To Deliver on Transformation Look for a Partner, Not Just a Platform

I’ve seen hundreds of organizations successfully – and unsuccessfully – execute on the ever-changing concept of ‘digital transformation.’ Isolating transformation to a challenge that can only be solved by technology is a commonality in many unsuccessful instances.

After serving in the US Army in the 1990s, I applied many learned principles around comradery, leadership, and collaboration to a career in enterprise technology at companies like IBM, Prolifics, and now Mendix. Those experiences emphasized the importance of partnership, which I see as a critical factor in any project success.

Mendix has over sixteen years of experience enabling organizations to deliver on digitalization through low-code development. So much so that our digital execution framework has helped thousands of customers improve end-user experiences, replace or extend costly legacy systems, and drive operational efficiency. No matter where you are in your transformation, know that you’re not alone, and that there are proven frameworks to aid in your decision-making and make you more successful.

Vision Begets Value

I’ll reiterate it one more time – digital transformation is not just an IT initiative, and therefore shouldn’t be reduced to solely a technology problem.

Long before they started looking at tools and technology, some of our most successful Mendix customers formulated a critical precursory element: their vision. These organizations may come to us with an initial challenge, mission, or initiative that is much bigger than acquiring a new technology platform. This approach is ideal, because their executives and colleagues outside of IT can get behind a charter that feels larger than a single team or business function.

Some prime examples in practice look like:

  • Mercury Systems, whose leadership team set the course for a ‘Digital Thread’ initiative in 2019 to improve connectivity and efficiency across the product lifecycle. In support of this ambition, their team has since delivered a suite of 20 low-code applications in a microservices environment which are providing a common and modern interface to disparate engineering systems such as Jama and Cameo.
  • Parent company to iconic brands such as Tommy Hilfiger or Ralph Lauren, PVH, is led by a charter to drive fashion in a way that consumers view their industry as a force for good. Since adopting Mendix, PVH has set their sights on building a more sustainable business through process automation in areas such as a supply chain chargeback system and onboarding external employees.
  • ASML, which had a goal to nearly double their revenue by 2025. Their IT organization determined that optimizing the productivity of their current workforce would be a key strategy in meeting this goal, and has since delivered over 10 low-code applications, some in as quickly as 2-3 weeks, to support their employees.

In these instances, the common denominator for transformation is rooted in shift in perception at the employee or customer level. It just happens that a low-code platform was simply the means by which their transformation was achieved. Now, that’s not to say that anything about solution delivery is necessarily ‘simple,’ which leads to another critical success factor: finding the right partner.

Holistic Evaluation Criteria for Transformation Partners

Based on the vision you’ve outlined you’ll likely start to whittle down a shortlist of potential technology providers with the help of leading industry analysts or peer recommendations. At this stage it feels natural to want to get into the nitty gritty capability checklist that you likely have, however I offer taking a more holistic approach so that you don’t lose sight of the larger task at hand.

Focus your inquiries on the ideal transformation, rather than just technology, to get to the root of how a potential partner will support you in the long-term.

Rather than asking a technology question… Ask questions like this…
Consumers are using mobile devices more and more often. What are your capabilities around mobile development? We need to transform how our customers interact with our brand. How will you enable us to do this?

Instead of getting answers that you could have likely found on the company’s platform evaluation page (ex: ‘of course we support mobile development, in both native and PWA environments’), you can see how your prospective partner thinks about challenges.

To take it one step further, I recommend keeping four practice areas in mind as you evaluate a digital transformation partner:

  1. Platform capabilities, so still making sure that you will in fact have those necessary technical requirements met, whether it be around security or cloud deployment.
  2. Portfolio expertise, or rather, how does your partner recommend that you get started on a project that will turn back immediate success or value?
  3. Process fit, ensuring that the way your organization wants to work and the optimal delivery process go hand-in-hand, for example like Mendix and Agile development.
  4. Perspective on people and structured enablement to ensure that your current workforce has the tools and training they need to get up to speed.

I encourage leaders to apply these principles to any technology decision on their horizon. Don’t just stop at technical criteria, or you could end up locked in with a technology platform devoid of partnership, which won’t get you very far. Digital transformation will remain a moving target and having the right partner in your corner will help you to navigate new obstacles and milestones with more expertise.

Finding technology platforms is easy – a quick Google search will turn back hundreds, if not thousands, of potential candidates. But I offer up our digital execution framework as a lens to help you dig deeper and find a technology platform that will also be a partner in your transformation journey.