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Will You Win the ‘Battle of the Stacks’?

Business competition will soon be defined by limitations and opportunities of an organization’s technology architecture.

Driven by the upheaval of industry in the wake of the pandemic, and the convergence of technology and industry, the IT stack will soon be among the most important competitive business differentiators.

Both how a company defines itself, and what it is capable of, is increasingly determined by its IT stack. A recent survey found 77% of executives surveyed agree that their technology architecture is becoming critical to the overall success of their organization; 89% believe that their organization’s ability to generate business value will increasingly be based on the limitations and opportunities of their technology architecture.

Take the video games market as an example. Long-time rivals Sony and Microsoft now compete on the basis of different approaches to technology. Where Sony is investing in a high-quality experience through VR, SSD, and haptic feedback advances to create increasingly high fidelity gaming, Microsoft is looking to capture the market by focusing on OnDemand and multiplayer options based on a cloud, multi-device delivery. It’s the same market, but different strategies suddenly necessitate a very different technology investment.

In the near future, business competition will, in effect, be a “battle of the stacks”. Sony and Microsoft are using different models to reimagine how they win customers. Their business strategies are inextricably tied to the discrete advantages of those technology choices.

Unshackling Potential

COVID-19 has demanded that businesses rethink supply chains, working models, customer engagement and more. Fortunately, at the exact moment that industry is being called on to transform, technology advances are proving the means.

Each layer of the stack is expanding into new dimensions, with seemingly infinite combinations and possibilities at every step. Businesses are therefore able to architect solutions that are highly customized for their specific ambitions and the specific needs of various audiences.

This target state cannot be reached by a short-term approach. As enterprises double down on investments as they emerge from the pandemic -- in cloud, data analytics, and emerging technologies -- they need to consider the impact these choices may have in the future.

The most dynamic and sustainable architectures will be the ones that let businesses tap into the full spectrum of technology capabilities and create competitive stacks that are deeply aligned with business goals, while maintaining a focus on reusability, repurposing, and the enterprise’s evolving future.

These architectures should be developed with three considerations in mind:

1. Building technical wealth.

First, businesses need to map a clear route from static legacy systems toward adaptive and reusable technology. In short, they need to start building technical wealth. Architecting for change means re-thinking how applications are developed, taking full advantage of cloud capabilities. Microservices are key as they enable application elements to be composed as independent units that can then be swapped in or out independently, scaled, or repurposed over time.

For example, the UK Department for Work & Pensions used its microservices architecture to rapidly build and scale new services during the early days of the pandemic, helping it meet the surging needs of UK citizens fast and effectively. In record time, employees were able to create automated systems for uploading medical records, requesting universal benefits checks and issuing free school meal vouchers. Fortifying your technical components in a similar way will empower businesses to be technologically ready for future aspirations and needs.

2. Experimenting with technology and strategy.

The diversity of technology capabilities emerging across the stack will drive unprecedented diversity in business tactics and solutions. Organizations should experiment with combinations of technology and business objectives to find the opportunities that will work best for them. They need to reimagine the future of their products, services, operations, and more through the lens of what technology is making possible, and they need to build the right technology stack to bring their preferred future to life.

NVIDIA is a good example. As COVID-19 flared around the globe, NVIDIA launched Clara Guardian, a smart hospital solution that enables hospitals to remotely monitor and detect changes to patient vital signs, enforce the wearing of personal protective equipment, direct employees and visitors away from high-risk areas, and much more. This would not have been possible without innovation and cohesion at every layer of the technology architecture.

3. Reinventing the digital-physical blur

The convergence between business and technology makes it likely that the first time a customer interacts with a near-human AI agent, puts on a pair of virtual reality goggles, or learns about blockchain, will be linked to a company’s cutting-edge offering. For businesses that means a new responsibility to ensure these services are seamless for the customer and that there are no unintended negative consequences, like biased decisioning from poorly trained AI models, for example.

But there are opportunities, too, by leveraging digital-physical experiences to delight customers in new ways. Adidas, for example, has designed a wearable digital platform into one of its lines of soccer cleats and is partnering with FIFA on a unique customer engagement experience that blends real-world interactions with sporting in video games.

Thanks to technology, a business’ ambition need only be limited by imagination. As a result, there are more opportunities than ever, but also a greater competitive threat from similarly enabled companies. How will you stack up?