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The Art of Platform Thinking

The digitally-savvy customer has highly sophisticated - and ever-evolving - expectations for engagement and brand experience at every touchpoint. Delivering on and keeping up with these expectations requires an innovation-driven culture with customer value at its center. We’ve seen a common theme across our most successful client engagements: innovation and speed to market at scale requires more than just intense customer-centricity, adoption of agile practices and technology acumen. For almost any organization with significant brand value and historical technology investments, there will be friction from years of built-up technical and architectural debt. Unlocking core assets and business capabilities to enable customer-facing innovation requires effort and investment.

All organizations have an innate innovation capability

But yours may be so knotted up with organizational complexity and technology delivery friction that it’s less painful to stick to business as usual. How do you know? If progress becomes mired in departmental finger pointing, or your best people are busy just keeping things up and running, innovation is suffering.  This wasted energy costs time and competitive advantage, it creates frustrating experiences for your customers, and ultimately drives tech talent out the door.

Here’s how it works:
For your organization to make the most out of technology investments, you need a comprehensive strategy that puts your essential business priorities at the heart of your approach to foundational technologies. Platform thinking then becomes the touchstone for making key technology decisions that will simplify your ecosystem, stimulate innovation, and accelerate delivery.

At Thoughtworks, we’ve spent the past few years building and enhancing platforms that enable our enterprise clients to utilize the assets they already possess to support their forward-looking business objectives. We’ve collaborated with our clients to address key questions, such as:
  • How do I reduce friction in our existing software development processes, reduce  architectural debt, and achieve the accelerated delivery I need to be competitive?
  • Is an off-the-shelf solution the right approach, or should we develop a custom solution in-house? Or is the answer somewhere in between?
  • How do I unlock the assets and infrastructure we already possess to stay ahead of potential competitors and market disruption?
  • How does our technology platform support a culture of innovation across the entire business?
By working in the trenches with partners facing real-world challenges, we have defined a holistic approach to technology that helps organizations meet and often exceed the expectations of today's digitally savvy customer. Our platform-focused approach distills a client's business objectives, current state architecture, and technology capability to provide a set of actions to maximize innovation and increase speed to market. We call it a Digital Platform Strategy.

The Digital Platform Strategy is a Thoughtworks offering that distils our global experience and learnings across domains and clients in order to unlock enterprise assets to facilitate innovation. Our knowledge framework and accelerators direct our clients to define and maximize the value of their core business capabilities and data assets through lean, iterative development of their foundational technology platform. Our wealth of experience gathered across a range of clients and industries, enables us to significantly accelerate and de-risk customer's efforts. We’ve fallen into the traps and potholes and found the escape hatches so you don’t have to.

Platform Thinking at the Core

Platform thinking works by:
  • Removing friction from delivery teams by focusing on high quality, self-service access to foundational technology.
  • Creating an ecosystem of technology and business capabilities. Using domain-driven principles, carefully-factored business capability interfaces (APIs) are critical components of an effective, modern Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) strategy.
  • Explicitly investing in a foundation for experimentation which ensures every delivery team has access to tools to make testing new ideas and validating learnings easy.
This isn’t a “build it and they will come” approach to platform building. The Digital Platform Strategy engages your business and technology stakeholders to prioritize building the most valuable capabilities in a lean, incremental manner.

The Pillars of the Digital Platform Strategy

Our Digital Platform Strategy framework is a blueprint for platform building that is comprised of five essential pillars (focus areas). Breaking down the complexity of an enterprise platform provides targeted focus on delivering business value through classes of foundational technology. To remove friction and build ecosystems, we focus on the key areas of delivery:

  • Delivery Infrastructure
  • Architecture and API Remediation
  • Self Service Data
  • Experiment Infrastructure and Telemetry
  • Customer Touchpoint Technology
Digital Platform Strategy - a blueprint

Delivery Infrastructure: We take a holistic approach to infrastructure, build and release support, and observability. Elastic infrastructure and related tooling, coupled with simplified build, deployment, and monitoring enables engineers to deliver rapidly and safely, with appropriate controls and audit support. This pillar directly addresses delivery friction, reducing your time to market for new products and services.

Architecture and API Remediation: Engaging customer experiences that evolve to meet the constantly changing market require maximizing the value of existing organizational assets and business capabilities. Our approach to API and architecture includes methods for building net-new capabilities using modern service-oriented (SOA) and event-driven (EDA) approaches, as well as practices for remediating legacy systems so they effectively expose key existing assets to developers. A platform of well-factored, self-service APIs that hide the process, technical, and operational complexity of the underlying capability allows teams to move quickly to experiment with and production-alize new customer-facing solutions. We typically start by focusing internally to optimizing your own delivery capability, and can extend the approach to public API strategies to expand the ecosystem to your customers and partners.

Self-Service Data: Today’s businesses rely on real-time analytics to power decisions. Data and application architecture are increasingly merging as we create more real-time, data-enabled business capabilities, while supporting advanced data science-driven analytics. Application developers need to focus on contributing to the organizational data stream and selectively tapping into it. Your data platform is therefore becoming ubiquitous. It needs to reduce friction by streamlining the use, management, and operations of complex data technologies like Kafka, Hadoop, and Spark. It should also expose a self-service ecosystem of curated data assets, addressing data strategy issues such as data lake design, data ownership, and authorization issues.

Experiment Infrastructure and Telemetry: Innovation lives and dies by the ability to learn quickly through purposeful, measured experimentation. Using canary release processes, toggle architecture, and meaningful instrumentation, your experiment infrastructure helps you to make the right decisions about your experiments and investments.

Customer Touchpoint Technology: Knowledge of your customer is the foundation of delivering value. Together, a consistent content strategy, a single view of the customer, and transparent telemetry provide unprecedented customer insight that enables personalized product offerings.The benefit? New, targeted value streams that can be delivered quickly across multiple channels.

The Digital Platform Strategy Process at a Glance

A Digital Platform Strategy engagement begins with a discovery to understand your customer’s business priorities, organizational complexity, and technical maturity. We then merge that with our patterns, practices, and principles of enterprise platform building. This culminates in a prioritized, lean technology strategy and platform roadmap tailored to your business needs.

Digital Platform Strategy - the approach

Moving into the execution phase, the partnership of strategy and delivery moves into high gear. We begin with the highest priority platform capabilities to vet strategy against reality. At this stage, we test our assumptions about organizational delivery capabilities, degree of technical debt, and remediation complexity. This allows us to deliver early platform value that underpins your key business priorities. As the engagement continues, insights from execution are fed back into continuous strategy development and review to inform the path of execution. This feedback loop fine-tunes the short- and medium-term tactical moves, while platform thinking maintains the strategic vision of meeting your business objectives.

So Where Do You Begin?

Digitally-savvy customers want to feel delighted and inspired; they expect your brand to add value to their lives. They want to feel the passion that you feel for your brand and to be part of your next great solution. Building out a scalable technology strategy that manages complexity will enable rapid development, stimulate innovation, and create new opportunity for growth. An optimized foundational technology platform is essential to being able to meet your customer’s expectations and increase their engagement with your brand.

For more information on how to harness the creative horsepower that your enterprise already possesses, check out Thoughtworks' Digital Platform Strategy.

Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.

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