Unification Platforms – Super Apps for the Enterprise

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Solving the problem of fragmented customer and employee experiences 

TL; DR 

While SaaS changed the game for businesses that rely on software systems by easing access to advanced systems and processes, it also introduced significant fragmentation of executive, customer, and employee engagements. Creating a custom system of engagement, i.e., a platform that unifies the fragmented SaaS systems of record, can significantly reduce friction and develop a consistent digital experience across the business. Such a unified platform also gives you tremendous flexibility to switch your underlying systems of record as new capabilities become available while retaining consistent user engagement. The ROI for this type of strategy is further enhanced as the API economy continues to make progress. 

Software development platforms disguised as ‘apps’ 

Brief History 

  • Companies started with a lot of individual programs for each department. Became unwieldy. Duplication of logic and effort across departments. Created silos. 
  • Then came the ERP, centralized but super expensive. These were the ‘Super apps’ of the past that claimed to do it all as a one-stop-shop. Became inflexible. Complex and costly to customize to the unique needs of companies. 
  • Then the SaaS – back to breaking it up, less expensive, but going back to being unwieldy. SaaS arrived with the promise of ‘No software.’ Now you are left with ‘More Software’ in your landscape.  

History repeats, with each department now able to quickly buy SaaS software to fit their specific needs and be in the cycle of buying while also trying new tools instead of focusing on what is essential.  Most companies realize that buying SaaS software is easy but delegating your user experience (customers and employees) diminishes the uniqueness of their business. 

Today’s trends – Our observations 

SaaS introduced a revolutionary way of buying and consuming software. It allowed innovation to thrive, and we have a fantastic array of SaaS software to pick from for our use cases. On the flip side, we now have a paradox of choice, and a side effect of that is the fragmentation of customer and employee experience. Users now must figure out how to use multiple software platforms with varied user experiences.  

A typical business has at least 16 software platforms they buy and use. According to a study1, less than 45% of the features of the SaaS platforms are used. SaaS platforms are designed and developed for multiple use cases in mind and with the presumption of embedded best practices. However, this does not consider the uniqueness of your business and what you have to offer to your customers and users. 

  • Emerging paradigms of SaaS platforms: 
  • Try and be everything to everyone (e.g., Salesforce). 
  • Specialized apps that do one thing well (Dropbox) 
  • Functional super apps that bring together functionally connected features on one platform (e.g., Gusto for payroll, but evolving into an HR platform) 
  • Everyone has an app store. 

SaaS platforms usually start by solving one problem and solve that well. With the saturation of features for that problem, they are now expanding into other ‘connected problems,’ which others have already solved or are attempting to solve. Dropbox started as a file-sharing platform and is now transforming into a ‘collaboration platform,’ but that has already been solved by Slack, Microsoft Teams, Google Workspace, and many others.  

The ‘forced bundling’ of features by large SaaS companies means users must contend with some good and some sub-par features. Users end up paying for features they don’t use because they don’t work and pay again to use the feature of their choice. This also means fragmented, disintermediated, and fractured user experiences.  

This introduces significant inefficiencies in the toolset a business needs to do what they do best. They are now wrestling with a myriad of choices and waste time with tools instead of focusing on their business. 

Companies survived the 20th century by creating more problem statements to differentiate using the tools and technology. We believe that companies that control their technological destinies and create differentiated digital experiences for their users will emerge as winners in the 21st century.  

Solution – Building your differentiators. 

The emergence of robust API2 ecosystems is putting the power of controlling the user experiences into the hands of businesses. Businesses that understand and use this to their advantage position themselves uniquely to capture more of their market.  

And learning from many of the digital-native startups, company after company is realizing they have to build, not buy, their digital future.

Jeff Lawson, “Ask Your Developer,” Harper Business

Smart SaaS platforms understand this and expose their key features using APIs, i.e., ‘developer interfaces.’ Companies that can use this power supply chain of APIs to build and deliver unique customer and employee experiences will supercharge their growth. This is especially true for small and medium enterprises because of their uniqueness to the market.  

When picking SaaS platforms, most businesses look at ‘what’ the platform can do (i.e., features) and don’t pay attention to ‘how’ it accomplishes the job (i.e., user experience). However, the user experience is what matters. Users care about how easy it is to turn on the light with the flip of a switch instead of thinking about how the electrons travel thousands of miles at that very moment they turn the switch on.

Nevertheless, companies must resist the urge to overdo this strategy. If you are not an HR services company, e.g., and you don’t have a vast HR org, then you can use SaaS for your HR needs. If that means your HR employees must refer to multiple applications, so be it, but there are two situations where you need it. 

1. When it is core to the business – where you need to build differentiation – think what supply chain means to Amazon. Quote (‘you cannot buy your way to differentiation’) 

2. When you have a significant cost of operations / large group of employees for a particular function, making each of them slightly more productive leads to substantial cost savings. 

Creating super apps for your business using a build + buy strategy means you control the user experience, and you don’t delegate your uniqueness to SaaS platforms. Intelligently using the fantastic innovations of SaaS platforms to build your differentiation is a smart strategy.  

Today, there are over 3.5M Android apps and over 2M IOS apps for the consumer market. However, companies like Grab, Paytm, WeChat, and others have evolved into super apps, making it a one-stop-shop for users to get what they need. In most instances, this is the one app that most users need.  

The same applies to enterprises as well.  The digital interface for your customers and employees matters when differentiating your business, achieving efficiency, and using fantastic tech to supercharge your growth. Think Airbnb and Uber. 

How to get started? 

  1. Inventory the current platforms you use. This step alone will reveal what your customers and employees are contending with.   
  1. SaaS introduced a revolutionary way of buying and consuming software. It allowed innovation to thrive, and we have an amazing array of SaaS software to pick from for our use cases. On the flip side, we now have a paradox of choice, and a side effect of that is the fragmentation of customer and employee experience. Users now must figure out how to use multiple software platforms with varied user experiences.  
  1. A typical business has at least 16 software platforms they buy and use. According to a study3, less than 45% of the features of the SaaS platforms are used. SaaS platforms are designed and developed for multiple use cases in mind and with the presumption of embedded best practices. However, this does not consider the uniqueness of your business and what you have to offer your customers and users. 
  1. Identify key interaction points for your users. This will uncover opportunities for your business to differentiate and provide the customer and employee experiences you want. 
  1. Use a piggyback strategy 
  1. Decide if you like one SaaS platform in terms of the user experience, and determine if that platform has the capabilities to become your super app 
  1. Does the SaaS platform have an app store? 
  1. Does the SaaS platform have APIs? 
  1. Does the SaaS platform allow rebranding of their user interface? 
  1. If the answer to these questions is ‘yes,’ you can use that SaaS platform as your primary platform and build everything else around it.  
  1. With this approach, you will have to contend with vendor lock-in, and your switch costs will be high in case you want to move to another platform 
  1. Use a build + buy strategy 
  1. An alternate strategy is to build your user interface using the backend features (i.e., the APIs) to create the user experiences you want.  
  1. You will build your façade on top of these robust SaaS platforms. 
  1. You can swap out the SaaS platform without affecting or changing the user experience 

Watch the webinar on how our client used this strategy successfully 


Conclusion 

In a futuristic world, all you will need is a chat or a voice interface 4to get your job done. They act like digital assistants that help navigate the complex backend technologies. Until then, unification platforms, i.e., super apps will be the first step for enterprises to control their user experiences without delegating their user experiences.  

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