Building industry re-defining products. Part 1

June 7th 2021
Many businesses are talking about digital transformation, changing the ways in which they operate.
Karl Mansour
Vice President of Digital Transformation
Karl works with organisations to shape, implement and embed product and platform innovation, delivering a step-change in how organisations interact with consumers. His extensive experience of digital transformation extends across the front, middle and back-office, from startups to big business, pioneering digital transformation with some of the most recognisable brands in the World.

At Ciklum, we help our clients, such as eToro and JustEat, to go one step further and create products that not only transform individual businesses but build competitive advantage and completely reimagine whole industries. These products change the way people live. We believe there are three key ingredients to making revolutionary products:

  1. Making products and platforms your competitive advantage.
  2. Building the right product: taking control through product discovery.
  3. Achieving constant innovation through continuous discovery and deployment.

In this 3-part series, we will be sharing the secret sauce of how successful startups and scaleups create value at pace, and at scale. However, one thing seems to be clear across all stages and areas of development – these companies never stand still.

In this article, we’re going to have a closer look at what ‘making products your competitive advantage’ really means and what boxes companies need to tick in order to stand out from the crowd.


Ruthlessly assess your value propositions (frequently!)

Every leader will have a feel for what their value propositions are but when were they last reviewed? Many companies are drastically underestimating the importance of this exercise and are losing touch with their consumers as a result.   

The harsh reality is that no piece of technology is going to solve a fundamentally flawed value proposition. If they don’t get the foundations right, they will not be successful at creating a differentiated identity that achieves competitive advantage.

What are you famous for? Companies need to be ruthless about where they need to compete with their peers and where they want to win across all of their consumer touchpoints. Where to over-index to differentiate from the crowd is critical to the brands’ identity. Companies need to get comfortable with frequently testing themselves on this exam question – with ever-changing consumer trends and shifting competitor landscapes, leaders should never stop evolving their value propositions.


I would also encourage every Company working on their value propositions to make every effort to bring their organisation’s technology decision-makers, such as CTO or Head of Architecture, into this ideation process. Value propositions cannot be the sole responsibility of marketing, product or strategy teams – successful organisations have acknowledged this and embraced their IT professionals into the ideation process from the very start.

Marshall your investment capital into the right areas

Another question leaders should be asking themselves is ‘Am I spending my investment capital in the right areas?’ The trend we’re seeing is that companies that are successful in creating competitive advantage put a disproportionate amount of their investment into their front office systems – in other words, those areas that touch consumers, amplify engagement and cultivate meaningful, sustainable relationships with the brand. Executed in the right way, these are the things that drive differentiation in the marketplace, keep you ahead of your competitors and drive intellectual property (IP) for your business.


To be clear, this doesn’t mean middle and back-office systems aren’t important – they are the backbone of how businesses operate – but they are not the capabilities that are typically going to drive a company’s differentiation and identity in the marketplace.

Understand the role of custom in your enterprise.

Differentiation naturally leads us to the role of custom in the enterprise technology stack. Generally speaking, there are 3 reasons that a client needs custom development:

  1. Because they need a differentiated experience to achieve a competitive advantage.
  2. There are nuances of their sector or business model which surpass the capabilities of an available SaaS product.
  3. They are a high-tech company themselves and are looking to build a product to take to market so others don’t have to.

A good starting point for any company trying to navigate the minefield of buy v build is Gartner’s Pace-Layered Architecture (Gartner, What Is Gartner’s Pace-Layered Application Strategy and Why Should You Use It? Luis Mangi, Bill Swanton, Stefan Van Der Zijden 6 June 2017, updated 20 April 2020), which is a great practical summary of where custom development may sit in a typical organisation. The architecture is separated into three different layers:

  • Systems of Innovation
  • Systems of Differentiation
  • Systems of Record.

In short, the Systems of Innovation and Systems of Differentiation are the areas prime for custom development. These areas represent where Companies interact with their consumers and where you can best achieve differentiation in those magical moments of the consumer journey.

Get these decisions right and you will build IP, achieve infinite control and autonomy on your product roadmap, allowing you to constantly flex to consumer needs and market factors and keep one step ahead of your competitors. Depending on the entity structure, a Company is also likely to be able to capitalise on the costs of the custom development too!

Never stand still

To summarise, business leaders who want to stand out in the overcrowded market full of innovative startups and technology solutions, need to think about their products and platforms as tools for driving competitive advantage.

The highest performers never stand still. But building products that reimagine industries and change the way we live takes more than creating a competitive advantage. Stay tuned for our upcoming articles on building the right product and achieving constant innovation.

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