Tag Archives: business strategy
In my previous blog, I talked about how a business-led approach can displace technology-led projects. Historically IT-led projects have invested significant capital while returning minimal business value. It further talks about how transformation roadmap execution is sustainable because the business is driving the effort where initiative investments are directly traceable to priority business goals.
For example, an insurance company wants to improve the overall customer experience. Mature business architecture will perform an assessment to highlight all customer touch points. It requires a detailed capability map, fully formed, customer-triggered value streams, value stream/ capability cross-mappings and stakeholder/ value stream cross-mappings. These business blueprints allow architects and analysts to pinpoint customer trigger points, customer interaction points and participating stakeholders engaged in value delivery.
One must understand that value streams and capabilities are not tied to business unit or other structural boundaries. This means that while the analysis performed in our customer experience example may have been initiated by a given business unit, the analysis may be universally applied to all business units, product lines and customer segments. Using the business architecture to provide a representative cross-business perspective requires incorporating organization mapping into the mix.
Incorporating the application architecture into the analysis and proposed solution is simply an extension of business architecture mapping that incorporates the IT architecture. Robust business architecture is readily mapped to the application architecture, highlighting enterprise software solutions that automate various capabilities, which in turn enable value delivery. Bear in mind, however, that many of the issues highlighted through a business architecture assessment may not have corresponding software deployments since significant interactions across the business tend to be manual or desktop-enabled. This opens the door to new automation opportunities and new ways to think about business design solutions.
Building and prioritizing the transformation strategy and roadmap is dramatically simplified once all business perspectives needed to enhance customer experience are fully exposed. For example, if customer service is a top priority, then that value stream becomes the number one target, with each stage prioritized based on business value and return on investment. Stakeholder mapping further refines design approaches for optimizing stakeholder engagement, particularly where work is sub-optimized and lacks automation.
Capability mapping to underlying application systems and services provides the basis for establishing a corresponding IT deployment program, where the creation and reuse of standardized services becomes a focal point. In certain cases, a comprehensive application and data architecture transformation becomes a consideration, but in all cases, any action taken will be business and not technology driven.
Once this occurs, everyone will focus on achieving the same goals, tied to the same business perspectives, regardless of the technology involved.
Transformation roadmaps in many businesses tend to have a heavy technology focus, to the point where organizations invest millions of dollars in initiatives with no clear business value. In addition, numerous tactical projects funded each year have little understanding of how or even if, they align from a business perspective. Management often fall victim to the latest technology buzzwords, while stakeholder value, business issues, and strategic considerations take a backseat. When this happens, executives who should be focused on business scenarios to improve stakeholder value fall victim to technology’s promise of the next big thing.
I recently participated in the writing and reviewing a series of whitepapers on Business-led transformation at Informatica’s Strategic Services Group. These whitepapers discusses how executives can leverage business architecture to reclaim their ability to drive a comprehensive transformation strategy and roadmap. I will try to summarize them into this blog.
Consider the nature of most initiatives found within a corporate program office. They generally focus on enhancing one system or another, or in more extreme cases a complete rebuild. The scope of work is bounded by a given system, not by the business focal point, whether that is a particular business capability, stakeholder, or value delivery perspective. These initiatives generally originate within the IT organization, not the business, and launched in response to a specific business need quickly translated into a software enhancement, rewrite, or database project. Too often, however, these projects have myopia and lack an understanding of cross-impacts to other projects, business units, stakeholders, or products. Their scope is constrained, not by a given customer or business focus, but by technology.
Business led transformation delivers a value centric perspective and provides the underlying framework for envisioning and crafting a more comprehensive solution. In some cases, this may begin with a quick fix if that is essential, but this must be accompanied by a roadmap for a more transformative solution. It provides a more comprehensive issue analysis and planning perspective because it offers business specific, business first viewpoints that enable issue analysis and resolution through business transparency.
On November 13, 2014, Informatica acquired the assets of Proact, whose Enterprise Architecture tools and delivery capability link architecture to business strategy. The BOST framework is now the Informatica Business Transformation Toolkit which received high marks in a recent research paper:
“(BOST) is a framework that provides four architectural views of the enterprise (Business, Operational, Systems, and Technology). This EA methodology plans and organizes capabilities and requirements at each view, based on evolving business and opportunities. It is one of the most finalized of the methodologies, in use by several large enterprises.”  (more…)
This got me thinking: What is the biggest bottleneck in the delivery of business value today? I know I look at things from a data perspective, but data is the biggest bottleneck. Consider this prediction from Gartner:
“Gartner predicts organizations will spend one-third more on app integration in 2016 than they did in 2013. What’s more, by 2018, more than half the cost of implementing new large systems will be spent on integration. “
When we talk about application integration, we’re talking about moving data, synchronizing data, cleansing, data, transforming data, testing data. The question for architects and senior management is this: Do you have the Data Foundation for Execution you need to drive the business results you require to compete? The answer, unfortunately, for most companies is; No.
