How do some companies seem to move so quickly when rolling out slick mobile apps featuring sophisticated functionality while others struggle to get mobile access to their customers and employees?  

The Advantage of a Modern Platform

There are several reasons of course, but one of the most limiting reasons is their approach to technology. Companies (think Uber for an easy example) that take advantage of modern platform technology are transforming the experiences of their customers and employees in a way that companies mired down in their plethora of legacy applications can only dream of. What these nimble companies have figured out is that platform technology allows a company like Uber to quickly and efficiently integrate a collection of best of breed applications into an industry disrupting solution. Platforms have democratized access to technology and data, and those that use them are winning. 

What’s exciting about platforms is that they now allow organizations to realize enterprise level functionality with consumer grade simplicity. And it allows this to happen faster and cheaper than customizing legacy applications. 

MarketSource is a modern labor agency that provides part time employees to retailers for positions such as sales associates and promotions display management. MarketSource faced the traditional retail challenge of constant recruiting due to high employee turnover. It solved this challenge by improving the number of hours their part timers worked and providing employees more control over their schedules. Because its workforce is more stable than a typical retailer’s, it is also more productive. A true differentiated advantage. How did MarketSource do it? It leverages an HCM platform that provides a mobile interface allowing employees to manage their schedules, engage with a just-in -time LMS and provide route optimization and task management as employees drive from store to store. This is not the technology delivered by one company, but four. All this functionality is unified into one user interface for simplicity. It didn’t take MarketSource years to accomplish this, it took months. It simply required a modern platform as its basis. 

Interoperability is King

A platform provides core functionality such as timekeeping and scheduling. What’s different about a platform from other software is its interoperability with other applications. Interoperability means that you can work in your primary application yet access the information and workflows from adjacent applications without leaving your original interface. The most forward-thinking companies are standardizing on a finite number of platforms (I frequently hear less than 10 for mid to large enterprise) linking them together and extending from one of those core platforms when additional functionality is required.  

Because it’s easy to market the word Platform but much harder to execute, let’s look at three differentiating technical aspects of a platform:

Aspects of an Effective Platform

First, a platform will have a unified domain model. What this means, for example, is that in scheduling, the data representing a shift for an employee is represented the same way everywhere in the platform whether it’s in the schedule, a timecard or a time-off request. This is never true in applications that were built independently and later integrated. Multiple data models make it difficult to extend these applications because integrations become too complicated as you try to accommodate all the different data models. This results in limited workflows and analytics. Users must move across applications and re-enter information. 

Secondly, the structure of information within a platform should be very flexible. This “business structure” is the backbone of any application and is also what defines its reporting capabilities. In a financial application this structure is known as the chart of accounts. For Human Capital Management, it is how the locations and roles are organized and related. If the business structure is not flexible, then a company can’t accurately represent the way it operates. In legacy applications, the organizing structure was built to service the needs of that specific application. Therefore, when a report requires data from two different applications some spreadsheet magic is required in between to reconcile the different business structures. A platform was inherently designed with the objective of bringing multiple applications together, so its business structure was designed to represent a business from multiple perspectives, allowing integrations and reporting to be exponentially simpler and more valuable.  

The last aspect of a platform is that it must be technically easy to integrate data, workflows and security. Once again, a platform was designed from the ground up to work well with other applications. This is the job of the API layer. A modern API interface can handle the increased data, workflows and security which makes the transition from one application to another transparent to the user. 

These are some examples of the technical underpinnings that differentiate a modern platform from legacy applications and allows companies like MarketSource to quickly build out complete solutions using multiple technologies but present it to their employees in a single interface.  

Companies who are struggling with the speed of innovation, frustrated with the value they receive from their data or trying to simplify how employees engage with the increasing amount of technology used in the workplace might want to investigate what a true platform can do for them.

Published: Tuesday, July 23, 2019