Architecture

Technical Architecture & Roadmapping

Planning Digital Products that Perform at the Highest Levels by leveraging the Cloud and Hybrid Platforms

Building better Customer & Employee experiences is more than just the strategy, but also about whether you have the right systems & stack to enable them.

what we do
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Digital transformations are, by their very nature, complex. There are multiple moving parts, integrated processes and technologies.

We employ modular approaches to digital ecosystems so that a business can flexibly evolve their experiences without being tied to legacy platforms longer than necessary. In simplest terms, our Digital Architects evaluate a number of factors to help businesses decide what technology investments to make and how to appropriately stitch them together.

The current market has a dizzying number of new technologies, feature-sets & pricepoints. What's critical in enabling digital transformation is finding the right mix of investments that align with your organizational growth plans.

The Future of Technology Architecture Roadmapping

Gone are the days of uni-directional technology planning. Business objectives change at the drop of a hat as industry competition accelerates. To beat this, the future of technology architectures comes in the form of developing modular plans that don't have a single-point-of-failure, but rather, are resilient and able to branch in different directions based on shifting priorities

What Makes Icreon's Approach Unique?

Most technology planning focuses on the technology within a business, which we see as only one part of the solution. Whether it's mar-tech, infrastructure or ops-tech, the most critical aspects to the right architecture and roadmap are the people and the processes in place to manage it. Without the right personnel, any future-facing architecture is prone to eventual hacks, short-cuts & dilution.

To combat this, we design fluid architectural principals that enable different parts of a business or organization to adopt them based on their digital maturity. This approach gives business units and departments a 'sliding-scale' so that they can adopt recommendations at the appropriate pace for their needs. This level of customization gives department heads and business units the flexibility needed to focus on their short-term priorities, while giving a directional north star to turn towards.

Speak to one of our Solution Architects
thoughts

Whenever we're engaging on a technology road-mapping initiative, these are the baselines to think about

Thoughts and Considerations

ROI-Focused

Defining roadmaps against short, medium & long-term goals

Personnel

Identifying how personnel needs to grow, transform & evolve for the future

Processes

Outlining consistent methods to driving organizational change

Technologies

Developing benchmarks that ensure platforms meet business SLAs

Future-Readiness

Foreseeing how current investments scale to meet tomorrow's demands

Time-to-Value

Estimating accurately how fast organizations can realize value from their digital ecosystem

AWS
Azure
Camunda
Docker
Forrester
Gartner
Google Cloud
ISO
JIRA
Kubernetes
VSTS
Watson

Tools & Frameworks we leverage in order to build out scalable Technology Roadmaps with businesses

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dive
deeper

Why Your Software RFP Won't Solve Your Architecture Problems

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How Tech Audits can Prevent Project Disasters

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Enterprise Applications Can, and Should Be, Simplified

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Features are Highjacking Enterprise Software - How to Take it Back

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Why Your Software RFP Won't Solve Your Architecture Problems

Request For Proposal (RFP) is a powerful document. By publicly soliciting bids on your software development project, you can get price quotes from a variety of IT firms. And of course, your RFP can be very carefully written to ensure that your every demand is met, and to lay out the measures that will be used to assess the final product once it has been delivered. Ideally, the RFP is a relatively quick way of finding the best and/or lowest bidder who can solve your problem by helping you write some software.

But ideals rarely become reality, and the RFP is not a magic bullet that will solve your software development woes. In fact, it’s an often-misused tool that can lead companies down inefficient, wasteful paths—and sometimes leave them stuck in bed with the wrong partners.

The biggest problem with RFPs is that there’s often a difference between what you think you need and what you actually need, both in the sense of the short-term systemic needs of your software and the long-term strategic needs of your business. Companies that see a problem and immediately issue an RFP are skipping a crucial step in the software development process: discovery.

The discovery process in software is a bit like the discovery process in law in that it’s about studying the situation and all the evidence before the action (the trial or the software development) begins. Lawyers go through discovery so that they can go into a trial knowing exactly what they’re facing, having reviewed all of the evidence that’s out there and thought through how it can be best used to support their case. Companies with software development needs should be doing the same thing: going through discovery before development begins in order to assess their own needs, planning out the software development roadmap, and ensuring that those plans align correctly with the company’s broader strategic vision.

Software discovery is typically broken down into two basic steps. The first step is to identify the problem and the specific needs the development project needs to address. This might include reviewing your company data, talking to management, and even interviewing customers (none of which is possible in the confines of the RFP bidding system). Once these needs are identified, they must be analyzed with a view towards the development pipeline: what specific features will need to be written? How will they interact with each other? What will the completed solution that includes all of the necessary features look and function like? Only when these questions are thoroughly answered can proper development begin.

