I would like to start with a simple question: If you were starting a company from scratch today, how would you build the organisation and its core infrastructure?
There are not many, if any, people who would design a business that looks like a legacy organisation.
And yet there are so many organisations – typically large, long-standing businesses – that are still reliant on legacy infrastructure. The fundamental question, then, is how do we help people break this reliance on legacy and focus on developing systems as if they were working from a clean slate?
This isn’t a technology issue
A lot of it is down to attitudes and leadership. Within too many organisations I see no real desire to get rid of legacy systems – the focus is on making what they have work more efficiently.
For many businesses, the primary driver for such an approach is fear. The prospect of being disrupted is terrifying; they stick to what they have, streamline a few processes, and hope that’s enough to make a notable impact.
If that is your mindset then frankly, whether you know it or not, you are already managing the decline.
To be fair, new companies don’t have the legacy (of systems, processes, or thinking) to begin with, so from a technology point of view it is perhaps ‘easier’. But this isn’t really a technology issue – it’s about having the right mindset.
Start with the experience
Startups aren’t starting from technology and then working out what to do with it. Instead, they are thinking about the true end user experience they want to deliver and then working backwards from there to work out what stack or technology will deliver that experience.
Take credit cards as an example. Many traditional card issuers have barely shifted away from the product they’ve always offered. Then look at a new provider like Revolut, with a product built around a virtual wallet with real-time visibility of things like exchange rates and how much has been paid. It is a completely different experience and one that has been built around the customer, not an established process.
For some banks the response has been to build a ‘parallel bank’ to get around the legacy issues. But the thinking must go so much further.
I want to make it clear that I’m not writing off traditional businesses. They have an exciting opportunity and there is no reason why these established organisations can’t be like the startups.
Thinking the unthinkable
The answer is all about the process, not the technology. Making old processes go faster with IT is OK, but it doesn’t give you seamless experiences.
We need organisations to make the experience their starting point.
But if we are to enact this meaningful change, it must happen at the highest levels. Many boards are reluctant to make that change (or even in denial that it’s needed), and many focus on justifying why they can’t do it – or they just say “it is an IT issue” and they don’t want to get involved.
To break this inertia, we need leadership teams that think more laterally, have multi-industry experience and bring an understanding of technology. Boards need to get past the fear of not knowing what to do, or the arrogance that they don’t have anything to learn.
Rather than thinking of the constraints, think about the opportunities that change presents. No business model should be sacrosanct. And everything should be up for debate.
The best part is that you are likely to understand the industry so well, better than many of the startups, but you might not be challenging your assumptions…so you could know what it takes be ahead of the game without realising it…
Stick or twist?
We need business leaders who are willing to open their minds to new ways of thinking, who want to own something and make change happen.
And the technology – like the Now Platform – is there today to support this transition. Established organisations have as much opportunity as a startup to create experience-led businesses.
So, the most important question is: are you willing to create a business model? Or are you going to stick to what you know?