Most companies, in any industry, need to bring their business into the digital age. According to Kian Gould, AOE Founder & CEO, if they don’t, their long-term success, revenue streams and sustainability of their business model are threatened. We help companies in achieving this transition or, if you will, digital transformation.
What does AOE do – what problem are you solving?
We develop digital business, E-Commerce and marketplace solutions based on Open Source technologies. Our team of developers supports global companies in implementing complex enterprise software solutions. Our clients usually come to us with the aim of building digital business models – something that the public knows as “digital transformation”. The reason for this is the rapidly changing business landscape, including tough competition and increased customer expectations.
Whether we talk about B2B or B2C (we even go so far as to include “B2E” – Business-to-Employee or “B2P” – Business-to-Partner in our solutions), the way we do business has fundamentally changed, even in just the past ten years or so. Companies, partners, employees and customers communicate and carry out commerce differently. Everything is digital, people expect to be able to purchase wares or communicate with businesses online, anytime, anywhere. In addition, the channel they use is of secondary importance. Consequently, companies need to bring their business into the digital age. If they don’t, their long-term success, revenue streams and sustainability of their business model are threatened. We help companies in achieving this transition or, if you will, digital transformation.
What do organisations mean when they talk about ‘digital transformation’?
Digital transformation is more than simply building an E-Commerce platform or shop. It is about a mind-set, which must be shared by the entire organisation, as well as the appropriate processes to help in the transformation of business models that, up until now, were of a more traditional nature. When we at AOE talk about digital transformation in the sense of, “How do you transform a business model online?”, we take an Omnichannel approach. This means that, as just mentioned, we provide the solutions and platforms necessary for making communications and conducting business as simple and enjoyable as possible, i.e. we create the ultimate customer journey. This, regardless of the channel being used. It is important in this context that everything is “on the same page”. This approach does not work, for example, if my customer information is on one channel or in one database, but my product information is somewhere else – and I don’t have the possibility of synchronizing data automatically in real-time. Simply put, digital transformation is a continuous change process that fuses online and offline.
Do buzzwords hinder the work of digital transformation – or are they simply shorthand to ease communication?
A little of both. The problem with buzzwords such as “digital transformation” or “disruption” is that there generally is no agreement on the meaning of any given term. This makes talking about, for example, “digital transformation” difficult at times. This lack of an agreed-upon meaning also means that expectations between a company such as AOE and, say, a new client might be very different.
At the same time, we all need to have a common frame of reference. Otherwise, complex projects such as the ones we do for our clients become virtually impossible to do. The way we solve this paradox is to take our clients along an agile journey. At AOE, we work in an agile manner. This applies to the general business approach, day-to-day work, software development methodologies and much more. We have been successful with our agile corporate culture for many years and it has become part of the AOE DNA. We consider “Agile” essential for the successful implementation of the complex projects of our clients.
What are the biggest challenges your clients seem to face when embarking on these projects? Are there best practices to overcome them – or is every situation different?
I think one of the biggest challenges many companies have when diving into the deep end of the digital transformation pool is that they have been doing business the “traditional” way for many years. In terms of corporate culture and business organisation, this means hierarchical structures, with a top-down chain-of-command and control mechanisms. Many managers and, by extension, companies, have a hard time making this shift. In terms of software development, this means that most companies tell a software development company that they need something, name a budget, set a timeframe and then expect to have a satisfying, on time, in-budget result. What often happens here is that the company gets what it asks for, not what it really needs.
Our approach is very different. We build long-term partnerships with our clients, building dedicated teams that work along Scrum guidelines. These teams grow and perform together with our clients, whom we accompany every step of the way. Our trustful partnerships with such companies as Congstar, Deutsche Telekom or Frankfurt Airport are a convincing indication that this approach works – at least for our clients and for us.
What advice would you give new startups in this space?
Companies that want to digitalize their businesses need to take into account five crucial components:
- Together with their partners, companies need to develop a custom digitalization strategy (one that meets their specific needs)
- They need to build a digital organization (where everyone, from management on down, buys into a digital mind-set. This includes appropriate workflows, processes and methodologies as well as the necessary corporate culture)
- They need to implement digital business models (some of the most useful are Design Thinking and Lean Startup)
- They need to establish agile methods in product development (the agile approach works beyond the area of software development)
- Lastly, companies need to build a flexible IT infrastructure (our approach here is to use microservices-oriented platforms, where individual software components can be changed, replaced or removed in a production environment without affecting the entire system)
- Most importantly, startups need to find a partner they can trust. A partner with a high level of competence in IT integration, software development expertise as well as extensive knowledge in Agility, processes and the respective industry. This service provider needs to combine technical and business knowledge with software development skills and agile methodologies.
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Currently my favourite song is “Ants” by edIT.
AOE will sit down with their partner Commerz Real for a fireside chat on digital transformation at FinTECHTalents.