Upgrading your technical platform – A business critical event
The necessary substitution of an outdated technical platform brings new opportunities – but also involves great risk. It is a business-critical event affecting the whole company that demands the board’s attention.
A product that has been on the market for several years typically comes to a stage in its lifecycle where it can no longer effectively meet both customer and internal demands. For the product to stay relevant in the future, a substitution of the outdated technical platform is required.
Changing a technical platform is an extremely complex task, both from a commercial and technical standpoint – and needs to be handled as such, so as to not jeopardize the company’s future. This is especially true for a small to medium size company dependent on just a few products. It is far too easy to view it as just a technical matter that can solely be handled by Product Management and R&D. Instead, such an important decision – and the follow up of its implementation – must also be handled at a company and board level.
Triggers for a technical platform change
The technical platform is the base upon which to build applications. The platform sets boundaries for what type of products can be built, but also how effectively they can be commercially offered and handled.
Sooner or later a product that has existed for several years reaches its limit – the point at which it cannot effectively keep up with market and internal company demands. This situation is typically experienced by software companies after some years, regarding their once state-of-the-art product.
In simple terms, the product is at a state where its foundation, the platform, needs a larger makeover or must be substituted, if the product is to be relevant in the future.
Typical reasons for triggering a platform change are:
- Customer demands for new features and capabilities cannot easily be met
- The platform does not scale to handle an increased customer base
- Security does not meet today’s standards
- Product instability & bad performance are upsetting customers
- Product development and maintainability is complex, expensive and takes too long
Challenges and how to succeed
Changing the technical platform can be compared to a life-threatening transplantation and therefore needs to be treated accordingly. It is business-critical and affects most of the company’s functions. The major challenge is to get all company functions involved and their activities synchronized.
Besides the more obvious technical challenges there are a number other areas that must also be addressed, such as:
- Customer Migration
- Commercial Aspects
- Partner Enablement
- Product Management
- Company Processes
The key to success is to treat the introduction of a new technical platform as a companywide activity that requires cooperation between most of the company’s functions.
The tool for driving the introduction is an overall company plan that is then followed up by the company management team, with progress being reported to the board. Planning needs to take place well ahead of the actual changeover date, since numerous important commercial activities must occur in advance. It is easy to just consider the R&D lead time, but it is equally important to make allowances for the time it takes to prepare customers.
The focus areas for the overall plan are the main targets, events, deliveries, and synchronization points between company functions. It is assumed that the more detailed planning for Marketing, R&D etc. would be covered in other plans as needed.
Changing a technical platform comes with many opportunities but involves great risk, both from a commercial and technical standpoint.
Such an important business-critical investment decision should be preceded by board-level discussion concerning the company’s strategic direction and product roadmaps. The implementation requires a companywide planning approach, with the progress of the implementation needing the board’s full attention.