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Re-platforming: the most overlooked piece in developing a successful digital transformation strategy?

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(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/niroworld)

Perhaps one of the most widely used phrases among businesses from the last 12 months – aside from lockdown, social distancing, and Covid-19 – has been ‘digital transformation’.

And while there’s no denying that tech adoption has skyrocketed in response to the pandemic and evolving market needs, when embarking on such a large-scale, company-wide project, legacy systems can prove to be a major blockade, if their importance is not considered from the outset.

Here, Clare Gledhill, operations director of digital, insight, and content at strategic communications agency CDS, shares her thoughts around re-platforming – notably why it’s often one of the most neglected elements and why it’s crucial to implementing an effective digital transformation strategy.

A backdrop to digital transformation

The 2021 ‘IT Trends Study’ – led by the Society for Information Management – has found that replacing legacy systems was one of the top 10 IT investments for companies, in 2020.

As a result, it’s no surprise that digital transformation projects continue to be a priority in 2021. More organizations than ever are looking to streamline their operations – making their processes leaner and more results-driven, in a post-pandemic world. And they’re relying on technology to help them get there.

In fact, the past year has been something of a wake-up call for business owners – with many realizing that their existing tech stack and internal systems are either no longer fit for purpose within the world of hybrid working, or they don’t meet the high expectations of both their employees and customers.

In turn, this is seeing CIOs, CTOs, and CDOs busier than ever – being enlisted to set these transformational ventures in motion and deliver them at pace.

Recognizing re-platforming as an enabler 

At the cornerstone of every successful digital transformation story, there’s a platform that facilitates innovation, automation, and enhances user experiences. But moving to a new platform doesn't need to feel operationally or financially overwhelming. 

The key to effective transformation is centered on planning and refinement. If you lay the right foundations, then this will enable your transformation journey to take shape and evolve in tandem with your business.

It empowers an organization to be freed from the constraints of their ‘burning platforms’ – aging legacy systems that no longer support developments or updates – and make the transition to a newer, quicker, and more flexible and futureproof alternative.

Once the building blocks are in place, firms can digitally transform at a pace that feels right for them and their broader external environment – and this doesn’t necessarily mean transforming everything at the same time.

A move to a more sustainable platform can be the catalyst for future change, meaning the right technology choice and implementation should form a crucial part of a company’s overall strategy.

‘Burning platforms’ have consequences 

While legacy systems may have operational inefficiencies that some employees ‘learn to live with’, that doesn’t mean that all staff, and certainly customers, will have the same level of patience.

The world is living in a time of ‘inflated expectations’ – especially regarding digital experience – and while the pandemic may have been the driver for some of them, this is a storm that has been brewing in the background for a long time.

The pressures on firms to be able to provide key services and products online are undoubtedly mounting. 

With the rapid evolution of technology, people expect to have a seamless, integrated, and positive experience – but outdated platforms can constrain an organization’s ability to provide this.

In truth, older systems can seriously hamper the user experience, as they’re unable to accommodate new tools, capabilities, and content personalization.

As a result, the reputational consequences of antiquated platforms need to be recognized – as this can ultimately impact how a brand is viewed by its audience.

But as well as the effect on the outward perception of a company, old technologies can also inhibit growth, as both internal and external users aren’t being served the experience they want to have. This could translate into personnel suffering from inefficient workflows or customers getting frustrated at a slow-loading website – or any number of issues for both in-house and peripheral users.

As a consequence, this links directly into maintaining market share and a competitive edge. If employees and clients don’t feel satisfied with the experience they are receiving, they will likely take their skillsets and custom elsewhere.

While efficiencies and growth are important in the whole re-platforming debate, there’s an area that’s not to be forgotten – inclusivity and accessibility.

Undergoing a digital transformation initiative also requires behavioral insight. We should investigate all users’ requirements in-depth – as this will form the business case for any subsequent tech investments – and enable businesses to provide for people who have accessibility and inclusion needs. An inclusive approach can not only help prevent further societal marginalization but close the digital divide for good – giving everyone, regardless of race, gender, disability, or age, a positive digital experience.

Looking towards the future 

Named by Gartner as one of the top trends of 2020, hyper-automation also plays a key role in the direction of digital transformation.

It will be crucial in further helping those companies that have transitioned from a cumbersome legacy system to cloud-based technology, to harness the power of AI and machine learning to computerize processes, augment humans, and reduce the overhead of their technology.

And while re-platforming may not feel like the most obvious step for businesses wanting to deploy solutions quickly, it’s a case of weighing up the options.

By going ahead with a digital transformation project without re-platforming, there’s the inevitability of experiencing limitations and building technical debt which has to be rectified at a later date.

It’s in this sense that re-platforming should be seen as an organization’s investment into their future. 

By evaluating existing tech infrastructure and getting the platform right, firms are well-positioned for being both scalable and agile enough to adapt to the market’s ever-changing needs.

Clare Gledhill, operations director of digital, insight, and content, CDS

Clare Gledhill is the operations director of digital, insight, and content at strategic communications agency, CDS, and she has over 18 years’ experience working within the digital sector.