One of the trickiest facets of developing a digital strategy, and something that we are frequently asked about, is the ability to scale as a business grows.
Indeed, it’s commonly said that the Achilles’ heel of any great idea is the inability to scale it and deliver solutions, services, or products to the largest possible audience for the greatest ROI.
Investing in your digital architecture is one thing, but as with all business needs, things change. Consumers want information or the ability to buy instantly and easily. If you under invest in your offering, then you are more likely to lose customers and stall as a business. That's why the team here at Mando places such a large emphasis on digital transformation and development.
The ability to realise change in your marketplace, and to have the tools, platforms, and partners in place to react to this change is crucial. In the following sections we’ll unpack the ideas around scalability and set out some of the considerations you should make to adapt and grow.
What is digital scalability?
Digital scalability, in its most common form, is the ability to grow your offering across your digital estate. It is the process of developing and introducing new features and removing those that have become redundant. It also allows you to add additional functionality to the end user. Every digital product should be regularly improved and adjusted to the market needs.
This falls into the idea of digital transformation, something we’ve advocated over the past 12 months. It is the process of using digital technologies to create new — or modify existing — business processes, culture, and customer experiences to drive growth in new and existing markets.
Benefits of digital scalability
There are many benefits to introducing digital scalability into your business development strategy. There are short term gains to be made in terms of revenue, costs, and site speed but there are also long-term solutions that give a business robustness.
Taking the correct approach and implementing the right tools means that you can shift the cadence of your progression to suit.
As opportunities present themselves to your market or as consumer needs change, you can dial your efforts up or down. This is done to ensure profitability remains strong as you scale and invest.
Business drivers and considerations
There are many businesses drivers to achieving scalability and perhaps the most important is to meet the increased demand.
When an incident is declared or a new product goes to market, the pressure on websites can change instantly. To mitigate against downtime and lost revenues, scalability allows you to manage this volume and serve your end users.
Perhaps the biggest driver, however, is that most enterprise scale businesses are already investing heavily in this area. If you aren’t, then you’re already behind. A sales slump or poor brand reaction could be the final nail in the coffin and businesses must invest today to remain competitive.
Experience is vital to the user and businesses need to think about the needs of the customer and their journey towards conversion - whatever that may look like.
Marketer, writer, ‘Ad man’ and one of the main protagonists at Ogilvy, Rory Sutherland, uses many examples of where investment, (as seen here) can make a difference. In one such example he cites the need to make the Eurostar ten times faster. He said: “In the 1890’s it was possible to make a train 10x faster but today that would pose a security and safety issue, it’s not possible, so how do we solve the problem?
“Well, we make the experience 10x better and the user forgets about the duration of the journey.”
What does he mean? Well, the introduction of faster Wi-Fi, better food, easier check-in for the Eurostar would undoubtedly help to change the perception. That, in essence, is what brands should be doing to better the user experience (UX).
Businesses who are actively looking to streamline their approach to scaling need to adopt the most flexible platform to do this on. Pain points in this area include:
- Higher operating costs than initially planned
- Customer demand for increased functionality cannot always be easily implemented on the existing platform
- New projects or platform migration can be time consuming
If these are things that you’ve experienced or have factored in as possible problem areas, then the solution here is to align the platform selection process with the desired audience and revenue growth in your wider business strategy. You also have to rely on your internal governance when it comes to decision making, especially around selecting a cost-effective solution that will deliver the best ROI.
Something to think about when it comes to scale is that there is often proof in the past in terms of brands that have invested in digital as opposed to storefronts and people (in terms of numbers).
According to the World Economic Forum, Airbnb has a market capitalisation of around $38bn with a workforce of 10,000 compared to Marriott Hotels who has a market capitalisation of $39bn with circa 177,000 employees. Similarly, Uber employs 16,000 people to generate $76bn against BWM who has 131,000 employees to generate $51bn.
How is this possible? Well, it’s all in the platform, Uber doesn’t own cars and Airbnb doesn’t own real estate. By scaling their digital architecture and automating their processes the business grows with lower overheads.
All in the cloud
One of the main benefits of scaling comes from hosting sites and data in the cloud. Today marketers need a powerful toolset to manage data, uncover real-time insights and rapidly innovate to deliver relevant and personalised experiences that customers demand.
Cloud scalability is the ability to scale up or scale down cloud resources as needed to meet demand. This is one of the main benefits of using the cloud — and it allows companies to better manage resources and costs.
