Part 4 in our series on how to avoid the pitfalls of e-commerce replatforming.
When Apollo 13 famously ran into technical glitches on their return home from outer space, the expert team of engineers was faced with the situation of having to 'make a square peg fit in a round hole'.
NASA engineer Jerry Woodfill describes how if they didn’t find a way to do the impossible, there was great risk of a catastrophic disaster. “While there were plenty of filters in the Command Module, these were square and wouldn’t fit in the LM barrel. Without some kind of unusual miracle of making a square peg fit into a round hole the crew would not survive.”
The result is one for the history books. The Apollo 13 project team was ingenious in accomplishing the seemingly impossible, ensuring the ship could function as needed to land safely and successfully complete the mission.
NASA engineers were faced with what seemed to be an insurmountable task
of making a square peg fit into a round hole to safely return the crippled Apollo 13 space ship to earth.
E-commerce replatforming may not be rocket science, but it is just as critical for a business’ ability to survive and thrive in today’s omnichannel commerce environment. If implementing new technology without revamping business process is your plan of attack, you could be steering your e-commerce transformation way off course, risking the need for costly workarounds and customization to try and make things fit together that were simply not designed to.
What comes first, technology or business process?
For many organizations, the bulk of their time, effort and energy is spent on identifying and selecting the right technology platform for their e-commerce replatforming project. While this is obviously an important and crucial element for project success, it is simply the beginning. Ensuring that business processes are optimized – taking into consideration BOTH how you do business today as well as how your new e-commerce platform can ideally help you do business – is potentially complicated but a critical success foundation layer.
Forrester analysts use the square peg, round hold analogy when reviewing how to get the most out of your e-commerce replatforming project, stating that:
Looking at replatforming as a simple injection of new technology into the same business processes is tantamount to the square peg, round hole scenario. New technology necessitates a revamp of business processes. Ignoring this crucial planning complicates replatforming initiatives because you may be forced to customize and configure the technology to fit a process that isn’t optimized to the new technology.
Where is your domain knowledge?
Typically, when organizations begin an e-commerce replatforming initiative, they are embarking on a journey that will likely span several months, potentially even years, as various phases are rolled out. For most enterprises, the way they do business combines both documented and undocumented processes. Formal methods and ad hoc procedures sit side-by-side as business needs dictate.
Being able to tap into the collective domain knowledge across the organization will enable your replatforming team to uncover any “undocumented” processes that need to be addressed while incorporating new thinking about how the selected technology platform can innovate. Forrester cautions that domain knowledge residing in the heads of employees often “walks out the door” while the disruption of change is taking place. It is a potential project vulnerability, but one that can be minimized by addressing it at project inception.
Document, Document, Document
Rigorous attention to documentation is another critical element. While this may seem obvious, where many projects fail is in the recording of their existing ad hoc methods. While there is a strong aptitude for documenting what will be new, many project teams will gloss over or ignore the current situation. This is particularly true for ad hoc processes. Forrester also advises that when documenting the existing environment, ensure that both the methods as well as the rationale behind the methods is clearly captured. What may seem to be an unusual ad hoc process can often be better justified once the business rationale is also identified and understood, thus helping project members who may need to refer to the methods long after the domain expert employee has left.
Houston, we have a problem
For the three astronauts on Apollo 13 who ran into spaceship problems, the good news was that they were not alone. They were privileged to work with a team of experts who explored every avenue to ensure their ship was optimized to benefit from a re-engineering effort. Forrester suggests that enterprises should take full advantage of Commerce Solution Providers (CSPs) rather than attempt their business process transformation on their own.
Be sure to seek out expertise with the new technology to redesign processes as appropriate. CSP’s are working day in and day out on replatforming initiatives – to the tune of 25 projects or so per year. If they can become familiar with your former business processes, their expertise with the eCommerce platforms will be an incredible asset in your business process redesign.
While an e-commerce replatforming project isn’t rocket science, a business' future can depend on it, and when not properly planned, may introduce as many seemingly insurmountable obstacles as NASA engineers faced when tasked with bringing Apollo 13 home. Respecting and placing a high emphasis on the value of re-engineering business processes will ensure your project is designed on a strong foundation. Involving employees across your organization who have domain knowledge will protect your intellectual property. Embed your CSP experts as part of your project team. Like NASA engineers, they have tremendous experience and can bring high levels of creativity and thought leadership to your business transformation initiative, safeguarding for a successful roll-out and business success.