Third & GroveThird & Grove
Nov 9, 2020 - Justin Emond

Seven Pillars of a Global Digital Platform

Seven Pillars of a Global Digital Platform

So you have the excellent opportunity to build a global digital platform for a terrific brand, to activate a new brand digitally, to elevate the digital game of your organization, to build a platform that will be used for years to come. Well, with great opportunities come great opportunities to screw up.

Using our experience over the years building a variety of global platforms for clients, we have developed a rigorous process for ensuring project success on launch day and for years onward. Our process involves program execution built on seven key pillars. The pillars are a mix of process must-dos, technology must-haves, and systems that must be implemented.

Let’s take a look at our seven pillars.

Pillar #1: Editorial Extensibility

Global web platforms involve global marketing teams. And ensuring that your global platform allows for an intuitive and empowering editing experience for your marketing team is vital. But that’s table steaks.

To be effective, a global platform must strike the right balance between defining thoughtful editorial guardrails and flexibility, giving disparate marketing teams the tools they need to effortlessly self-serve.

The key to success with this pillar is understanding that a grand bargain must be struck between the developer experience -- how easy and pleasant it is for an engineer to make updates to your global platform -- and the marketer experience (how easy it is to manage the site from the CMS interface). A lack of appreciation that a bargain must be struck that there must be compromises made on both sides of the web team is a recipe for disaster.

Be sure to fully flesh out the marketing team’s expectations and needs, reflect on these teams’ realistic capacity to focus on digital, and consider your goals around developer velocity.

Pillar #2: Discovery

A leave-no-stone-unturned discovery phase is critical to success.

We shouldn't have to write this, but it is far more common than you would expect to find organizations approaching their global platform build in a reactive manner and starving the investment in time needed for proper discovery.

Discovery uncovers technical integrations, key considerations around cloud hosting strategy, global compliance needs (like GDPR, LGPD, CCPA, etc.), security requirements, functionality requirements, and downstream needs from stakeholders. Discovery is how you create accurate timelines, phases, and budgets. But most importantly, the discovery sets you up for success to deal with the surprises that will inevitably come later in the project.

That’s right; the purpose of discovery isn’t to stop problems from happening in your project. So long as humans are involved, large projects will always include large issues. The reason discovery is so vital is that it clears the board of all of the avoidable problems, freeing up the resources of your attention to deal with those significant, later problems you don’t know about today, but that will occur.

Pillar #3: Open Framework

When you sit down to build a global digital platform for a brand, there are things you know; there are things you know you don’t know, and, most terrifyingly, there are things you don’t remember that you don’t know. Those are the unknown unknowns, and they should keep any program manager up at night. Unknown unknowns. Hic Sunt Dracones indeed.

This platform is going to have a lifespan of many years, perhaps even a decade. With such a long-term time horizon, it is impossible to predict the initiatives you will have to support, the technology you have to deploy, the brand evolution you will have to empower, and the integrations you will have to achieve. You must ensure your platform is flexible enough to manage those uncertainties.

This is best achieved with open APIs and an open digital experience framework.

Pillar #4: Site Industrialization

World-spanning organizations need and have a diverse digital footprint. This means that most global platforms need an efficient way to roll out new microsites and market sites to support new business initiatives and corporate acquisitions. A thoughtful site industrialization strategy is crucial.

Organizations must consider how functionality (read: code) will be shared between the various sites, the level of effort involved to spin up a new site, the tooling in place to provide rapid deployments, rigorous change control, how to address various compliance needs in different markets, the guardrails in place for market editorial teams, and a long term support strategy to control costs.

Pillar #5: Analytics & Insights

You get what you measure. That classic wisdom is as true in digital as it was in the analog era. But data aren’t insights, and only insights help you improve metrics because insights power the strategy and inform discussions that improve the quality of decisions that marketing teams make.

A global platform must have an intelligent website analytic and tag management strategy to collect the data needed to derive insights. But more importantly, you must industrialize turning that data into actionable insights.

You must do this if you want to reap the benefits of a genuinely agile marketing strategy.

Pillar #6: Program Management

Success requires exceptional project leadership.

Global platforms involve extensive scope, integrations, competing interests, schedules full of dependencies, large teams, multiple stakeholders, and many organizations internal and external to the brand. Every project will have October surprises every damn month.

Effective on the ground project management is obvious but will only have a tactical perspective. Strategic project leadership is needed to balance the overall mission, and effective program managers bring just that.

Pillar #7:  Governance

While this appears as a thread in several pillars, it’s essential to call out separately that governance at all digital experience levels must be thoughtfully curated.

You must align the interests of a disparate organization — involving many cultures, lines of business, teams, regulatory environments, and divisions — with a strong governance foundation to achieve consistency in compliance, brand tone, content strategy, and editorial workflow.

Wrapping Up

Building a global platform may seem like a daunting task, but like so much in life, breaking down a significant effort into smaller pieces makes it far more achievable. Use these pillars to focus your attention, organize your team, and, well, to put it rather crudely, choose the right hills to die on.