Technology scalability is the key to getting the most out of your digital

In 2020, companies were forced to pivot to digital-first business models, fast. Many accomplished more than they thought possible. In just a few months, companies accelerated digitization by three to four years and accelerated the share of digital or digitally enabled products in their portfolios by seven years, according to a McKinsey Global Survey that compared the current level of digital adoption to the pre-crisis pace of change.

But now what? Companies need to think about how they’ll scale those digital wins. But asking, “will this technology scale?” isn’t enough to ensure a truly scalable technology infrastructure. Every business has a different growth trajectory. Technology that doesn't scale in all the directions you want to grow can become a roadblock to future success.

The devil is in the details

Asking someone “will this technology scale?” is like asking a child if their room is clean. They say “yes,” and the room might look good at first glance. But if you don’t investigate immediately,  you eventually find dirty dishes under the bed or last week's gym socks in the closet. 

When it comes to technology, those nasty surprises can be much worse. Foundational systems that can’t scale become restricting, resulting in lost momentum, expensive replatforming and an opportunity for competitors to leapfrog ahead. Avoid being left in a lurch when you’re on the cusp of something big by thinking about the different types of growth your technology infrastructure will need to support.

Scaling encompasses various types of growth. It’s easy to look at a new piece of technology and say yes, it can handle 100x more volume than we need it to today. But growth is more dynamic than simply increasing volume. Increased volume usually means changes to workflows, governance, supporting technology and even security needs. This makes the question of scalability more complex. Failure to recognize this can lead to overconfidence in a system’s ability to scale. 

Scaling for increased usage and spikes

Volume is the easiest and most basic aspect of scale. But even this requires us to dig a little deeper. Consider, for example, how more users will impact traffic, API calls, content and assets. Increased volume in one area often has a domino effect. Crashes and slowdowns can happen when any part of the technology stack is unable to handle the increased load, so it’s important to ask how traffic spikes are handled across your foundational technology. 

Key questions: How quickly can you increase a system’s capacity? Do you need to predict spikes or are there automatic safeguards in place? Are there fees or penalties for overages? Will the system curtail some features or lock users out?

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Scaling for more sophisticated use cases

Businesses that want to grow faster need more than basic scalability. They need scalability that supports increased complexity and sophistication, integration with new technology and accelerated speed to market. Think about how workflows become more complex as you add more users or teams to a system, and the number of different technologies that come together to produce sophisticated digital experiences across channels. 

Key questions: Ask how the platform supports the more complex workflows and governance that accompany company growth. How will the tool help you organize, operationalize and govern users to help reduce those growing pains? How easy is it to integrate with other tools? Will you have the freedom to integrate with the tools that make the most sense for your business as you grow?

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Is the technology enterprise-ready on a global scale?

A single business unit or small company can often communicate and collaborate through informal channels, but there comes a point when those channels are no longer effective. New locations, mergers and the current shift to remote work all require working with distributed teams. Operating on a global scale introduces even more challenges including translation, localization, currency, legal and regulatory requirements, download speed and reliability. 

Choosing technology that can scale from a single team to a global enterprise can keep teams connected and provide brand consistency as you work to deliver seamless digital experiences. For technology to scale from a single-team to enterprise-wide adoption, it needs to support diverse business cases across multiple teams — not just one use case, or multiple cases in a single business unit. 

Key questions: Ask for examples of enterprise-wide implementations that show how multiple teams are using the technology across diverse use cases. Do they have granular permissions and roles that empower distributed teams to collaborate without sacrificing consistency and quality? For global scale, ask how quickly features can be added to support translation and localization. Does the tool have experience meeting regulatory requirements in different markets and fast, reliable delivery networks across the globe?

How does the technology scale to help ease other common growing pains?

Growth, especially rapid growth, can come with a steep learning curve and a few growing pains. An experienced technology partner should be able to help you navigate these challenges with fewer missteps. One key area to consider is that data breaches, site outages and compliance issues become a bigger reputational risk as your company grows. Choosing tools that are enterprise-ready from the beginning can help avoid embarrassing missteps and expensive replatforming later on. This is important for all your foundational tools. 

Key questions: Ask about enterprise-grade availability, disaster recovery, performance, security and compliance policies and how they ensure that their infrastructure is continually up to date on best practices.

It’s not enough for a platform to just work well at your current pace. It has to be able to support an accelerated pace as your business grows. We often don't know what rapid growth will entail until we get there, but experienced technology partners can help smooth the way. Contentful makes it easier for businesses to upgrade as they grow with plans that align with customer needs throughout their digital journey. Our content platform can scale from POC to an enterprise-wide platform powering hundreds of digital experiences.

Learn how to build a technology infrastructure that can support your business growth across seven dimensions of scale.

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