We are so often told that digitisation is the future of business, but what about the right kind of digitisation? Businesses spend thousands – and regularly much more than that – on bespoke technology that can only deliver a singular function or insight. Worse still, these platforms soon become outdated and unable to keep pace with and connect to newer, more powerful offerings, costing the parent organisation thousands if not millions to replace. So, the question is: how is this all-too-common risk mitigated?
In short, open and connected systems. Why? Both the physical and digital world in which we do business is changing radically, meaning there is a real need for technology that embraces innovation – no matter how disruptive. In being open and connected, the product a company acquires is truly capable of moving with the times, prolonging its use and value to an organisation far beyond that of a more restrictive solution. As such, CFOs will increasingly – in collaboration with other members of senior management – need to assess the market for products that give them the flexibility to adapt to these changes, both seen and unforeseen, as it’s only through this flexibility that any solution purchased will have lasting value. But what exactly should we be looking for?
Lessons from the cloud
It seems like it’s never not been with us, but just five years ago cloud technology was touted as the future of business, no matter what sector you worked in. That prediction has undoubtedly proved right, but in the intervening period we witnessed the emergence of ‘cloudwashing’, where unscrupulous vendors claimed cloud functionality through clever use of marketing language without actually having that capability in their suite of products. Of course, things have now moved on, and the phenomenon has mostly died out, but the idea of ‘washing’ lives on. Nowadays, providers are insisting they have an ‘open’ policy to integration with other platforms, yet when you scratch beneath the veneer it’s clear they do not.
This issue is far from trivial because every business’s needs are different – and these needs will diversify further as the world and its economies change. While two competing organisations may share a number of similarities (the same sector, the same aspirations, the same targets) their differences (types of client, existing processes and systems etc.) will often be far greater. The problem only grows in complexity when you consider that no single vendor can offer exactly what the client requires without building a stand-alone system, therefore sacrificing interoperability. Openness, then, becomes the only effective way to solve the ‘requirements’ puzzle, even as situations change. But how do we spot a genuinely open and connected product from one that is anything but?
Sorting the genuine providers from the imposters isn’t easy, but there are some tell-tale signs. The first is visibility – if the firm is serious, openness should be a clear part of its messaging, running through every part of its corporate literature and emphasising the range of its product partners. Service partners that help implement software are important, but it’s the product partners that are critical to a genuinely open ‘ecosystem’. Secondly, it should be easy for the client – the lifeblood of an ecosystem is the freedom of data’s movement across different solutions and interfaces. Legitimate proponents of the open approach will work with their partners to test, build and maintain APIs (application programming interface) for a variety of scenarios. Thirdly, the company should make clear its efforts to actively foster a collaborative community – not only do they offer the technical underpinnings that enable open architecture, but they demonstrate strategic engagement with other technology providers at every level.
Use of the correct vocabulary is also important – companies shouldn’t merely be ‘interfacing’, but rather making it known to prospective clients that they are driving integration at much more substantial and deeper levels. Directly correlated with this should be some indication of selflessness – of course the organisation wants your business, but they also make it known that they are happy to partner with competitors if it means passing on benefits to the end-user. Customer support should also be seamless if the provider is serious with its aspirations for openness; that means the number dialled for application support is the same as the number for integration support. Again, they should be making it easy for you.
Case in point
The two most telling signs of all, however, is the intelligence from an objective source and the evidence of a company testing its abilities. If other members of the ecosystem detail a positive experience when integrating with your prospective provider, it’s probable you’re onto something good. Finally, products that leverage partner solutions, alongside case studies that discuss a suite of solutions including products outside of the core provider’s offerings, should be enough to quell any lingering scepticism. Case in point? MRI’s IFRS 16 solution. This package is merging with other systems outside the company’s core specialisms, as well as linking up with standard ERP and finance applications, to provide customers with a genuinely open and connected proposition that strives for lasting-value, even as regulation changes.