One reason companies often shy away from discovery is that it can seem expensive because the up-front costs come with no guaranteed end product. But in actuality, going through discovery is probably cheaper than skipping it. You might pay for an IT contractor to do the discovery process only to learn that you don’t really need what you thought you did. Having paid that $5,000 up front won’t hurt nearly as much as it will if you realize the custom software you asked for in your RFP doesn’t really solve your problem after you’ve shelled out $500,000 to have it developed.

Discovery Process

Discovery can be a useful tool for discovering whether or not you’ve really made the right match with your IT contractor, too.

When a software company is going through the discovery process with you, you’ll be in close contact with the key members of their team that would head up your project’s development. If that’s not a good match, it’s much better to have learned that up front, when you’ve sunk a relatively small amount into the development, rather than discovering after paying in full that you’re stuck with a partner you don’t like.

Another problem with relying on an RFP to generate bids for a project is that the responses to the RFP don’t actually tell you what company will do the best job with your development task. What they tell you is which companies are best at writing RFP bids. Many firms that respond to RFPs have a dedicated writing team that puts their bids together, meaning that the developers who’ll actually be working on your project may not have seen any details or had any input whatsoever into the bid you’re seeing. What looks like the best bid to you may be a reflection of that firm’s skilled writing team, not their ability to solve your problem.

Then, there’s the danger of the temptation to go with the lowest bidder when you start the development process by trying to determine the bottom line. Obviously, budgetary constraints are a factor in any development project and they need to be taken into account. But when you start with the price, the pull of lower prices can be strong, despite the fact that they often mean working with second-rate teams and could ultimately mean a longer, less successful development process for your project.

It certainly isn’t as quick and easy as issuing an RFP, but companies with software outsourcing needs would be well advised to avoid the easy path and take the time to look for true partners, not just the lowest bidder. Getting referrals, researching online, having honest-to-god conversations with the folks at potential vendor firms—these things take time and effort, but the end result will likely be a better match.

The discovery process can be used as a dry run; a test of sorts to determine both how well this vendor works for you and precisely what you need to hire this vendor to do. It’s more effort and more up-front cost, but in the long run you may save money, and you’re far more likely to end up with a software solution that actually solves the problems you set out to solve.

How Tech Audits can Prevent Project Disasters

Are you looking for a way to improve the use of software within your organization? Or are you worried about the risks and uncertainties involved with investing in a custom software project? Many C-Level executives in Fortune 500 companies as well as emerging startups are dealing with these issues and more. And an IT audit may be the most effective way to prevent budget overruns and lackluster end products.

Many software projects suffer from budget overruns and delayed timelines that end up drastically impacting the value of the software. Over 65% of projects exceed budgets. More than 30% miss their deadlines. And a surprising 17% of companies receive less value from their software than originally predicted.

Some projects veer off course so badly that they can threaten the very existence of the company. One large retailer began a $1.4 billion effort to modernize its IT systems, only to see the project abandoned within a few years. As the company fell behind its competitors, it launched a $600 million project to update its supply chain management software. When that effort also went off rails, the retailer had to file for bankruptcy.

In order to avoid and minimize the potential risks and obstacles associated with software projects, IT audits must be a core aspect of the process. Prior to any development, coding, or design, IT audits can safeguard software projects from preexisting issues in the business as well as common pitfalls.

Uncovering Hidden Pitfalls

Many software projects fail because of issues related to poor planning, unclear requirements, project complexity, and poor organizational environment. Seemingly boilerplate aspects of a project are essential to executing an impactful software implementation. Even the largest corporations can fall victim to poor planning.

SAP was slapped with a lawsuit by the California State Controller over a payroll software implementation. The office stated that the project cost taxpayers a vast sum of money without providing any sign working correctly. Some of the issues that led to the failure could have been easily avoided with a thorough IT audit and organizational assessment.
Planning and coordination is critical to a project’s success because poor planning leads to unclear milestones, over-ambitious objectives, and insufficient resources. Understanding the pain points of an existing system and becoming knowledgeable of the way users currently interact with software, is crucial to building something that workers will use to drive efficiency.

