NOTE: This article is from the foreword to the new 2nd Edition of The Art of Scalability by Marty Abbott and Michael Fisher.  I’m reprinting it here because quite a few people have written me asking how to get their old-style company to start behaving more like a modern technology-powered business.

Perhaps your company began as a brick-and-mortar retailer, or an airline, or a financial services company.

A retailer creates (or buys) technology to coordinate and manage inventory, distribution, billing, and point of sale systems. An airline creates technology to manage the logistics involved in flights, crews, reservations, payment, and fleet maintenance. A financial services company creates technology to manage its customers’ assets and investments.

But over the past several years, almost all of these companies, as well as their counterparts in nearly every other industry, have realized that to remain competitive, they need to take their use of technology to an entirely different level—they now need to engage directly with their customers.

Every industry is being reshaped by technology.  If they hope to maintain their place as competitive, viable enterprises, companies have no choice but to embrace technology, often in ways that go well beyond their comfort zone.

For example, most retailers now find they need to sell their goods directly to consumers online.  Most airlines are trying very hard to entice their customers to purchase their air travel online directly through the airline’s site.  And nearly all financial services companies work to enable their customers to manage assets and trade directly via their real-time financial sites.

Unfortunately, many of these companies are trying to manage this new customer-facing and customer-enabling technology in the same way they manage their internal technology. The result is that many of these companies have very broken technology and provide terrible customer experiences. Even worse, they don’t have the organization, people, or processes in place to improve them.

What companies worldwide are discovering is that there is a very profound difference between utilizing technology to help run your company, and leveraging technology to provide your actual products and services directly for your customers. It also explains why “technology transformation” initiatives are popping up at so many legacy companies.

This book is all about this necessary transformation. Such a transformation represents a shift in organization, people, process, and especially culture, and scalability is at the center of this transformation:

  • Scaling from hundreds of your employees using your technology, to millions of your customers depending on your technology
  • Scaling from a small IT cost-center team serving their colleagues in finance and marketing, to a substantial profit-center technology team serving your customers
  • More generally, scaling your people, processes, and technology to meet the demands of a modern technology-powered business

But why is technology for your customers so different, and so much more difficult to manage, than technology for your employees?   Several reasons:

  • You pay your employees to work at your company and use the technology you tell them they need to use.  In contrast, every customer makes his or her own purchase decision—and if she doesn’t want it, she won’t use it.  Your customers must choose to use your technology.
  • With your own employees, you can get away with requiring training courses, reading manuals, or holding their hands if necessary. In contrast, if your customers can’t figure out how to use your technology, they are just a click away from your competitor.
  • For internal technology, we measure scale and simultaneous usage in the hundreds of users. For our customers, that scope increases to hundreds of thousands or very often millions of users.
  • With internal technology, if a problem arises with the technology, the users are your employees and they are forced to deal with it. For your customers, an issue such as an outage immediately disrupts revenue streams, usually gets the attention of the CEO, and sometimes even draws the notice of the press.

The harsh truth is that most customer technology simply has a dramatically higher bar set in terms of the definition, design, implementation, testing, deployment, and support than is necessary with most internal technology.

For most companies, establishing a true customer technology competency is the single most important thing for them to be doing to ensure their survival, yet remarkably some of them don’t even realize they have a problem. They assume that “technology is technology” and the same people who managed their enterprise resource planning implementation shouldn’t have too much trouble getting something going online.

If your company is in need of this transformation, then this book is essential reading. It provides a proven blueprint for the necessary change.

Marty and Michael have been there and done that with most of the technology industry’s leading companies. I have known and worked with both of these guys for many years. They are not management consultants who could barely launch a brochure site. They are hands-on leaders who have spent decades in the trenches with their teams creating technology-powered businesses serving hundreds of millions of users and customers. They are the best in the world at what they do, and this new edition is a goldmine of information for any technology organization working to raise its game.

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