Building a true platform culture to solve customer problems

Anandhi Krishnaswamy, Vice President of Product Development at Intuit, discusses the takeaways that guided her team and can help other product and engineering teams as they continue on their own journey.

Five Indian tech professionals collaborate on a project around a computer.
Five Indian tech professionals collaborate on a project around a computer.

A lot has been spoken on the power of a true platform to solve compelling customer problems. It is customary that we have often imagined a platform to be built on right abstractions, design, code and scalability practices. While these are very integral aspects that govern a robust platform, there could be more starting from having a right mindset, enriching it functionally, employing right technology practices and self-serving these capabilities enough in solving for the same. 

As Vice President of product design at Intuit, I focus on building monetization solutions that power Intuit’s ecosystem growth worldwide. Powering the prosperity of customers is at the center of everything we do. Here are some takeaways that have not only guided our team but can help other product and engineering teams as they continue on their own journey.

Having a capability driven and a platform mindset from the beginning

Anything that we want to disrupt and solve strategically begins with the right mindset. The capabilities that we build are repeatable, configurable to solve for velocity, and scalable for various business and customer needs. 

The mindset aspect is critical and includes thinking broad and not being constrained in limiting the capabilities to the current business ask that we have. Rather than build a very specific solution for a single part of the business, product teams should think bigger and find ways that the same code could be used in multiple ways. For our team, that means that code our team develops can be used by many sales channels, customer segments, business geographies and products. Many teams are now able to benefit from the work developed by a single team. Code is now readily available and able to deliver a strong business value proposition without your teams having to make any radical changes.

While instant readiness is one aspect, it’s also helpful to build product features in a way that any integrating product can be done easily. This is where simplifying code through configurable rules is important. The fundamental principle here is in getting away from any form of code tweaks for onboarding a new product (or) a customer and making that easy through a configuration based framework, to solve for speed for our customers.

At Intuit, these are some of the foundational aspects that we lay emphasis on to rapidly solve for customer needs. Over the years we have undergone a transformational journey from being redundant and discrete capabilities spread across the ecosystem to a more cohesive and a repeatable capability based organization enforcing a customer backed and a platform mindset in the process.

Staying ahead of the game always 

While we covered a right mindset as a foundational pivot in being customer obsessed, lets touch upon enriching the platform with the right target state capabilities of the future. 

Think about the case of lacking the right set of capabilities to support big business outcomes. We do not want to ideate about building capabilities when a need arises. Rather we need to embrace a very proactive and a competitive culture of leveraging the industry trends and the competitor landscape, and having them built much ahead of the game. We need to be able to analyze the customer usage patterns and the external conditions in being able to come up with a roadmap and a platform vision that exponentially scales for a given business need. 

This vision that’s built around credible customer usage and market data is the key towards building it with the right needed capabilities. This vision should also encompass how we will be able to promote and accelerate wider adoption of these capabilities. While many of these could be fuelling growth for multiple internally built products, the power of its adoption increases manifold with more 3rd party customers leveraging it, to build a strong microcosm of external customers deriving and delivering value.

Some of these forward thinking have been instrumental in steering a platform culture and outcomes in Intuit’s monetization suite of capabilities. Today they are also being worked upon externalizing them to third parties in building a strong customer base and tangible business benefit in the process.

Strong engineering practices and technology choices in building the platform

A strong engineering culture meshed with right technology choices is fundamental in building a robust platform. These go a long way in defining its durability and scalability by virtue of adhering to solid engineering constructs and best practices.

Such practices should take an all encompassing view of the stack leaving no stone unturned in bringing engineering efficiencies. These include design time considerations in building highly scalable, secure and operationally excellent solutions. The code should also implicitly bake in all non-functional aspects of development such as Performance, Security, highly resilient code and FMEA practices that are implemented much prior, so that none of these are an afterthought. 

With Design and Code are fundamental aspects, good engineering practices also come with writing them in a highly maintainable way. This starts from writing the code that’s only needed, writing it in a way that one can easily refactor and maintain, cleaning up redundant code of any functionalities that are obsolete, maintaining version control, following logging practices that enable effective debugging and writing unit tests that cover such functionality. These practices boil down to keeping the code simple and effective that will avoid unnecessary work thereby conserving on engineering time and effort.

Strong engineering rigor is also accompanied with good observability practices. This refers to the monitoring the health of all the engineering assets in both the internal and customer facing environments. These should track the Services Failed Customer Interactions and the Up time to measure availability, the TP 99 trends to measure performance, real user metrics from a business and customer interaction perspective, Quality metrics along with any hosting and cost saving opportunities if they are cloud deployed services.

On the technology front, it is important to drive winning results by meshing technology and business with a hand in glove mindset to fuel tech driven value propositions for end customers. This should include making the right technology target state investments across all areas of UI, Services and Database that will solve for scalability, developer productivity and quicker market releases apart from adopting the latest and greatest technologies across the stack.

At Intuit, we embrace this culture of making paradigm shifts in the technology landscape as much as business initiatives and strive for engineering excellence in all that we do.

Self Serve Maturity in easing adoption of the capabilities built

In the prior topics we have described how a right mindset, strategic thinking and engineering practices can enable a strong platform culture. What is as important is to ensure self serve of such capabilities built to allow a wider and easier adoption for them.

The intent is to increase development and release velocity by creating autonomy for developers so they can use such platform capabilities to build awesome experiences at high velocity without any human interaction. This would also eventually promote wider inner source contributions,  when multiple developers get to discover, explore, adopt , extend and support them.

Discovery and exploration can be enhanced by making the capability well known and often referenced widely as a standard. Adoption can be enhanced by actively measuring and improving the time to adopt and easily onboard them. These further include on how we are establishing Net Promoter Scores on hands-free onboarding, recognizing and encouraging inner source contributors and forming a community of trusted committers that can enrich such capabilities built. 

It is also important to support them through regular community engagements such as office hours for bi-directional communication that will enable them to learn from the stakeholders and developers community. This will aid in formulating plans and roadmaps that will further enhance and solidify them on all functional and engineering facets of the game.

At Intuit, we have a Technology Input goal to measure full self-serve maturity and Inner Source contributions for its top 45 capabilities. We are solving them by creating various self-serve maturity work streams across capabilities that solve for their easier discovery, API consistency, quicker onboarding, enabling digital assistants to reduce support interactions and accelerate cross-team collaboration by embracing InnerSource best practices .

Our goal and mission is to power prosperity around the world by following engineering best practices and culture that we consider fundamental in driving innovations and solving complex customer problems.