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Rethink Before Rebuilding

Why taking advantage of new technology requires rethinking

Over the years we’ve worked on a number of projects where the goal was to rewrite an existing system to take advantage of new technologies, hardware platforms, and so on.

On the surface it seems easy.  The client invariably says something along the lines of:  “Just take what we have now and rewrite it for the web.”  The same applies to cloud computing and mobile apps.

The flaw with this approach is that the way “what we have now” works and the way the web works are fundamentally different.  For example, a typical web application allows customers to log into the system, place orders, check status, update payment information and so on.  The customer is a first class participant in the way the system works.  On the other hand, the “what we have now” system is only used by internal staff.  There is no concept of customer roles, permissions, and work flows. 

The first step in taking advantage of a new technology is to rethink how your customers will interact with the new system.  Step into your customer’s shoes and approach your business from their perspective.  What are they trying to accomplish?  What information do they need to make a decision?  How do they want to be notified of progress or problems?  What is the right level of detail to share with the customer?  They probably don’t want to know how the sausage is made; they just want to buy the finished product.

Now repeat the same exercise for the different user roles within your company.  Focus on the needs of the individual roles.  The executive, finance manager, and production manager all have very different needs.

If you skip the rethinking exercise your new system will not be as good as it could be.  You’ll miss the opportunity to delight your customers and your business won’t reap the full benefit of your investment in new technology.