IT teams need to have project objectives agreed upon by all stakeholders in order to ensure proper delegation of responsibilities. Following this systematic approach insulates your project from changes in senior management, stakeholder politics and an unstable organizational environment. Even the BBC has suffered from failed software projects. During a project involved with the Digital Media Initiative, a British broadcast engineering project from 2008, the BBC announced a major failure: “DMI did not work and we must ensure that there can be no repeat of a failure of this scale”.

Organizations must put in place the right controls and measures to ensure delivery of major infrastructure projects. IT audits do this job quite effectively by providing timely reports on risk identification, assessment, and mitigation.

Transforms Operations

Many businesses are locked into legacy systems and applications and their system upgrades become a nightmare for project managers. IT audits help in delivering such projects by conducting thorough feasibility study, systems analysis, and post implementation review. IT professionals know that 80 percent of the costs and timespent on a software system, over its life cycle, occur after implementation.

Audit reviews result in significant cost savings by checking the system adequacy for the maintenance phase. The rapid pace of technology change makes an IT audit a critical component for risk management and corporate oversight. Small measures of prevention have the ability to identify and alleviate potentially devastating software stumbles. By utilizing audit reports, businesses can receive valuable insight that helps identify solutions to address current and future technology challenges.

IT audits by an independent and impartial firm are a cost effective solution for successfully delivering software projects. Make sure to inquire about audit frameworks, tools, and methodology employed by an audit firm in order to truly identify potential obstacles.

Enterprise Applications Can, and Should Be, Simplified

Business users have high expectations when it comes to enterprise software applications. They're spending hours every week on their high-end smartphones like the iPhone and the Samsung Galaxy. Each of those devices boast fluid applications that are miles ahead of the majority of enterprise applications out there.

Analysts and industry thought leaders refer to this trend as ‘The Consumerization of IT', where consumer technology is driving new standards in enterprise technology. Blackberry, once the darling of the enterprise, is close to going under while Apple devices like the iPad and iPhone are becoming crucial tools for business users.

Even more important than the hardware used in the enterprise are the software applications used to augment processes and drive efficiency. Businesses hoping to invigorate the enterprise software powering their operations, should attend to key areas in order to develop applications that are actually used by employees.

Gartner stated that enterprise software spending will grow by 6.8% to $320 billion in 2014. With such a drive to revitalize applications for business users, there will undoubtedly be some failed implementations. But by keeping the following trends in mind, companies can ensure the success and productivity gains associated with well-designed enterprise software.

Look to the Consumer Space

One of the most successful enterprise software companies in recent years is Workday, a company specializing in Human Resources applications, that look and feel like a consumer app. Their apps are hosted in the cloud and are developed with a strong mobile first strategy. Workday filed a successful IPO last year and was valued at over $9.8 billion. The company serves as a sign of things to come for enterprise software.

Ideally, companies should look to Workday as an example of the ideal approach to enterprise software. Mobile, cloud and intuitively designed user interfaces (UI) are central to their success. Many of these trends originally took off in the consumer space thanks to the Apple App Store and Google Play Store, where millions of applications are downloaded and used billions of times a year.

Enterprise software development projects should look to the designers and developers behind some of the world’s most popular apps: Evernote, Facebook, LinkedIn and a myriad of popular To-Do List and scheduling apps. Business users are also consumers of technology, and they carry those experiences into the office whether IT teams like it or not.
Business users require easy to use, consumer friendly applications that accomplish tasks faster than analog processes.

Develop with a Mobile First Mentality

Countless analysts have predicted the rise of a Post-PC era in technology, where a majority of people use smartphones and tablets to access the Internet and compute. While this realization has yet to materialize completely, the trend towards greater mobile web traffic and rising smartphone shipments does substantiate the forecast.

With this trend in mind, companies must approach a customer enterprise software project with a mobile first mindset. Developing with a mobile device and touch screens in mind, can translate directly to corresponding web applications. When you develop in HTML5 for instance, the web application can be hosted in the cloud and accessed by any laptop, smartphone or tablet, with no need to download.

Over 25% of web traffic now stems from mobile devices and this global trend serves to highlight the growing needs of business users. Business users are interacting with their smartphones for hours a day and as a result the average person is much more tech-savvy than in previous years. With people expecting flawless software experiences up-to-par with their consumer apps, enterprises must prioritize mobile experiences as well.

Web Applications and Data in the Cloud

Thanks in part to the proliferation of smartphones and tablets, web development teams have begun to build web applications that are hosted in the cloud and accessible from almost any device type. Using HTML5, enterprises can create everything from customer relationship management (CRM) apps to light-weight apps for requesting time off and vacation days. Not only are these types of enterprise apps accessible from any device, they are also light-weight and come with offline capabilities.

