Enterprise Software – Are You Playing to Win, or Playing Not to Lose?

Software applications have become the central nervous system of large companies.  Everything those companies do to deliver their goods or services is governed by or assisted through software.  A company’s success in the marketplace is therefore a function of how refined and capable their software is, and how quickly they can adapt it to changing needs in the market.  Companies that “play to win” have found ways to make their software a key asset.  Companies that don’t are merely “playing not to lose.”

Which type are you?  Read on to find out.

This distinction was made starkly clear to me last week during a demonstration for a Fortune 500 potential client who operates in a highly competitive market.  Their historical competitive strengths were low prices and a broad selection of products, but others have caught up on those dimensions.  Their future profitability hinges on providing outstanding customer service.  The ability to adapt their software to meet customer needs and expectations is therefore critical to their success.

Their predicament made me think about the two approaches companies take with software and the implications it has on their success.  I’ve summarized both approaches below.

Companies who play not to lose with their software:

  • Focus on solving task or functional problems rather than complete business processes
  • Purchase the same off-the-shelf software that’s available to their competitors
  • License that software in part because it has built-in “best practices” (available to everyone and therefore not a source of advantage)
  • Allow printouts, e-mail, and spreadsheets to fill gaps in the software instead of forcing automation
  • Pay to create custom software but then resist enhancements because of sunk costs
  • Stick to “plain vanilla” implementations of large enterprise packages because customization costs are too high
  • Change their processes to fit software limitations rather than change their software
  • Wonder why their market share and profits don’t increase

Companies who use software to help them play to win:

  • Build their operations to delight their customers, not just deliver product
  • Set demanding performance standards and build their processes to deliver outstanding service
  • Choose software that allows for rapid changes, enabled by those closest to customers
  • Identify their own best practices and incorporate them into their software
  • Fully automate their processes to maintain control and visibility
  • Take the lead in incorporating developments like social media and mobile communications
  • Use their software to build sustainable competitive advantages

In her most recent blog post, Forrester Research Vice President Connie Moore shared her peers’ thoughts about how relying on large enterprise applications is a sign of playing not to lose.  Here’s my favorite quote:

“[Enterprise applications] help organizations bring the best practices embedded in apps to companies to make them more efficient.  But these apps are also inflexible and hard to change, whereas business models change quickly.  These systems were built to absorb information to create systems of record, which is critically important. But we’re in a period right now where the change driven by consumer technology is so vast and so rapid that the focus on process transformation must be more acute. I don’t think these enterprise app systems can participate in that transformation because they were never built for that.”

Connie’s blog also highlights how the game changers of social, mobile, and cloud could accelerate the trend away from inflexible enterprise applications.  The bar to mobile enabling business processes has never been lower as customers and employees are purchasing smart devices for personal use in ever growing numbers.  Companies playing to win are jumping on this development and are already using business process management (BPM) software with social and mobile capabilities to improve the customer experience and increase staff productivity.  This is happening across Appian’s customer base and I have a front row seat to watch.  It’s all very exciting.  Here are some examples:

  • An electric utility shunned off-the-shelf field management software, creating their own using BPM to fit the unique aspects of their business.  Their application shortens down time by initiating maintenance actions and replacement part ordering while their technicians are still on site in the field.  Technicians snap pictures, record voice memos, fill out forms, and immediately collaborate with team members using Tempo, the built-in social feed in our software.  Assets get back in production fast which ties directly to revenue generation.
  • A wealth management company created their own specialized customer and asset on-boarding application using BPM.  It allows their field staff to capture required information at the moment of contract signing, reducing the usual startup time by immediately initiating required processes.  This in turn gets customer assets under management faster, allowing the company to earn more revenue since they are paid a percent of assets under management.
  • A specialty food retailer is automating its manual store inspection process by using BPM.  Armed with iPads, their inspectors can collect data and initiate repairs while still on site.  This translates to a more positive customer experience increasing loyalty.

If you realize you’ve actually been “playing not to lose” with your software, it’s time to acquaint yourself with just how much can be done using a state-of-the-art business process management suite and tackle places where you’ve allowed your software (and its limitations) to dictate how you serve your customers instead of driving software flexibility to continually delight your customers and set the competitive bar ever higher.

Evan McDonnell

Vice President of Solutions