All too often data management is an add-on to larger application-based projects. The result is unconnected and non-interoperable islands of data across the organization. That simply is not going to work in the coming competitive environment. Here are a couple of quick examples:
- Many companies are looking to compete on their use of analytics. That requires collecting, managing, and analyzing data from multiple internal and external sources.
- Many companies are focusing on a better customer experience to drive their business. This again requires data from many internal sources, plus social, mobile and location-based data to be effective.
When I talk to architects about the business risks of not having a shared data architecture, and common tools and practices for enterprise data management, they “get” the problem. So why aren’t they addressing it? The issue is that they find that they are only funded to do the project they are working on and are dealing with very demanding timeframe requirements. They have no funding or mandate to solve the larger enterprise data management problem, which is getting more complex and brittle with each new un-connected project or initiative that is added to the pile.
Studies such as “The Data Directive” by The Economist show that organizations that actively manage their data are more successful. But, if that is the desired future state, how do you get there?
Changing an organization to look at data as the fuel that drives strategy takes hard work and leadership. It also takes a strong enterprise data architecture vision and strategy. For fresh thinking on the subject of building a data foundation for execution, see “Think Data-First to Drive Business Value” from Informatica.
* By the way, Informatica is proud to announce that we are now a sponsor of the MIT Center for Information Systems Research.
As promised at the end of one of my recent posts, let’s have a closer look at the long tail approach and how PIM supports it. The driver for the long-tail model is customers expectations. In fact, they demand an increasingly larger and broader assortment of products through various online channels given that the shelf space is no longer a concern. The key insight here for independent retailers is that expanded offerings and selection can reveal demand that was otherwise not known to exist.
The benefit of a long-tail strategy is that products in the long tail can be sold against a higher margin. Aberdeen reports up to 29 % higher profits due to higher product margins in the long-tail assortment.
The challenges for many companies, however, is the actual management of large assortments. The graph below shows the relationship with the size of a company’s assortments and having a PIM system.
It is remarkable to see that when the assortment increases to over one million SKUs there are no companies that do not have a PIM system.
How PIM supports the long tail has been clearly highlighted by Rolph Heiler, founder of Heiler Software (which has recently been acquired by Informatica):
Assortments are often restricted by the fact the product data cannot be efficiently maintained. A Product Information Management (PIM) systems enables dealers to setup and manage extremely large assortments, without rising costs for expanding their assortments.
End quote. The point is that for the first time ‘dealers’ are given a process and a tool to onboard data from suppliers and store it centrally before it is prepared and enriched for presentation purposes. However, as aptly pointed out by J. Abraham in his upcoming book (see references below), implementing a long-tail strategy entails much more than just onboarding data from suppliers to your PIM system, and the ability to technically manage larger assortments. More specifically, he observes that…
Processes have to be set up to manage the information in the PIM system. Price mechanisms have to be set up to manage the margin for which products are sold. Just adding 30 % margin to all products might be a simple thing to do, but it does not take into consideration the actual logistical costs, perceived product value by the customer, and competitors’ prices. Likewise, when suppliers stop selling a product, the product also has to be removed from the assortment of the wholesaler or retailer.
Once a product is sold, the product has to be ordered, possibly repackaged at the company’s warehouse and delivered to the customer. To do this, logistical processes have to be set up in the ERP system, especially when the ERP system does not yet know the product just sold. With the external and internal processes set up right, companies are able to expand their offering very fast. WarmteService for example was able to expand its offering from 20,000 products to 150,000 products in less than 1.5 years
End quote. This is a broader and more accurate view of the processes that need to be put in place to implement a successful long-tail strategy. As Ted Hurlbut put it, “The Long Tail is not an argument merely to carry broader assortments. It is not an argument to expand into unrelated categories that stretch customer’s expectations and the retailer’s core expertise. It is not just about capturing the add-on or plus sale. It is rather a demonstration that there is business to be done in carefully selected items that deepen assortments in a retailer’s niche that appeal specifically to the customer’s imagination.”
In conclusion, it should be clear that the long-tail model is a compelling territory for innovative customer experiences*. PIM has a respectable place in the model insofar as it allows retailers to quickly respond to product demands by facilitating the creation of relevant assortments in a timely and efficient manner.
Drop shipping is an interesting example of long-tail strategy that will be analysed in one of the upcoming posts. Stay tuned!
- J. Abraham, Product Information Management, Management for Professionals, Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014
- Aberdeen Group, The Instant Power of All-Channel PIM: Increased Sales and Competitiveness, December 2011.
- PIM for long-tail, Heiler whitepaper
*I am not a blind believer of The Long Tail. I see few grey areas that various authors have spelt out greatly. If there’s interest, I will plan to extend on this fascinating subject.