If sales doubled overnight, can your system infrastructure handle it? What if it tripled? This scenario is more common that one might think. Let’s take a look at the popular and relatively small photo sharing company Instagram (which had only 13 reported employees at the time it was purchased by Facebook in April 2012). On May 1, 2012 Instagram passed the 50 million user mark. This statistic alone is astounding, but consider this: in October 2010, just 15 months earlier, their user count was a measly 200,000. How in the world did their back end infrastructure handle a growth of that magnitude? Before we can get the answer, we must first ask the right question.

The Question

How can one build a company system infrastructure (Enterprise Business Architecture) that is automated today yet flexible enough to scale for the future? The answer quite simply is: THINK BIGGER. Always think bigger. Rather than building an architecture that supports the 10 users you have today, build or buy Enterprise Apps that can support 1 million users today. Then implement it. And do this with the same or limited headcount growth.

While that sounds great in theory, the reality is most SMBs can’t afford to simply buy or even build ALL of the systems at once. It has to be done in a phased approach. Most SMBs can’t simply pony up millions of dollars and hope the customers will come. They need to build a system that can scale ahead of actual growth. The approach has to be calculated and planned very carefully. The swivel-chair integrations of today need to be the API integrations of tomorrow. (“Swivel-chair” is what we call early “integrations” because it consisted of entering data in one system, swiveling our chair, and entering the same data in another system). The swivel-chair method works great until one day it doesn’t. What happens next?

The Approach

My approach is simple. I try to see what system will give me the biggest “footprint.” What single system can I implement internally that will centralize and simplify my data. What system has the largest ecosystem so that future integration projects don’t become bigger projects than the system itself? What system gives me the most products out of the box that I can use today and also allows me the flexibility for future growth? What system minimizes my upfront costs and maximizes ROI?

The more questions I raise about the system, the more apparent the answer becomes. It’s NOT a system I am looking for, it’s a Platform. Is there a platform that can do everything I am asking? The answer of course is a resounding Yes. While there are several that do a phenomenal job of creating an architecture and partner ecosystem that can support this (Netsuite and Intacct are truly great companies with great solutions) one stands out for me: Salesforce.com and their Force platform. Their platform aligns remarkably well with SMBs as they grow and scale. What began as a great CRM product that allowed full API access to their architecture so any of your existing systems can talk to it, has quickly turned into the core platform that many SMBs are betting their business architecture on.

The Future

We here at Axcient are one of those SMBs that is betting big on the Force platform for our future. The platform allows us great flexibility both today and in the future. As an example of the growth the platform can support, by the end of 2011, Axcient was daily adding 15TB of customer data to the cloud, a 1000% increase over the previous year. To handle rapid growth, SMBs need a future-proof architecture. Month by month, we are eliminating swivel chair integrations while improving process inefficiencies. The platform is growing with us as we scale. The integrations we have done and plan on doing centralize all data in Salesforce and open visibility like never before. As the company grows, we purchase additional user licenses and functionality along the way. Integrations with our accounting software, marketing software, engineering systems, sales and support tools, and operations allow us to collaborate more effectively. If our business tripled tonight, our infrastructure can support it.

Always THINKING BIGGER has allowed us to stay ahead of the growth curve and scale effectively, with the right platform to support such growth.