The most commonly used cloud platform for enterprise businesses is Microsoft Azure, (95% of fortune 500 companies operate on Azure). This platform is a set of more than 200 products and cloud services designed to solve scalability and security issues and build and run applications and websites.
It provides software as a service (SaaS), platform as a service (PaaS) and infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and supports many different programming languages, tools, and frameworks, including both Microsoft-specific and third-party software and systems.
Azure offers a secure and compliant approach to those businesses looking to manage their digital estate. It also offers the following benefits.:
- Ease - Increasing or decreasing digital capacity typically just requires a few clicks and there is no need to waste time with physical hardware.
- Speed - Upgrading or downgrading servers does not require weeks of time. With the cloud, organisations can quickly configure the architecture they need based on business demands.
- Cost effectiveness – Most providers only charge for what an organisation uses.
- Reliability - Businesses can rest assured they will see high performance, as scalable architecture can meet sudden increases or decreases in demand.
DXPs need to make sure that they can integrate with Azure and have built out their offering to support cloud-based development. To pick one DXP out is difficult as they all have various advantages, but in terms of projects and products we’ve worked on, we’ll use Optimizely as an example.
Optimizely offers a product suite in which it is possible to create a PaaS. One you have your product e.g. a billing tool for customers, you can roll it out securely, and develop the tool in the cloud without the need to ‘take the product offering down.’
This is vital for those companies that want to evolve but who don’t want to:
- experience down time
- run the risk of reducing sales
- offer poor UX
According to Jeff Cheal, Sr. Director, Customer Strategy at Optimizely: “Your audience comes and goes. Peaks and valleys can define one year in your digital platform’s lifecycle– building proper infrastructure to handle all these possible changes can be a considerable challenge. Do I support my websites based on “normal” times? How do I properly compensate - and most importantly, invest – based on our most popular times of the year?
“Optimizely’s DXP thinks differently. We do the scaling for you. Our application will adeptly expand and condense based on your traffic needs and conditions, all without changing your pricing as the year goes. Our systems not only monitor for traffic increases but provide prescriptive insights into additional resources as needed.
“In today’s marketplace, businesses are too often forced to consider capital expenses in their growth. Optimizely is committed to growing with our customers in a partnership, so our design keeps your site active to match your SLA and allows your operations to dictate your business.”
One product that is part of the Optimizely eco system is their Intelligence Cloud. This is a collection of tools that provide advanced automation, the latest in AI and machine learning and best-in-class experimentation.
The beauty of this product is that live changes can be made to meet demand and future strategies and workflows can be planned based on real data.
Your infrastructure is vital to business stability and by utilising the benefits of operating in the cloud it’s possible to:
- Run Self-Service Deployments – push code from your lower environments up at the push of a button
- Get instant Log Access – Need to know what is going on? Get access to your logs in real-time
- Understand SLA and Analytics – Get a view on your up-time and usage whenever you need
- Implement CDN cache cleaning – need to free up performance by clearing your cache? Press a button; you’re all set
A final consideration is that your offering must be compatible with APIs to make integrations easier and faster.
There are various ways to do this including:
- using enterprise mobile back-end service tools
- using API management tools for large-scale deployments
If we were to give one example of how important scaling is it would be this. We were approached by a leading utility company who had noticed that their site wasn’t fit for purpose when it came to incident management.
They came to us and explained that their site had buckled under the pressure of enquiries (by volume) thanks to a problem with contaminated water within their region.
This increase in traffic resulted in the website ‘falling over’ because there was nothing in place to help the site accommodate such large amounts of traffic all at once.
Our 24/7/365 service desk delivered a solution where we periodically (throughout the day in this case) provided performance reports to show the scaled-up efforts against user demand.
We then agreed on additional measures that should be made permanent and those which should be dialed down upon incident resolution.
We increased the number of instances on the site, scaled the front-end capabilities. We also looked at the data to ensure the web database was optimised and increased the app instances also.
The results eliminated downtime and apart from providing a better user experience element it also reduced lost revenue and the cost to serve as well as boosting brand trust.
Understanding the nuances between having a website that can scale on demand and one that cannot, can be the difference between success and failure.
In a similar vein those businesses who aren’t integrating with the correct DXPs or CMS systems for their needs run the risk of falling behind the competition.
As proven practitioners we understand the challenges you face and have built a robust roadmap which allows you to plan your digital strategy and future scalability quickly, and in a few simple steps.
To find out more about our roadmap or platform selection products, book a call with our team today.