Digital Architecture 101
You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology. It starts with what incredible benefits can we give to the customer. Where can we take the customer? Steve Jobs
I see this every day at clients. Many organizations flounder in their Digital efforts not because they lack smart talented people or capability but because they lack clear objectives, leadership, experimental mindset or multi-year roadmaps in aligning messy legacy applications and infrastructure (and mountains of technical debt) into useful digital architectures -> platforms -> business outcomes.
Every CEO today must have an answer to the question, “What is your digital strategy? What new capabilities are you creating to compete with digital disruptors? How will you leverage the Disruptive 3Ms – Mobile, Messaging/NLP and Machine Learning to further streamline customer interaction?” The challenge is not the big picture but the subsequent logical breakdown: Strategy -> Capabilities -> Architecture -> Programs -> Projects.
So the first critical question is: What do you really want to achieve? What are the target set of use cases? What are the target business outcomes? Increased customer loyalty? Better customer engagement? A greater share of wallet via cross-sell? New customers? Lower attrition? Cheaper and faster targeting?
In other words, what are the relevant use cases? As the old adage goes: if you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.
Starting with a clear objective is essential in order to create the right architecture, pick the right tool to solve the right problem. Some clarity is necessary to drive proof of concepts or even select a technology stack to experiment with.
Consumerization is Driving the Next Generation Architecture
Consumerization and evolving customer behavior is forcing companies to change how they market, engage, sell and retain.
Customers don’t interact solely with the mobile devices, web site, call centers or stores. They engage with the entire business over time via multiple channels, both physical, web, mobile, and social, and they do it on their time frame and needs. Whatever way and whatever time they choose to engage with the brand, that is where brands should meet them, to strengthen loyalty and build lasting customer relationships.
As a result, corporations are investing more and more money building/assembling comprehensive multi-channel platforms for customer acquisition, engagement and retention. Companies are investing in analytics that could be used to answer these questions: when do you usually shop/browse, when do you purchase, and what device do you prefer to use in each case.
At the same time, corporations are finding it more and more difficult to keep these increasingly expensive platforms aligned with business need.
The cost and complexity of digital application development and delivery (AD&D) is exponentially increasing (taking a bigger chunk of budgets every year), while the chances of deriving real value from those platforms are decreasing dramatically (due to evolving consumer needs, requirements and new innovations in technology).
Yesterday’s web-only sites have become today’s mobile-first, AI-driven digital experiences. AI, ML, NLP, Computer Vision have reached a critical tipping point and will increasingly augment and extend virtually every technology enabled service, thing or application.
The digital architecture, application development and delivery (AD&D) necessary to support next generation experiences requires significant planning. The first step is to define an digital operating model and Digital Enterprise Architecture that allow for the rapid integration of new technologies to fuel the digital transformation. This assumes there is not piles and piles of “technical debt” from past decisions that often derail projects.
Below we describe three different views of the Digital Architecture:
- A touchpoint, application and technology view;
- A ad-tech, marketing and sales technology (martech) view;
- A individual digital project view.
Digital Architecture – CIO view…. Application and Technology
“We are no longer living in a mobile-first world, we are in a mobile-only world.” Larry Page, Google
The tech landscape is evolving fast…cloud-first, mobile-first, data-driven. In parallel, the business strategies require hyper-consumer targeting platforms:
- Empower front-office to connect with their customers through engaging experiences
- Create easy-to-consume integrated digital experiences (e.g., responsive web platforms for desktop, mobile, tablets and other device types that provide mass audiences immediate access to content, transformations and information they crave)
- Unified view of customer profile (transactions + interactions + social + other data)
- Integrated Mobile Engagement (Deliver mobile first experiences)
The pressure on CIOs is immense. When something interrupts the seamless experience or fails to deliver on expectations, customers notice. And, moreover, they react. Consumers share their disappointment within their social networks. And because there are numerous competitors and the web enables easy switching, they often move on to other sites that anticipate and meet their expectations.
Delivering on constantly changing expectations requires world-class digital architecture. The figure below illustrates one digital reference architecture.
Digital Architecture – CMO View…. Marketing and Sales Perspective
The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new. Socrates
Most marketers were not trained to be technologists, analysts, mathematicians or economists. They were trained to be top-of-the-funnel demand generators and brand marketers. However, increasingly they are being forced to make significant sales, marketing, service and commerce solution and platform decisions.
The emerging requirements that CMOs (and their chief marketing technology officers) are focused on include:
- Personalization of digital channels – Deliver relevant messaging to the customer through email, mobile and web
- Visualizations of customer journeys — Gain new insights on how to engage customers
- Apply pre-defined models and learning to future campaigns
- Predictive Analytics (predictive support for customer profile and next best action; attribution and marketing mix support)
CMOs realize that companies with the best data-driven analytics and customer experience design are the ones that are going to win. When we talk about analytics, we mean the companies that have the best algorithms. For example, GE has the analytics (and instrumentation) to figure out wind speed, temperature, vibration, and more, and they can tell you if a wind turbine is going to fail. That is predictive analytics. Companies with the best design are companies like Apple that are all about making it easy for people, how to make user interfaces easy, how to get people to adopt things easily. But when you put these two things together, that’s when you get the “customer engagement” magic.
The figure below illustrates one reference architecture for Digital Marketing and Sales.
End to End Digital Solution Engagement Project View
A solution architecture for a production ready user engagement and experience is shown below. The architecture of digital project: engagement & experience < service delivery < portal foundation < systems of engagement < systems of record.
Everything starts with Design. Design is a catalyst to drive change in the way that the world works and lives. Service design combines the customer experience with the technology platforms.
Most strategic business solutions actually start with empathy with the end user — customer or an employee. Outside in design is very much at the center of that. Companies are looking to transform their businesses through design-led innovation.
I noticed that digital integration is often ignored in most discussions. Digital integration (via Application programming interfaces (API), now Microservices) act as the glue that links services, applications and systems together to create compelling customer experiences. APIs help create interfaces between back-end systems and applications. Sharing these interfaces with customers and developers can help bring new digital services to market, open revenue channels and exceed customer expectations. So pay attention to this layer.
“Simplicity in mechanical design is really really good. Complexity is the enemy.” -Helen Greiner, CyPhy Works
Simplicity in digital architecture is the ultimate goal. The challenge is how to get there.
Most digital architecture efforts so far are tactical rather than strategic responses to the challenge of the digital revolution: digital add-ons to existing analog business.
I am a firm believer in the transformation potential of enterprise architecture and design. As customer experience design rises rapidly to the level of C-suite conversations, there is a growing recognition about the role of architecture innovation in enabling business success in everything from superior customer experiences to far-reaching organizational change.
Combining architecture innovation and design experience with the business operations and technology platforms and capabilities is the future.
Notes and Additional Thoughts
- Why focus on architecture? The average life span of companies in S&P 500 index is getting shorter and shorter. The primary cause of failure: Lack of technical adaptation to changing consumer, customer and tech trends.
- Digital Architecture for the enterprise is going to evolve with the next wave of digital innovation…. Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality, Speech driven interfaces (e.g., Siri, Cortona, Echo/Alexa) all represent new catalysts for the next set of projects.
- According to Gartner: “Conversational AI-first will supersede cloud-first, mobile-first as the most important, high-level imperative for the next 10 years.” – What is the impact on Architecture with this trend?