söndag 27 juni 2021

Foundations of digital business



Would you consider your electrical company a strategic technological partner, your water & sewage company a high tech supplier, or perhaps you see your fridge as a sophisticated piece of bespoke refridgeration technology that requires specialist installation, support and care to operate properly? 


I didn’t think so because over time, these once high-tech and edge cutting innovations have become what we perceive them like today; utilities and appliances.

From breakthrough to infrastructure

Through standardization and harmonization, fierce competition and groundbreaking ways to package, sell and deliver these everyday features to you, basically make these technologies ubiquitous. Like air, water and wifi (try to explain to a 3-year old why his or her entertainment device doesn’t work on the far side of the garden) ;many of the incredible feats of technology and civilization we enjoy in the privileged parts of the world technology undergoes a process where the benefit and value becomes a commodity.  We obtain and purchase it differently over time and even adjust our perception of it,from strategic to invisible (although still imperative for “everything else” to work). 

In a similar fashion, IT infrastructure for networking, storage, computing power and business applications have undergone a seismic shift over the past 10 years. Where we once considered in-house datacenters, server rooms, IT departments and development teams to be a strategic resource, many of these supporting functions are now considered a grindstone to carry when the accelerating pace of market preferences and competition force most industries and lines of business as the only way forward. Instead, cloud infrastructure, software as a service applications and outsourcing of non-core business functions (finance, IT, logistics, transport, manufacturing) have become the norm, richly rewarded by the market analysts. 


A magical customer experience

The idea, concept and understanding of the customer, the customer experience remain as the competitive edge. These artefacts have something in common that can be boiled down into a single statement: They’re either made up of or inherently dependent of data, information. With better data and better information, you are able to serve your customer better, regardless if it is through smoother shipping (1-day Amazon Prime, anyone?), superior quality (LVMH, Apple, perhaps – although not my personal preference), or competition-breaking pricing (Wish, Alibaba, Costco, Walmart etc).  Sometimes, clever technology can even seem practically magical. On a personal note, an example of such a moment was the first time using BankID (two factor authentication via mobile device) when logging into a governmental web service. It just worked, was really smooth, and quick.  Most Swedes today would struggle to deal with everyday tasks without BankID,  technology that works like magic. You get used to it, and you get hooked.  Like Arthur C. Clarke coined, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”.

The Fortune 500- or 100-companies of the world could once gain a tremendous competitive advantage by investing in state of the art data collection and analytics tools. When applied on a well curated data set, they could provide insights on how to optimize logistics, purchasing and a positive experience of customer returns, engage in a meaningful way with the user community. All those things that we just know that we love when we get to experience it but sometimes have a hard time pinning down what makes it different from other offers or suppliers. A good customer experience.  Good quality.  Excellent design.  Smooth, accessible, easy to use.  It doesn’t have to be cheap. Sometimes it doesn’t hurt but is worth the price at least. Sometimes we even like to pay a little extra for bells and whistles knowing that we paid for but also got the premium product or service.

These massive investments required were made into bespoke infrastructure (servers, data centers), technology platforms (licenses, application expert teams) and software (applications and company specific development) that could easily run into a 1MUSD price tag as a starting point, never mind the total cost.  Like any high stakes poker game, to sit down at the big table, you have to have a lot of chips to throw down in the first place.  In some industries and businesses it isn’t even about finding a ROI; this is what is known as a “moat”.  If your investments in for example technology make the stakes to enter the market too high and too uncertain for the competition, you have a virtual monopoly or at least oligopoly in your hands. 

Turning on the first lightbulb

Just imagine what the initial investment was to turn on the first lightbulb in New York, to make that first coast-to-coast telegraph connection or first transatlantic phone call.  Luckily, we know that economies of scale work in our favour as consumers when tools and technologies become standardized, common commodities.  We also know that the power or value of a network rises exponentially. The first user of a fax machine didn’t really see the benefit of it until there were two, three, and 3 million, once upon a time.  The struggle to maintain technological superiority still rages, with Google, Amazon, Facebook, TenCent, Alibaba and other global supercompanies going into true AI, quantum computing and setting up their own currencies or global logistics services.  The groundbreaking work and investments in technology, however, are ever faster becoming available to broader layers of users in the enterprise market as innovation and infrastructure access grows exponentially.

To draw upon these mechanisms and find ways of making sophisticated information management tools available for a wider audience, Enfo has been working for a long time on finding ways to offer cutting edge application tools and infrastructure, on a format that is accessible, affordable and most importantly of all,scalable, to allow our customers to approach adoption, implementation and operation in a step-by-step manner, where both annual investment budget and sensible ROI calculations can be followed each step of the way.


Laying the Foundations

Some conclusions can be summarised:

  • Customers want to be able to start small, with a minimum viable product, and see the real impact in their business before taking further steps.
  • This impacts the pricing model, and methodology.
  • Customers want to be able to focus on their core business, leveraging every bit of cash flow into the competitive edge they have over other actors in the market, without heavy CapEx investment.
  • This impacts delivery format and license management  
  • Customers want flexibility, agility and hassle-free information management to support their decision making process, and a better way of reaching, understanding and communicating with their customers.
  • This impacts the IT landscape planning and choice of technology stack, and partners.

