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Part 5: Impact of digital communities

part of blog series
Why cloud business applications will change your custom build application development

 

Mostly custom build application development in organizations is organized around applications or development skills. But for cloud development, this should be changed. In part 1 of this blog series, I explained why cloud vendors want you and your organizations to think about custom build applications development on a cloud platform. In parts 2, 3 and 4 I focus on the freedom of programming languages, freedom of user interface devices and freedom of business logic and business services. In this blog, I will focus on the impact of digital communities.

Digital community network

Digital community networks supported with social media applications are the new way how companies should interact with their customers, business partners and employees in a digital world. By adding IoT devices to your product, you can directly collect and share data and provide services even without knowing the end-user upfront in your distribution and supply chain. By collecting information about transport and storage, you get insight about your supply chain and you potentially can shorten the chain by removing business partners which don’t add value. By knowing the end-user, you can build a direct relationship and upsell more services and products. By bringing them together in a community, you can use their trust, insights, and knowledge to optimize your own business processes which will lower your costs, give predictive insights and improves the quality of your products. Influencers and connected participants within the community can be used to promote your company. Communities can be used to try-out innovations. You can share ideas in an early phase and use crowdfunding to collect pre-orders as a demand before producing. Communities will give you feedback just by talking about your company and community members will share a lot of personal information. And it will possibly allow you to change your business model from one-time product selling to recurrent product subscriptions. This change could include the way of producing products: from low-quality short lifecycle product selling to sustainable high-quality long lifecycle product rental.  Or from mass production product delivery at one location to localized personal design 3d printing.

This is why digital communities will become a key asset of the company. Building a community network or participate in an existing one should be a top priority of the digital transformation strategies of a company.

But can this also be true for companies, which will produce raw materials or semi-finished products? For companies that are in the distribution chain like exporter, importer, warehouse, distribution center or stores? Or for companies that only provide services, like financials and professional service providers? And the answer is yes.

Community entry points

Besides using IoT devices, there is another entry point for communities, which is called interest. People are like pack animals and want to communicate and share knowledge about their interests with each other. This makes it possible to build a community around a common interest. In this case, strong relationships within your community with influencers, evangelists, subject-matter experts, developer advocates, promoters and keynote presenters of events are key. It will not be the first or biggest community that will win, but the community will be able to influence the most experts. For this reason, it is also important to implement a process to create those influencing experts out of the community itself.

For companies, the importance of communities in digital transformation should be clear, but the critical question for companies is:

Can they build a community of interest outside the boundary of their own organization? If not, can they build them with partners, or should they join an existing one.

This question can only be answered by the companies themselves. And all three can be successful. In my opinion, the strategy of joining an existing one will be the most successful. People will not join every community and when they do, they will only be connected during their time of interest. You can directly make use of the strength of the community members and only have to focus on a strategy to bind or create influencing experts at your company.

Propriety Portals

But the downside of this approach is the lack of control of the community platform itself. For sharing information, this is no problem. But for direct interaction and providing digital services, this can become a problem. The community platform can restrict you in your capabilities to execute. It makes it hard to develop and support custom build applications. And it becomes even harder when you need business logic APIs from different vendors like I described in one of my previous blogs.

This is a problem for a lot of existing company/industry communities. A lot of them built their customer, vendor or industry portals. These portals are closed communities and mostly with their own user management. But also, social media communities in the past and a lot of current smaller public communities are built using this concept.

The setup of these communities isn’t focused on end-users further in the supply chain and integrate with end-user communities is mostly not possible due to the different concepts for user management and authorization.

Open Standards

The cloud application architecture solves this by using trusted identities based on open standards like OpenID, Saml2, and OAuth. A cloud platform should facilitate different ways of authentication, mostly facilitated by an identity provider (IdP). Companies can use an internal company IdP.  But with the importance of communities it’s better to make use of community-driven identities providers from Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Apple or others.

The end-user should once trust the custom build cloud application and can then use their own community user to authenticate them on the application. In reality, the cloud platform creates a platform user with authorizations. The cloud platform asks the IdP for a trusted key of the end-user and access to its personal data. Before the IdP fulfills this request of the cloud platform, it will ask the end-user to trust the application and approve the access to the personal data. Now the application on the cloud platform can use the community IdP to authenticate but will use the platform user authorizations.

After the authentication, the cloud platform should check and handover the identity. If the business logic is running on the same platform, the program will validate the identity policies in their code.  If the business logic is running external, then the platform will propagate the user identity to the external API or will call the logic using a system user. The external API will be responsible for policies and in this case, the cloud platform will act as an API proxy.

The user and access management capabilities will play a key role in the security of your business processes. The mashup of API services in your landscape can quickly introduce some data authorization lacks. Only a good application design can prevent this.

Custom build communities

The possibility to integrate the social media platforms with own cloud application through cloud web standards will have a big advantage. It can speed up building an own public custom build community around an interest. The community members will experience the community as an independent open community, facilitated by the social media platform for identification, blogs, and static media content. But using seamless redirection by linking and user propagation to your companies own cloud platform you can add services to and collect information from your target members.

This approach will lower the investments for building its own community. You don’t need to build the community from scratch but can reuse an existing community, its members and historical content. You also can contact the key influencing experts.

Community Relation Management

For custom build application departments, the strategy should mainly focus on building added value on their own cloud platform. And existing cloud capabilities of the platforms should be reused. So, the developers must be familiar with the capabilities of the social media platform and custom build cloud platform, including the user and access management capabilities.

To realize these custom build communities, the mindset and strategy of companies should also change from Customer Relation Management into Community Relation Management. And this is more than connecting a Customer Relation Management to Social Media. Community Relation Management is about building a relationship with community members who are positioned at the end of the supply chain to optimize your operational excellence, building a brand and add additional services and possible changes in your business model.

Conclusion

Digital communities will for sure have a big impact on organizations and a strategy around the integration of social media platforms. The implementation of an own community relation management strategy will be the key driver to be successful in the digital transformation of your company. Together with other key drivers, they will force companies to change their development processes.

More Info

In my blog series, you can read about the impact of the other key drivers:

  1. Freedom of program language development
  2. Freedom of user interface devices
  3. Freedom of business logic and business services
  4. Freedom of activities
  5. Transforming raw data to business-relevant information
  6. Reuse of traditional business applications

 

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