Interview with Christian Knellwolf

Using online platforms effectively as an SME

Online platforms at the cutting edge should focus on customer benefits. If this is the case, they are an important building block in the digital transformation. They are today's way of doing business and communicating. What challenges are on the agenda here?

In times of digital transformation, I don't just need fast hardware or better software, as I used to, but a suitable solution that moves my business model forward. You have to extract the essence from the company's situation, in other words, from its business model. What does the SME market look like? Does uncertainty prevail here, or do you experience situations that radiate an atmosphere of expectation?

The requests to us have increased greatly. The decision-making process to knock on our door runs as a process. Initially, it is usually younger product managers who feel the pressure to act, or the management instructs them to look into the issue and search for possible solutions. Then they sensitize the management about the potentials. Where are the opportunities for us, where can we position ourselves, what does it cost? These are the central questions.

What do you then experience in the preliminary discussions, and what do the first operational steps look like?

Company managers have different levels of knowledge. Some companies are already further along and have developed a catalog of requirements and a concrete idea, while other companies are still in the exploration phase and don't really know what all is possible and what needs to be done. Often it's just about problems. With us, however, it's all about customer benefits. We bring other perspectives into this process. It is also not uncommon for a viable business model to be missing. In a way, companies have similar challenges to startups when it comes to mapping an existing business model online. However, established companies already bring customers with them and can benefit from the scaling effect. In the exploration phase, we offer workshops with customers. The aim is to understand the business model and the needs of the various players and then use this to identify the potential for an initial digitization project. Many want to start small at first.

Are there commonalities in the strategic steps?

Yes, the solution has to work. It must bring benefits to the customer, and the aim is to increase efficiency.

Do you define realizable goals with the customer?

Exactly. In the operational area, it's then about user goals that can be processed with use cases. The customer is the expert in his business, and we are experts in creating and operating online platforms. This is where we need to find each other.

SMEs have a tight budget. Many people in charge probably doubt the added value and argue that such platforms are only something for big players You have a solution here, the "min-max method. What do you mean by this?

With a tight budget, the better the business case must be, we help SMEs to find a pragmatic solution. The "min-max method" is a tool to better estimate costs. Because they are always a problem. Fixed price projects are tricky and a risk for all involved. Online platforms and projects tailored to the business do not come in a standard package. They are correspondingly time-consuming to implement. We value quality, and you can't do that in five minutes. We prefer to squeeze the maximum out of the available budget. An iterative approach to development, constant validation and feedback loops with the customer, clear identification of the features with the greatest benefit for the end users - these are our key words. If we know the requirements, we can work out the most important points. And then the question is how we can implement this effectively and cleanly. This is a process in which the focus is always on extracting the greatest benefit for the user.

"Platform configurator" is another keyword. How do you use it in practice?

We specialize in the development of online platforms, customer portals and other web applications that meet high requirements for security and data protection. Our platform configurator consists of two parts. The first part focuses on estimating the complexity of the project. It is about the type of a project, about the degree of complexity. The second part contains a compilation of the required modules and functions. How should my user management look like? Which content management system do I need? Should there be a connection to my ERP? With this we can then already give a rough cost estimate, based on empirical values in function with the complexity of the project. However, it is clear that a discussion is always needed, because we often find lean and pragmatic solutions that may not have been recognized in the first place.

Today, there is a platform behind almost every new business idea. Can you explain this thesis to us?

I was at a startup event where 100 people made a pitch for their project in one minute. I kept a tally sheet and noted how many of the ideas had the word platform in them. It was in over 80 percent of the ideas. A business always wants to sell or offer something. Providers, suppliers, buyers, interested parties and service recipients all have to be brought together in some way. Processes want to be optimized and customer benefits and satisfaction increased. Such properties characterize a platform, and this is where we come in and offer solutions.

How to systematize the requirements?

In software projects, it is a good idea to gather requirements in a professional manner. At the beginning, you should not be inhibited by technical limitations. Simply draw up the big picture and let the ideas run free. Then the individual ideas and functionalities should be prioritized according to customer benefit. A points system can help distinguish the must-haves from the nice-to-haves.

More and more purchases are also being made via platforms.

Yes, but be careful, a platform does not always have to be a sales platform. It can also be a communication platform, for example with the trustee. That's much more secure and practical than sending mails back and forth.

How do you see yourself anchored in your market? There are competitors, after all.

We only do online platforms. That is our focus. We rely on open source technologies, emphasize user-friendliness and implement visually appealing presences. There is also no industry focus. In this respect, we have many open doors.

What does an online platform cost?

Our platform configurator helps you select the right technical components, modules and features for you in a simple, clear way. You will receive information about the complexity of the project as well as a rough cost estimate for the implementation - so that you have an overview right from the start.