The revolution in Data Integration – the populist trend towards ‘Platformization’

In today’s complex and diverse commercial environment, companies which are not in tune with the political and economic nuances of the landscape invariably fail. There have been too many high profile business collapses not to take account of the pressures which lead to such a demise. No company is immune, whether a large corporate or a small enterprise.  Global economic shock does not discriminate though it tends to affect the larger company more, with its wide spread interests, investments and global investors.

Withstanding such shocks and remaining at the leading edge of success is multi-faceted. Staying alert to – and where possible – anticipating political and economic change is key but even more relevant is retaining a willingness and desire to transform and change. However, to organisations unsure how to start transformation, it too often means looking for a technological solution, with that thinking guided by the companies driving technological change.

People – the essential component

There is however, one essential component to growing and maintaining a competitive edge as we take the first, faltering steps into the industry of the future and embrace the challenges of the fourth, digital, industrial revolution – the people who drive a successful business. In the rush to become more effective and efficient, it is too easy to buy digital technology, automate the processes of production and reduce the number of people involved to cut the salary bill. Companies which do this, introducing technology for its own sake without clear consideration of business requirements, invariably raise their levels of debt to critical proportions, struggle to fit the technology to the business and suffer from significant reductions in people with the potential to realise new skills and capabilities.

The Platform – necessity or technological white elephant?

It is too easy for people to be seduced by the marketing hype surrounding apparently attractive technologies which promise simplicity in business operations, profitable growth and competitive edge. One such area gaining considerable ground is that of Platform adoption. The buzz word – ‘Platformization’ – is stealing its way into the lexicon of technical jargon. So seductive is this trend that businesses feel that they risk failure unless they buy access to a Platform! All too often they haven’t worked out why they need a Platform, what it can do for them, nor recognised the inevitable cost growths of adopting unnecessary technology. The business and technical Press is full of Platform promotion, so much so that the exponential value to be gained from proven, capable Platforms is often hidden in the noise surrounding the fundamental questions – what do you want a Platform to do, why do you feel the need to have one and what business outcomes are you looking for?

Those companies which succeed first consider their requirements, discuss potential business enterprise solutions with suppliers and the resource needs to gain full value from the investment as the business transforms. The adoption of a Platform approach to data management, integration and analysis can be a transformational decision but only if considered and assessed as a clear business need.

Transformation to retain a competitive edge is about creating a winning culture, seizing the advantage to be gained by imaginative ideas and innovation, the adoption of new, game-changing technologies, and motivating that most important business asset – people – to be the willing driver on the road to success.  The way people think and operate will change when a capable data Platform is established. It will become the engine room of the business and demand different styles of leadership and ways of working. In the ideal case a Platform will drive collaboration, break down business silos, improve decision making and allow innovation to flourish. However, none of that will work without strong but empathetic leadership to create the culture which empowers people to innovate, create and be willing to take decisions to grow value. Arguably, in the new, digitised business world, allowing people to do just that is the foundation for success.

Technology – asset or hindrance?

But there are numerous examples in large companies where, despite the application of Platform technology, tortuous levels of approvals, bureaucracy and risk aversion remain, prolonging decision making, introducing unnecessary complexities and adding considerable cost. When this occurs, businesses lose sight of the intended outcomes and price themselves out of the market. The objective is to get inside the competition’s decision cycle – being able to think and act faster than a competitor in order to win.

This requires a culture in which leaders are trusted and supported to do the right thing, creating an environment for success with highly motivated, knowledgeable and confident people having implicit trust in their leaders to support, guide and encourage them, knowing that it is a team effort. Not doing so in the new, digitised world, makes a mockery of the very technology which is there to transform the business by serving the people who will drive that transformation.

Technology growth over the last 15 years has been extremely rapid and there is no sign of that falling away – in fact the reverse is true. Limitations and barriers to thought are being broken down and the business world needs to empower the mind to think further, faster and deeper.

The perfect relationship

To conclude, digitising the process and activity of business is about empowering people to think widely, to act differently and to be part of the success which comes from the appropriate use of that technology. Achieve the right balance and the company will strike the perfect relationship between customers and their expectations, business and its drive for efficiency and competitiveness, and academia as the powerhouse for developing the people at the heart of the digital future. Getting it ‘right’ is not easy but is worth the effort it takes at every level to create the value that people, aided by technology will achieve – a truly sustainable, resilient business with a winning competitive edge. The ‘Platform’ message is clear – adopt it only after full consideration of the need and desired outcome – but then give the people at the heart of the business the opportunity to exploit it to the full!

john.stokoe@3ds.com'

John Stokoe

Head of Strategic Development at Dassault Systèmes
John is Head of Strategic Development for Northern Europe at Dassault Systèmes. He is a former Major General in the British Army and, since leaving the Army in 1999, he has gained considerable commercial experience in the construction, infrastructure services and IT sectors, operating at both business unit and Board level.