Ask the Expert: Dealing with Multiple Platforms

By Barbara Nelson September 13, 2007

Our product team currently has three separate platforms and are about to get several more. While there is some overlap in functionality, and some of the new systems may be redundant, they are ostensibly targeted to solve different needs.

One camp thinks we should merge the platforms to present a consistent face to our clients and provide a more customizable solution controlled by activating or deactivating desired features. The other camp thinks we should pick best in breed to eliminate the redundant systems. Is there any research that validates which approach is best?

With all the mergers and acquisitions that occur, this is a relatively common problem.

I don’t know of any article or research that states one approach being better than another.

“It depends”… In fact, you can probably find examples to support either approach as having been successful in a given company. Statistically, I don’t know of a study that asks companies to evaluate the success of one approach over another in a way that evenly weighs all factors. Eventually, if you’ve been in business long enough, you always face the issue of upgrading technology/architecture/platform to acquire new customers even if your old customers are content to stay put.

Rather than focus on the external secondary research supporting one or the other, continue the discussions. Have each camp make the real business case for one over the other. It may end up being a combo effort (invest some resources in the platform for the future while looking at possibly retiring or at least reducing investments on products that are highly redundant or that don’t deliver real value to the company and the market). Encourage each camp to look for a third alternative, not just to focus on their bias. What are your growth objectives (growing by new customer acquisition, selling more products and services to the existing customer base, looking for new markets to serve)?

Look at the 4P’s we talk about in our Foundations course:

Problem
Is there a market problem you’re solving by building a new platform? (How many customers have multiple systems that look and feel different? If they do, what pain is it for them or is it OK?)

Can you create a competitive advantage by solving problems in a unique, sustainable way by having a new architecture?

In quantifying the problems to solve, is there really a cost-savings to re-do the platform (once you’re done, assuming you pick the right platform, right architecture, right set of tools)? Can you then bring new products to market quicker?

Product

  • Which products solve the most compelling of the problems? If you don’t have enough resources to support and enhance all products, which ones should you retire? What’s the business case for doing that and what impact will it have on customer loyalty and customer retention?

  • Do you have the skills to build a new platform? How can you avoid it becoming a science project? (Clue: it also needs product management)

  • Are there some technologies within existing products you can leverage into becoming architectural elements or is it better to start with a clean sheet of paper? (Re-use is less sexy; “inventing” new stuff is more fun. Are you over-engineering the architecture over the value it will deliver to you and to your customers?)

  • Can you time-phase delivery of the architectural components while adding functionality (or new products) that will allow you to sell into new accounts? How should you split your development resources so you don’t completely go dark in new products or new functionality while the underlying platform and architectural development takes place?

Promotion
If the sales team is having difficulty selling, is it because there isn’t clarity about which products solve which problems for which segments? In the short term, can you start by positioning each offering as it is today and then figure out how you want to position each one to target different parts of the market tomorrow?

Place
Until all of this is sorted out from a development perspective, how can you help Sales beyond positioning the products better? Where are they confused or where are they struggling in the sales process? Provide good positioning to map problems to products with interview questions to help them figure out which product is best suited to solve the problem.

Do you use the same sales channel for all products? Maybe the sales channels need to be segmented according to product lines and market segments until (or if) you get to “one platform.”

In summary, bring facts to the table, not just opinions. Insist on the same for proponents of each side of the argument. Your dilemma is not an easy one to solve, but make sure you all provide thoughtful considerations of what the impacts will be not only to your company, but to the market.

 

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Categories: Working with Development
Barbara Nelson

Barbara Nelson

Pragmatic Marketing, Inc. has continuously delivered thought leadership in technology product management and marketing since it was founded in 1993.Today, we provide training and present at industry events around the world, conduct the industry’s largest annual survey and produce respected publications that are read by more than 100,000 product management and marketing professionals. Our thought-leadership portfolio includes the Pragmatic Institute Framework, e-books, blogs, webinars, podcasts, newsletters, The Pragmatic Marketer magazine and the bestseller “Tuned In.”

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