When is self-service technology right for your business?

Software architects today have a lot to think about when developing a technology platform. They face choices about if and how to integrate new technologies such as IoT and AI, whether to store data locally or in the cloud, and how to best protect their assets against countless security threats. And every choice has to be made with a view of what’s best for the business not just today, but in the future. Embracing technology to meet short-term needs could make it harder to innovate and thrive down the road.

At Cimpress, we learned the hard way that a centralised, one-size-fits-all technology approach wasn’t the best way to support our 12 e-commerce businesses. After trying – and failing – to impose a monolithic platform that worked for the entire company, we pivoted to a modular approach that allowed each business to pick and choose the technologies and capabilities that made the most sense for their individual markets and customers. The upshot? Our businesses are now faster to market with new products, more efficient, and closer to their customers.

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So how did we get to where we are today? We knew a centrally-mandated technology platform wasn’t right for our businesses. So, we decided to break down our central technology platform into smaller components, each with a different service and offering. This took many years to complete and we weren’t quite sure how to best implement it at first to serve our businesses and its customers.

At first, we imposed a comprehensive adoption model on our businesses, but this decision had major implications on our businesses from it being overkill for some and not meeting the needs of others. Ultimately, it wasn’t right for us or our businesses.

Instead, we’d take our modular platform in a different direction and enable our businesses to select from a self-service “store” of technology components to best suit their specific business needs. We’d also encourage our businesses to innovate on their own, while still providing guidelines around APIs, performance standards and other things to ensure interoperability. This way, our businesses can leverage our large scale capabilities without the constraints of a strict technology infrastructure holding them back.

Today, Cimpress’ businesses can select from a wide range of technology services to better meet customer objectives. With this self-service technology model, our businesses can choose from a variety of services from enabling them to connect to the Cimpress logistics network to adding a user interface (UI) element to their website that shows customers what a product will look like with their logo on it. It’s completely up to them and what best suits their customers’ needs.

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Start by identifying core business values

So, what’s the best technology platform and engagement model for your business? Well, that depends. As mentioned above, each business is unique with different customers, business models, and business needs. Companies need to know their business inside and out first to make this decision. Start by asking yourself what is most important to your business: consistency or flexibility? Businesses that are more traditionally integrated with well-defined product lines that serve homogeneous sets of customers may find that a more centralised approach is best for their specific business needs.

On the other hand, businesses like Cimpress, with a diverse portfolio of sub-brands or operating units – all with different product lines, customer segments and competitors – a one-size-fits-all solution may not be the best or most appropriate model. Instead, providing these types of businesses with the building blocks of a self-service technology platform to more efficiently meet their customers’ needs will ultimately enable them to be more nimble and competitive.

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This is an important decision to make, as Cimpress has learned over the years. So, the earlier that companies can address the question of technology centralisation versus decentralisation, the better. Because building a comprehensive technology platform can be complicated and expensive, making the wrong decision for your business can be a waste of money and time and could even put the business in jeopardy. Before making a decision, make sure to start and end with the goal of better serving customers.

Our self-service approach to technology has provided greater overall flexibility, innovation and organic cooperation across all of our businesses. This has allowed our portfolio of businesses to better serve their own customers, which is reflected in each individual business’ growth, as well as our company growth as a whole.

Written by Maarten Wensveen, CTO at Cimpress

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