Out of the Box Applications vs Platforms – How Do You Approach Product Digitalization?

product-digitalization

To begin with, let us clarify although Qliktag offers a platform for enabling consumer products and everyday things as IoT connected smart products, we still believe there is a value and a place for both platforms, as well as out of the box applications or solutions dedicated to a specific purpose. As an organization, we use and have subscriptions to specialized ready to use applications and software for marketing, HR processes, accounting and other areas. They’ve served us well and make perfect sense in these areas. We’ve not often found ourselves in a situation where we’ve had to abandon, migrate or drastically change the solution in use because we’ve outgrown it, been restricted by its capabilities or because our requirement has changed so rapidly the application is no longer a fit.

Digitalization of ordinary everyday consumer products and IoT in general however, is a unique area in the way we see things. It’s rapidly evolving and constantly changing with no signs of settling or slowing down anytime soon. There are new areas of applications evolving around it, new technologies being developed, new hardware emerging, new regulations, new consumer behaviors it needs to address and so on. Here are some thoughts to consider around the out-of-the-box solutions vs platform approach specifically in the context of product digitalization.

How do you implement a solution for a moving target?

Most out-of-the-box applications or solutions assume a clear challenge, requirement or use case and develop a robust solution to meet that requirement. Over time, they address changes and customer requirements by introducing new features, highly specialized features and aim to be a best of breed solution for that requirement. The platform approach on the other hand provides the core building blocks or foundation for building or setting up your own custom solution tailored to your own unique requirements and internal processes and improve and adapt as your requirements evolve. They may not offer as many ready specialized features from the get-go but offer flexibility to adapt the system to evolving requirements and are well suited to product digitalization which is more a moving target than a well defined challenge with a single clear solution or approach.

Solving current challenges vs preparing for the future

Rather than solving a single challenge with a single software solution to plug that gap, the platform approach takes a holistic view of creating a foundation or technology layer on top of which you can create these solutions, applications, interact with other systems and define your own processes. Think of digitalizing currency, transaction ledgers, property ledgers, physical assets. Blockchain provides a technology foundation but the applications built on top it constantly evolve with requirements and time. Think of platform like JIRA or Salesforce. Each company that uses it, has their instance setup in different ways tailored to their different processes, workflows and integrated with other systems within their respective organizations. The out-of-the-box approach resolves a present challenge while the platform approach lays a foundation for evolving solutions and adapting as you go.

Business challenges come up & are solved in silos

Within the domain of product digitalization and it’s applications, you have some very specialized out-of-the-box applications or Saas solutions for specific areas such as supply chain visibility. You have others dedicated to item tracking and traceability. Applications for serialization, product authentication and counterfeit prevention, recall management, recyling and re-order management. Often, when these requirements come up within the organization, they do so at different times, different teams and are seen as specific challenges which require a specific solution. The entire project is often managed in a silo. With passage of time, the organization finds itself with a number of different applications in different departments of the organization often operating separately and struggling with integrating with their organizations common systems. All these applications revolve around the products ability to capture and exchange data about itself and could be seen as a larger part of product digitalization and product master data but often they’re not and run into challenges over time.

Interoperability can’t be ignored

The role of interoperability between systems cannot be overemphasized in today’s world which is effectively a massive network of interoperable systems exchanging data over the internet via API’s and connections. Platforms are built with this interoperability in mind and are geared to pull data or push data to and from other systems. When it comes to product digitalization, it’s critical for systems to exchange data not just with other systems within the organization but also with systems outside the organization in a controlled, secured way. The more complex a business is, the more systems you may need integration with and even beyond the organization there is a growing need for integration with regional systems and global systems driven by data exchange standards.

Does one size fit all?

How important is customization for your product digitalization requirements? This is a factor that plays in heavily on the debate of out-of-the-box vs platform approach to a project. For example, we’ve had conversations with multiple organizations about a tracking and traceability system for businesses. While the basics of traceability are standardized, each business has specific ways in which their supply chains work that require customized solutions or configurations to fit their processes. Some have their own manufacturing units and are able to label their products and create traceability logs right from manufacturing. Others have various third party manufacturing facilities who need to ship to a centralized distribution warehouse where they are packaged and labeled. Still others have different processes and channels for the different regions they export to. While out-of-the-box solutions are based on best practices, it’s not often possible to create a one size fits all solution that caters to the exact requirements of every organization. There are solutions that offer configurability to a great extent, however customization goes beyond that. These are areas where the platform approach makes sense.

In conclusion, as with most disruptive technology areas, product digitalization while in the process of being standardized, is still in flux. Requirements evolve, customization of workflows, data entities, access and interoperability are key concerns and it is part of a much wider area of automation, IoT and Industry 4.0 as a whole. As such, the approach to product digitalization needs to be looked at in a more holistic way and the technology selection based on the ability to adapt to the future.