that the differences?
• Would a feature work fundamentally the same across all markers will all difference?
• Can the business survive without a common platform?
While the answers to these questions will vary from business to business, the decision to move into a single centralized platform cannot be made solely by the CIO, it is primarily driven by a business problem. Technology needs act as an enabler, not the objective on its own.
Long Term View
Moving into a single central platform is a long-term decision that could affect the way the business operates for many years.
The project will inevitably utilize significant engineering resources that could be theoretically are working on tactical short-term initiatives, with a faster and more immediate impact on revenue.
This is exactly where a most of the pressure is going to originate as stockholders become impatient and often do not see explicit progress on the project.
The CIO needs to be able to position the project from a long-term strategic perspective and avoid at all costs connecting the project with immediate business uplifts.
The most significant value of the project is not a particular set of features but the capability of a business to transform itself over and over again with little cost, time and effort.
The Right Architecture
Stuart’s team implemented a successful transformation Single Web Platform project at Laterooms. He was kind enough to share with me his experience as we took our first steps into our programme.
One of the main things he touched on was how important it was to make sure all of the web services and/or APIs were ahead of feature sets. This is especially important when companies operate in different countries and possibly expose features in a different way to consumers. Consumers in Thailand search for cars in a very different way compared to users in Malaysia despite the underlying search service being the same. There are other cases where the opposite happens and the business logic differs drastically from one market to the other. In both scenarios, a Single Web Platform on its own will not help solve the problem.
It is critical that all feature sets currently available across all markets are mapped and considered ahead of designing the underlying service architecture of the platform.
Remember, a Single Web Platform creates capabilities at scale; it does not deliver end-user functionalities by itself.
Laser focus scope
Another important consideration is scope and the importance of limiting it. At best, a project of this size should deliver exactly the same feature sets existing on the old platform across all markets in a single centralized instance. It should not include any major design UX change or new consumer facing features.
The risk of going the opposite direction is that should any of those new features or designs fail, they will put in question a much longer term strategic project that will have a much deeper transformational impact on the organization.
Another common mistake is to lean towards a specific technology and let the decision process be affected by a personal preference for a tech stack. When deciding to move into a single platform, the CIO needs to be tech agnostic, and look at the problem from different perspectives. • How will the different technologies work together?
• What are the current skill sets available in the team?
• What level of support does the technology provide? • Does the technology have documentation available? Is it up to date?
• Are there any success cases?
• Do we really need to change Tech?
A project of this nature has a very high risk of being seen by the organization as a tech project. A CIO needs to be constantly communicating the significant transformational aspect of bringing the all the platforms together into a centralized instance. The value needs to be communicated specifically to each department, as it will differ vastly depending on where the internal customer sites. Moving an organization into a Single Platform is high risk but hugely transformational project that must be approached as a Business Wide initiative. If done right, it will enable organizations to scale and adapt to change and distribute value to customers faster and with less effort.