Rethinking the enterprise from a customer-centric perspective was another theme that came up in that conversation with Robert Phipps last week, in this case with a bit of virtual help from Chris Potts.
The ‘conventional’ way of viewing an enterprise is that of the stock-market – and, apparently, US commercial law – which seems to regard the enterprise is as nothing more than a means of ‘making money’ from other people:
- “Our vision is to maximise our profit and maximise the returns to our shareholders”
Which is all well and good from the shareholders’ perspective, perhaps. Yet in a sense it gives prospective customers a really good reason to not engage with that organisation, because in essence the company has declared that the only thing they’re really interested in is taking as much money as possible from the customer – regardless of whether doing so is of any benefit to the customer at all… And it also doesn’t make any sense in a non-commercial or government context, where ‘value’ and ‘profit’ usually cannot be described in simple monetary terms anyway.
The other ‘conventional’ way of viewing enterprise vision and purpose is kind of ‘self-centric’, where the organisation regards itself as the totality of ‘the enterprise’:
- “Our vision is to be the leading provider of pig-nuts in the West Midlands district”
In principle, that’s all well and good too, in its own terms. Yet it still doesn’t provide customers with much of a reason to talk with the company, because the latter are, it seems, too busy talking about themselves to notice anyone else.
So what does work? What does create a connection across the broader-enterprise, such as to give the organisation and its customers and suppliers and other stakeholders some solid reasons to converse with each other? What – if anything – is the difference between ‘organisation’ and ‘enterprise’? And what is an enterprise, anyway?
This is where all that work about vision comes into the story. As I understand it, the enterprise-vision needs to be something that engages everyone in that shared-enterprise – not just the organisation. It needs to say what is of interest to everyone in that enterprise; what is being done to or with or about that ‘item of interest’; and why this is important to each of the players. To me, good examples of a valid enterprise-scope vision include that of the TED conferences – “ideas worth spreading” – and the IT-standards body The Open Group – “boundaryless information flow”, coupled with its tag-line of ‘making standards work’.
Once we get the vision right, a lot of things become a lot simpler for the organisation, and for everyone else, in their relationships with each other, within the market and beyond. For quite a long while now, I’ve been using a frame that looks like this:
The vision provides a link and reference-point for everyone in this space – including the non-clients and, especially, the anti-clients, who will hold the organisation accountable to that vision and its implicit values. If we want to understand enterprise-scope architectures – as opposed to organisation-centric or, worse, IT-centric architectures – then we’re going to need a frame like this to give us our bearings. Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas is another good example of this kind of broader-scope frame (though with somewhat narrower scope); likewise the SCOR supply-chain model.
To me, this is the typical view for enterprise-architecture: we create an architecture for an organisation, but about the the shared-enterprise(s) in which that organisation operates.
Yet in a sense this is still organisation-centric: it’s about the whole enterprise, but from the perspective of the organisation.
At that point, when talking about this with Robert Phipps, , Chris Potts‘ phrase came to mind: “customers do not appear in our processes: we appear in their experiences”. In that sense, how do people experience our vision, our organisation’s proposed way of viewing the shared-enterprise? What is that shared-enterprise, as an experience? And where does that experience fit, in relation to all the other experience-fragments that make up a total human experience? As in so many other contexts, Chris’ more customer-oriented view turns the whole frame upside-down.
It’s here that enterprise-architecture meets up with marketing – and vice versa, of course. Each enterprise-vision represents a story; in a sense, the enterprise is that story. Yet a marketplace consists of many stories or narratives, all of them not so much ‘competing’ as in ‘co-opetition‘ with each other – because without that underlying cooperation, the market itself would probably not exist. The market, in effect, is a narrative of narratives, a story made up of multiple stories.
The usual tactics for ‘positioning’ within a market include the conventional version of a ‘value-proposition’ – cheaper, faster, more economical, makes you look good and so on – or via brands – which act as a kind of precursor to and record of reputation, a proxy for the promise of experience. But the end result tends to be a bit like a raucous competition of ‘shouters’ at a street-market: “they are lovely now, come and buy, come and buy, fresh as the day they were laid, only two quid the punnet, come and buy”. That kind of competition may seem to look good and even sound good to each of the market-stall players – and seemingly a great place to grandstand the ego, too – but it actually doesn’t help people navigate their way through the market to meet their actual needs. In other words, their experience of the market – with various of the market-stalls appearing (and disappearing) within each distinct, unique and very personal experience. More often, that kind of grandstanding gets in the way of the customer-experience – but that fact is hard to see for each of the players themselves, because they’re too busy grandstanding to notice that it actually doesn’t work very well for anyone – especially over the longer term.
Yet if we re-frame the market not as a misplaced shouting-match, but as a place of story, we can see how a vision-based enterprise-architecture also re-frames the customer-experience. Each market-stall or, on a larger scale, each company or organisation, has its own distinct vision about where it sees itself within the market. It doesn’t need to shout: all it needs to do is expose and expound the respective vision. In turn, the vision provides clarity about how each player sees its respective role within that market – its role in the overall co-opetition – and also the values to which it expects to be held accountable. The classic ‘value-proposition’ and brands and so on become adjuncts or expressions of the vision and its implied values. The end-result is much more clarity about who is doing what, and how, and why; prospective customers gain a better understanding of what they can and should expect as part of their overall experience, when their personal narrative of experience touches the business-processes of that player.
This way, the company gets customers who want to be customers – in other words, ‘pull’ rather than ‘push’ – and who are much more clear about what they expect to get. They’re engaged in the story – and hence likely to be willing to tolerate minor lapses, as long as the story itself is demonstrably upheld. Equally important, the company also dissuades the engagement of prospective customers who are not a good fit to their business-processes – hence significantly reduced risks in terms of customers disgruntled with the experience, and all the concomitant problems that would arise from that, including customer-service costs, damage to reputation and so on.
That’s the overall idea, anyway.
This is just a first testing-the-waters with this idea – there’s a lot more that needs to be done to flesh it out, to build a full cross-link with classic marketing, and so on. There’s also a lot that could perhaps be done to cross-map with Verna Allee‘s Value Networks and suchlike. But I think this slightly re-purposed version of Chris’ insight could be immensely valuable to us here: customers do not appear within a market; instead, those markets – and our organisations with them – appear in customers’ experiences.
Comments or suggestions, anyone?