Imagine driving across the country with four drivers taking turns at the wheel and no GPS or map. This happens quite frequently in many companies from multi-billion-dollar organizations to start-ups. Organizations often evolve over time and technology advances even faster. Companies tend to either be implementing the latest and greatest but lack integration or continuity or they are lagging and seem to be always playing catch-up. The best performers operate in the middle and always follow a 3-5 year technology plan (“roadmap”).
A technology plan commonly referred to as a roadmap is critical in making investments and setting the path for the future. Technology investments go off track when the car is filled with a team of backseat drivers. The loudest and most influential usually gets their way or makes changes when it’s their turn at the wheel. Developing an effective technology plan is best created in a collaborative effort across the organization and not performed by IT leadership alone.
This article outlines some key basic steps to developing an effective IT roadmap which a company should validate annually.
When developing a technology roadmap, it is important to recognize some key guiding principles and best practices:
- Technology should improve and support seamless integration between applications.
- Reduce redundant and conflicting data – One set of the truth.
- Automate processes so employees can focus on what is important that make your company successful.
- Information/data should support decision making that is fact based.
- Align technology investments with the strategic direction of the company.
These principles may be easy to accept by the passengers in the car but just like every cross-country trip, everyone is going to have an opinion on how to get there. If the team just begins to drive with agreement on the destination only, they will be lucky if they ever make it. This is where collaboration and the planning process begins!
A technology roadmap requires the collaboration of IT, Operations (Engineering, Quality, etc.), Sales, Marketing, Finance/Accounting, etc. This is best facilitated either by IT or third party. Once the roadmap is developed it will require periodic validation (typically annually) and supported by executive leadership and financial investment.
Having worked with 100’s of companies from multi-billion dollar global entities to startups, our senior consulting leadership have developed a process by which a company can follow in developing their technology roadmap. The following outlines these key process steps in developing your plan.
- Assess your key market differentiators – In the best-selling book, “Discipline of Market Leaders”, the authors present strong evidence which demonstrates how market leaders focus on one of three disciplines at any point in time of their company’s evolution and structure their investments in people, process and technology to support that chosen strategy. These three disciplines include: Operational Excellence, Product Leadership, and Customer Intimacy. Essentially an organization should align its resources on one of these disciplines with the goal of becoming a market leader. It is a key important step to understand your organization’s key differentiator in the market before making any technology investment decisions.
- Assess the current state of investments – Once the functional and division/company leadership is aligned with the key market differentiator, it is important to obtain a baseline understanding of the current state of technology. Where is data maintained? Is the company asset based, cloud or hybrid? Are our applications integrated? What are our operating costs? What is the state of current product licensing? Can applications be consolidated? What are the needs of the business? In addition to application and cost analysis, this is an important step to perform business process mapping to obtain an understanding of the obstacles in serving the customer and where efficiencies and improvement in service can be gained. This is where the value is identified.
- Create a data strategy – Integrating applications and getting software to talk to each other is important, but defining your master data strategy is essential to support future decision making and establishing one set of the truth. The data strategy is critical because it will set the direction of which applications are going to feed the information. This will also determine where controls need to be put in place in the process. During this step, the leadership will need to define key performance metrics of the business and its reporting strategy.
- Assess business continuity and security – In the past, business continuity was defined by a default process of backup and recovery. Today in a world of cybercrime and high reliability of customer expectations, a company needs to address in its plan how it will stay up and running and keep its information secure.
- Align technology investments and prioritize – Once completing the above steps of identifying the strategic direction, assessing the current state, outlining a data strategy and protecting the information, it is time to determine which applications, are to be upgraded, replaced and/or consolidated. During this process step it is sometime warranted to create 2-3 optional approaches with supporting costs and times. Similar to a roadmap across country, there are multiple ways of getting to the destination. It is best to outline options and contingencies so the team can conclude on which option they would choose.
- Document the plan and follow the map – An IT roadmap should encompass a 3-5 year horizon. As in a road trip, you will always be faced with unforeseen events: construction, detours, weather, etc. All of these will cause you to re-evaluate your plan and prioritization. Each plan should be evaluated annually but should always maintain the same cohesive and supportive direction of the company strategy. Similar to maintaining a building, you are going to repair the roof before the windows if you have a limited budget at the time. Well executed plans require prioritization and adjustments but continue to persevere to reach the destination.
If your organization is experiencing rising IT costs, increased number of software application or undergoing multiple acquisitions and inheriting new technology, it is best to either revisit your plan or create one. The common mistake we see companies make is they often select pointed solutions related to hardware, software and applications and never relate it to how technology supports the process. What may seem like a low-cost cloud based application, can actually drive up operating costs in other areas of the organization in the form of labor costs, utilities, etc. Even exposing the organization to new risks.
The following are some key trends which are driving up costs for many organizations:
- Increased complexity and number of overlapping technologies and applications
- Supporting skill sets require a deeper and broader knowledge base
- Increased access and touch points are driving increased security and hacking risks
- Higher demand for IT talent increases labor costs, employee turnover and recruiting costs
If your company is experiencing these “side-effects”, it may be time to re-evaluate the direction you’re are traveling and create an IT roadmap.
SAGIN, LLC is a professional services firm with an IT Managed Services offering that provides IT strategy development, implementations to full turn-key solutions. If you would like to learn more about these solutions or to obtain an assessment of your IT environment you can contact us at: +1.312.281.0290 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also visit us at www.saginllc.com
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