 Technology can truly be magical, but sometimes it’s even more wonderful when you don’t have to think about it at all.  It just works, like any flick of the lightswitch or your fridge.

Are you looking for ways to leverage technology to benefit your business and outsmart the competition?  Get in touch - every step forward starts with a constructive and thorough discussion!



söndag 20 juni 2021

Your path to a digital business



Digital business is a generous term.  It can mean many things. In the end, it’s the things that provide true business value in terms of shorter lead times, higher quality and improved efficiency. These are the foundations for better margins, higher profitability and a sound work environment in your business that make a real difference. Faster, better and cheaper has been the holy grail for business improvement and management consulting over the past 50 years. But what does it actually mean in real terms and how can you leverage the use of your own into a superior customer experience?

Shorter lead times – a fancy way of saying faster

It could also mean that your response times in internal as well as external tasks make your business the obvious choice for your customer. Who would choose to wait for an insurance quote by post instead of an online quote with the option to connect e-invoicing directly via your bank? There are endless opportunities to improve information handling in businesses of all sizes, in all sectors. The only question is: Will your competitors make the move to the next level before you?

Better – a subjective area in many ways

Leaving comparative hard metrics such as ”battery life” or ”miles per gallon” aside. It is often the communication around the product or service that makes the customer experience stand out as better.  If we experience good service, an inferior product with great proactive support and customer care could actually be preferred over a market leader with lousy service and poor understanding of customer challenges.

Cheaper – not to be confused with pricing or market positioning

This is about margins. Finding ways of raising efficiencies without tampering with quality or customer experience in a degrading way.  It could involve finding alternative suppliers to support your supply chain, making it more resilient, lowering your warehousing and logistics costs.  Or involve enabling hyperautomation and process driven workflows that minimize repetitive, inhuman tasks. The reduction in cost can be improved margins, investment capital for further improvements to the business, or shared with your customers to put pressure on your competition.

Leapfrog – or improve your business continuously over time

In some ways, you can say that businesses that start up today have an advantage over existing ones. There’s no legacy of infrastructure and platforms that need maintenance or upgrades. They can start out as cloud-native and app -driven, right from the start, tailor their business model to suit a data-driven customer-experience centric approach. This is sometimes referred to as leapfrogging – skipping and jumping over preceding technology levels to make use of the best features the cutting-edge of innovation has to offer.  A similar comparison can be made with the expansion of phone networks in some developing countries; they build and run cellular networks for mobile phones without going through the landline copper-wire based stage as a first step.

The lack of existing customers and funding from mature recurring revenue streams present in up-and-running businesses is of course the downside.  But what would you do if you could start all over again? Would you rush headlong and bet all on black (in this case the new black is cloud-based, containerized edge-computing powered microservices with AI enabled realtime analysis of app-fed ­customer behavior.) . Or would you, with the realization and benefit of hindsight from the IT market and trends over time, approach technology in a slightly different way?  Where the fad and hype of the moment takes a back seat to a constructive, healthy way of working with information, technology and infrastructure in a way that serves the business and customer requirements first hand?

Focus - put data first

No doubt, there will be new trends, discoveries and technologies that change how we think, prioritize and behave. So investing heavily in a specific setup may be a risky way of utilizing technology for the business.  An alternative approach could be to secure the information streams (data, information, processes, knowledge) within the business on the meta level first: 

Make sure that there are no conflicts between the core objects that make up the backbone of your macro processes -  ID’s, properties, attributes and records stored. For example: 

  • customers
  • parts
  • suppliers
  • invoices
  • employees
Regardless of which system of record they are stored in, or system of interaction they are displayed and updated in. There may be several angles of attack to remedy that kind of problem. Master data management, integration, API management, data virtualization for example. However, before a choice of technology is considered, the blueprint and architecture need to be in place.

Analogies can often be blunt but before you decide on joining materials when building a house, you need to consider the design, architecture, combination of materials, load and finish. Building a house of information that supports, shelters and lets your business grow is not that different. 

Begin with the end in mind

You need to begin with the end; purpose, utilization, business need and benefit in mind, while designing and implementing with maximum flexibility, as the world around us is constantly and at an ever-increasing speed changing. To successfully hit the moving targets of customer satisfaction in combination with a growing, thriving, profitable business where people want to work, technology is a servant supporting the information needs of the functions in the business. Components are interconnected, interchangeable, easy to transition in and out of using applications or services that fit into your constantly evolving enterprise landscape.

That may be all good and well, if one would start out anew. But we’re in a complicated as-is situation that cannot be left by the wayside. There are complexities in all ongoing operations but you can choose mindset, perspective, and approach to support the flexibility you need in the future, today.

Are you looking for ways to leverage technology to benefit your business and outsmart the competition?  Get in touch - every step forward starts with a constructive and thorough discussion!