In this second installment of a three-part series, Dr. Steffen Roehn, Senior Advisor to Reliance Jio, discusses some unconventional approaches to conventional challenges that all companies face on the road to digitalization. The first article focused on the importance of people and culture to overall success. The articles originally appeared here.
I shared lessons learned about all the necessary ‘soft’ factors involved in achieving mind-blowing results as Reliance Jio did and will do in the future. Obviously, technology, architecture and work management (how to achieve results and outcome) play a major role and are more ‘classical’ ingredients of success. However, many unconventional paths have been taken:
1. Design decisions – scalability, performance, resilience, automation and a lot more
One of the strongest elements of success were solid, well thought through and stable design decisions. Building up a network for a country like India, building up a platform for many hundred million customers meant many totally new challenges. Thus, some key requirements were defined from the beginning. Amongst them were:
- The capability to acquire more than 150,000 new customers in the peak hour/1.5 million per day
- To rate more than many hundred million customers in real time
- Automate every process
- Digitize the retailer ecosystem via apps
- Run the company only by data from platforms/systems, not from manually collected data
Probably the most influential one was “digital only and mobile first” in everything we did.
These design decisions did not materially change throughout the process. They led to intense cooperation within our company as well as with the corresponding partners. Massive load testing and major adaptions of large COTS [commercial off-the-shelf]systems for the backend had to be made – with much stronger products of these partners in the end. A lot of the thought process, however, had been done by our excellent engineering teams. The implementation of design decisions were always verified by independent quality assurance who innovatively tested quality from a customer perspective.
2. Think extremely big – follow-up on the tiniest (important) details
Typically, delegation is an important principle for large organizations. However, in startups, we very often see a completely different behavior: Founders, owners and top leaders drive – guided by their conviction and insight – every detail, especially product, customer experience and technology.
Only by direct involvement and ownership of the few decision makers, can fast implementation and fast adaption happen. It is fascinating to see how this typical behavior for smaller startups scales (or does not scale) up to large organizations.
In our case, the real big thinking was done in our design ambitions, and our aspirations to exceed customers’ expectations. To successfully implement these, there was no better way than to expose all the development and partner teams to these ambitions. Only through daily reviews of progress in customer-facing platforms, ease of use, differentiation from competition, applying the approach of real internet companies (rather than telcos), were all teams aligned and given decisions, which they could immediately implement.
Also, specific focus was put on scalability, performance and resilience as well as ‘100 percent automation’ driven by our platforms. This ensured a very fast implementation as well direct impact to customers. It came at the cost of less efficiency and sometimes limited quality of the first releases. However, it ensured that after failing fast, better results were implemented within matter of days.
Obviously, this can only work if not everything is being reviewed in full-blown detail. We found success through going in-depth on the following four things:
- Customer experience – digital only/mobile first/one click
- Scalability to ensure millions of new customers per day
- 100 percent automation in all our platforms to enable a scalable model for the whole of India
- Adherence to our design decisions
3. Treat and challenge technology partners as (co-)owners of our business success
In a mission to achieve something new and never done before, there is no way of defining a comprehensive ‘requirements document’ and running a classic RFP [request for proposal]. This would not only be too lengthy, it would also not reflect the many learnings, and would massively limit the ability to react and change quickly.
So, we chose a different approach: For all pillars of our platforms we decided to work with major technology partners who have a lot to gain with our unique reference, but who would not necessarily have been the dominant player in their respective domain.
While this approach ensured maximum attention and resource mobilization of the partner, we had to assume that the technical resource pool with specific experience relevant to us would be limited. So, we had to do two things to ensure progress:
- Deploy a highly experienced technical/architectural team to drive the partner
- Manage the partner via/with its CEO
Another important element was to always identify potential competing partners and even actively ask two partners to build a solution in parallel. The latter approach in particular was extremely effective, though it wouldn’t be typical for companies to be doing that as it would be seen as wasting money. On the contrary, however, it gave substantial benefits – the final solution could be in place faster and more fit for purpose.