Digital transformation promises to make corporate processes more straightforward and efficient. There are many ways to achieve this. Finding the best way to achieve this is important because, in the future, smartphones and tablets will network with each other and everyday objects. The prerequisite for this is a modern digital infrastructure. In the following paragraphs, Rolf Stephan, COO of AXON Ivy, explains what needs to be considered with respect to the underlying architecture, the different variants for implementation, and their respective advantages and disadvantages.
In-house development, standard software, and hybrid platforms are the three ways to create one's digital infrastructure. The company's choice of method essentially depends on their available resources, know-how, and what the company requires of their digital environment. At the beginning of a digitization project, companies must take the time to analyze which strategy will lead to the best result possible so that they do not end up in a dead-end situation without the goals having been achieved.
Individual vs. Standard
Building digital infrastructure from scratch is, especially for large companies with multiple locations, an enormous task. Therefore, it is crucial that precise objectives are defined and detailed planning is carried out as one's first step. The right methodology, such as an agile development approach, can also help make the coding smoother and more cohesive. When successfully implemented, a tailor-made environment beckons, seamlessly fitting into the established processes of the company.
However, in-house development remains a time- and cost-intensive endeavor. Maintaining and updating such a system requires long-term commitment and as many employees as possible. Otherwise, a dependency would arise with how the software was written concentrated on the few people writing the software. Interfaces with third-party providers represent another risk because if the in-house IT cannot keep up with the new third-party versions, security concerns and functional failures may arise, reducing the acceptance and endangering the success of the digital transformation project. Therefore, in-house developments are promising and complex, while the risk is usually quite considerable.
The use of standard software is a lot less complicated. In this case, the software manufacturer has the responsibility to maintain the system and keep it up to date. The standard software does not support a company's processes as an in-house developed system, which often results in the need to change the implemented business processes fundamentally. It is a lot less risky and available at high but controllable costs. Therefore, decision-makers should closely examine the solution's functional scope and compare the costs and effort involved. It is not always worthwhile to redesign the already established processes and accept high costs to avoid maintaining the system.
The third way is a mixture of in-house development and standard software, combining the best of both approaches. A so-called platform-as-a-service (PaaS) provider offers a basic framework that companies can form and develop according to their needs. While standalone applications, whether developed in-house or not, can only be operated along pre-defined paths, PaaS systems provide employees with development tools, low-code or even no-code, to design the paths themselves. In this way, IT and business departments can implement the digital transformation for their company on their initiative and align it more closely to their specific customer needs.
Furthermore, modern platforms furnish standard connectors, enabling easy connection to common systems such as SAP, Oracle, Microsoft, Salesforce, and independent third-party systems. Even the so-called legacy systems, i.e., components of the old IT landscape, can remain integrated with the new environment. Other interfaces for integrating programs for document generation via ESB or technologies such as blockchain and digital signatures provide even more freedom in designing the new digital landscape. The result is a process structure that is distinctly adapted to the goals of the company.
The best approach depends on the individual requirements. Since these requirements are more specific, a more sensible PaaS system or in-house development would be more logical. In the end, a balance must be found between user-friendliness, stability, and security.
Future-proof platform concepts
Presently companies are facing the challenge of having to guarantee an optimal workflow despite mobile workplaces. PaaS platforms' advantages and their Cloud concept are evident here and reflect the current zeitgeist. Whether colleagues are in the office next door or 12 time zones away is immaterial when using the Cloud.
According to an IDC study on the prospects for public Cloud computing models in 2019, the PaaS concept ensures sustainable growth because it improves the customer experience and implements digital transformation beyond the everyday office environment. A future in which the refrigerator sends the car "on its own" to go shopping is no longer unimaginable but a logical consequence of further development. Platforms provide an appropriate framework for this and play a decisive role in the digital future of tomorrow.