Although we like to think that the entire world is connected at all times from any location, the fact is that there are multiple scenarios where a business person can lose signal. To avoid complications, companies can develop web applications that also allow for offline storage of reports. Not worrying about access to data is crucial for created simplified apps that deliver. Some apps are even designed to periodically store the latest reports and data insights every three hours to avoid any lack of access.

When a company develops a cloud based web application, the data stemming from that app can also be saved to a cloud drive (like Microsoft One Drive, Dropbox, or Google Drive). Resting in the cloud, such enterprise web applications can avoid placing heavy data loads on a mobile device. In addition, the important business data needed for operations can be accessible even if an employee leaves their laptop at home.

Mobile First, Attention to UI, and Embracing Web Applications
Business users will desire enterprise software tools that live up to the consumer apps they use every day. With these tips in mind, businesses can excel at developing custom enterprise applications that optimize processes and increase engagement from employees.

Features are Highjacking Enterprise Software - How to Take it Back

Enterprise software has never been known for being photogenic. Run a quick Google Image search, and you’ll find it extremely difficult to find screenshots of a CRM or an ERP platform. Instead, what you get are word clouds about software features, vague flowcharts and brand logos.

Many would blame the nondescript, blocky nature of enterprise software for this problem, but I see it differently.
Wordclouds and flowcharts are not a solution for ugly enterprise software, but are instead a symptom of one of the biggest issues plaguing enterprise software development today—an issue that I call “Feature Thinking."

In the past, when we’ve thought about what differentiates business software, we would think in terms of features. Features are a great way of quantifying the value of a product, but they can actually harm a software project when used as an end goal. Why? Because people don’t use software for its features. Good enterprise software should be more than the sum of its parts.

If I wanted to sell a beautiful, rustic brick house, I would never try to sell it by posting pictures of adobe slabs or panes of glass or roof shingles—even if the shingles were made of state-of-the-art material. More importantly, I would never let my materials dictate the way I decide to build the house. Just as homeowners want a place that complements their lifestyle, end users want software that makes their job easier. In the grand scheme of things, the bricks don’t matter, the shingles don’t matter, and the features don’t matter. Only the benefits of the final product matter.

When we see these vague wordclouds and flowcharts that are supposed to communicate the value of enterprise software, what we’re really seeing are lists of features. That’s why they’re ineffective, and that’s why we need a different approach to software development that doesn’t prioritize feature fulfillment.

The answer here lies in "Design Thinking:" A process which eschews Feature Thinking and seeks first to determine the wants of the end user. By keeping user desires as a guiding light, Design Thinking allows developers to create products that are both helpful and intuitive.

In 2007, Intuit implemented the ideals of Design Thinking in their "Design for Delight" approach. With a focus on customer empathy, a “broad-to-narrow” approach, and iteration with customers, this user-based methodology has been a part of their development process ever since. In addition to new visual improvements, Intuit has gone so far as to track user eye movements and heat maps in order to improve overall experience.

Another big player in the enterprise software space, Infor, is putting a heavy focus on Design Thinking through its "in-house creative think tank" called Hook & Loop.

In keeping with their mission statement to “create experiences people love,” Hook & Loop does away with flowcharts and stock imagery. Instead, they rely on photos of clean UI elements and high production-value videos to demonstrate their design-oriented development approach. While intuition dictates that IT professionals want features above all else; Hook & Loop wagers that functionality and usability take precedent over that desire. Using photos and design, they demonstrate their ability to create software that fulfills those desires.

Hook & Loop’s approach isn’t successful just because it looks nice. On the contrary, their software and website look nice because they hold user functionality and design clarity above all else. The experience is meant to feel comfortable to the end user, rather than communicating raw feature competence.
The most intriguing facet of Design Thinking is that it blurs the line between product design and product functionality. In some ways, it can be more difficult to create a product using this methodology because it requires a deep understanding of what the user wants, and then requires the foresight and execution to fulfill those wants in software form.

In my experience, Design Thinking offers some of the best solutions to deal with the current realities of software development. Every time we at Icreon have focused first on what the end user wants, we’ve been able to come up with more innovative, more useful ideas that ultimately speak for themselves. What’s best is that this approach is flexible, and works in small and medium-sized business settings just as well as it works in the enterprise setting. By ditching the idea of features and specs as an end goal and implementing Design Thinking, businesses can kill two birds with one stone: They create software that is intuitive, and which also translates smoothly into a visual setting.

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