A Tale From the Front Line of ISV Product Modernization
Last week Xoriant joined several hundred technology companies in Santa Clara at Zinnov Confluence 2018. We were honored to present the conferenceâs only Masterclass, Product Modernization: How ISVs Help Their Clients Achieve Digital Transformation.
Xoriant SVP Ravi Viswanath opened the Masterclass by talking about modernization as a competitive imperative. Among his key highlights:
- Technology shifts (e.g., IPv6 leading to billions of devices creating different kinds of data) are putting tremendous pressure on ISVs to modernize.
- Modernization is about being able to handle the new technologies of today and tomorrow â being able to thrive in an environment where change is the only constant. Many companies wonât survive.
- Among the toughest challenges on the product modernization journey is figuring out how to deal with the impact on existing customers.
Ravi walked attendees through the six elements of product modernization: technology upgrade, automation, cloud enablement, analytics enablement, UX & accessibility and architecture transformation.
SafetyChainâs product modernization journey
After Raviâs introduction, SafetyChain CTO Roger Woehl took to the stage to share his product modernization experience. A client of Xoriantâs, SafetyChain is a food safety and quality management system that helps customers across the supply chain â from farm to retail â manage food safety and quality operations to achieve better outcomes and improved margins.
Roger put his customersâ work in context for the audience: âWe can be here today and be doing really interesting, innovative work because we donât have to spend our days thinking about how to feed ourselves. SafetyChainâs customers throughout the food supply chain are doing that for us.â
Leading the product modernization charge
For many technology companies, product modernization is a necessary response to enable customersâ digital transformation. For SafetyChain, modernization has been a source of competitive advantage, but it was SafetyChain leading the charge, not its customers.
âWhen I first came to SafetyChain I was surprised to see the food industry still running on paper and spreadsheets,â Roger explained. âThe problem wasnât a lack of sophistication, but that the technology hadnât caught up to the demands of the industry.â Particular barriers to digital transformation in the industry included:
- Low margins â âThe solutions that worked in the pharmaceutical industry, for example, donât work in the food industry because theyâre too expensive.â
- Limited IT Infrastructure â âWeâre a cloud-based solution but our end users are not always connected to the cloud.â
- End users without technical training â âA lot of our end users donât have training and background in cloud-based apps.â
- Low tolerance for disruption â âWhen a product is on the pad that needs to ship or itâll go bad you canât tolerate a lot of downtimes.â
Yet SafetyChain had faith that they could build a modern solution for the food industry despite those challenges. And that when they built it, the industry would adopt it enthusiastically.
As Roger shared SafetyChainâs product modernization story, he highlighted four key lessons learned:
Lesson #1: Invite your customers along
âBe targeted in your objectives,â Roger advised. âThink about what you want to accomplish, how and why.â With a firm grounding in those objectives, decisions along the journey come easier. That was the case for SafetyChain when it came time to decide how to manage customersâ requests for feature parity.
âWe had this app that did a lot but in many cases was too complicated,â Roger explained. So some features had to be simplified. Yet communicating that to customers who had become familiar with these features was a challenge. âWe had to show customers the tradeoff â the other benefits theyâd get with the new product.â
SafetyChainâs management team had to share the vision of what the product could be and do. Still, some of their customers needed old system features that were a lower priority on the new version. âWe had to say âThatâs okay; we will support our legacy system until we have functional parity. Some customers re-evaluated their needs and changed their approach.â Roger explained, âWe had to work with our customers on those tough decisions.â
âWe had to show customers the tradeoff â the other benefits
theyâd get with the new product.â
Lesson #2: Doing it all at once is the right approach in certain circumstances
The product modernization journey does not have pre-defined steps. There is no one starting line and finishing line; it all depends on where you are at today and what your needs are. It also depends on whether youâre going to go all in and do every aspect of product modernization all at once, or take a more incremental approach.
Roger explained that when he came to SafetyChain, his previous modernization experience had been incremental change. At SafetyChain, the team made the opposite decision. âWe decided we would take the âBig Bangâ approach rather than incrementally modernize,â Roger explained. âWe had a small enough number of customers it made sense to just bite the bullet and do it right from the beginning.â
It was the right decision, but a huge decision. âBold and scary.â
Looking back, Roger is glad they took the all-at-once approach. âIt was a tough year but Iâm glad we did it the way we did it, that we took all our pain and challenges up front. Iâve done it the other way too and thatâs 10 years worth of slow, steady pain.â
And on the upside, in relatively short order SafetyChain built a great platform that customers love.
âWe had a small enough number of customers it made sense
to just bite the bullet and do it right from the beginning.â
Lesson#3: Hire a development partner
Hiring a development partner was never really a question for the SafetyChain team, who had just 18 months from when they began the effort to when they planned the initial release. As Roger explained, âThere was no way we were going to hire all the people we needed to get the job done in the time span we had. We needed a partner to get the team and skills and ramp it up.â
The challenge came in part because they were looking to innovate with emerging technologies. âWe said âLetâs not build this the way we built the last generation. Letâs look at emerging technologies. Letâs look at microservices, event-driven architecture, etc.â But guess what? All thatâs new. A lot of folks hadnât done that before, hadnât run into all the subtle intricacies that can bring to a project.â
And thatâs where the development partner â Xoriant â came in. âXoriant had folks lined up to work on this project because it was exciting, new, greenfield tech,â Roger said. (And itâs true.)
âThere was no way we were going to hire all the people we
needed to get the job done in the time span we had.â
Lesson #4: Donât Panic
Having begun the modernization initiative in June of 2014, SafetyChain released its new product on schedule in January of 2016. AndâŠit didnât quite work as expected. âThis was our âDonât Panicâ moment,â Roger explained. âAs with all new technology, we had made assumptions that didnât quite pan out the way we thought they would. Challenges arose that we hadnât counted on.â
But the SafetyChain team remained committed to the all-at-once approach. âWe reevaluated. What was working? What wasnât?â Then they rolled up their sleeves and set to work improving the areas that needed it. It was a team effort, not only IT but the rest of the company, too. âCustomer success teams had to work closely to support our customers,â Roger said.
It took some effort, but SafetyChain worked through the challenges. âCustomers are happy and we are seeing the benefit of what we had done,â Roger said. Lesson learned: Modernization is a journey, not a destination. And it always takes longer than you think it will.
âIt was tough, but the most worthwhile endeavors always are.â
In the endâŠ
The always-tough, sometimes-painful journey of product modernization was well worthwhile, Roger said. âIt transformed not only our technology but the whole business. Weâre proud of the product we built. Weâre proud of the impact to our customers. Itâs exciting to hear a customer say âI made this form myself and now itâs being used in the field. Iâve got amazing reports, charts, and graphs that I can share with my management team that before took weeks and now they have them immediately.ââ
Through modernization, SafetyChain has doubled its customer base and cut IT costs in half. It was tough, but the most worthwhile endeavors always are.
Request our e-book to get to know the six stages in the Product Modernization journey, including key drivers for each stage, what to expect when you get there and key questions to ask before you go: A Comprehensive Guide To Product Modernization