We live in a time of unprecedented technology change, and there is often the fear of being left behind or losing the early-mover advantage. Good technology management, however, is less about how much you buy or how soon you buy it. Good technology management involves proper matching and alignment to business needs. What should our strategy be if we want our business to thrive in such an environment? And more pointedly, what do we need to do just to survive? I asked my colleague Andrew S. Baker to weigh in for me with some insights on this topic as he has a lot of experience helping companies develop strategies for implementing the latest technologies in ways that will reap big rewards. Andrew is the president and founder of BrainWave Consulting, which provides cybersecurity and technology consulting services for small and medium-sized businesses. Here are some of the thoughts he shared with me that I found helpful both for my own business and for companies we work together with.
The rapid pace of technological change
Technology is moving so quickly today that experts are concerned over the potential for misuse of technology that many of us have not even implemented directly as yet. More businesses than ever before are totally and thoroughly dependent on the implementation and use of technology for their success. Today’s technology management has to worry about how, where and why (and IF) to deploy cloud computing, artificial intelligence, Internet of Things (IOT), Big Data, blockchain, and other buzzword concepts. Each new technology is seen as that next big thing — that tremendous paradigm shift — that will be a “game changer” for the industry or the market at large.
Success in technology management, however, is not simply about hitting home runs. It is not so much the deployment of the next big thing that guarantees success. It is the proper alignment of the technology solutions used to the business objectives and needs.
In technology management, little things count
There are smaller, more subtle strategies, methods, and activities that have a greater bearing on how well an organization will be able to manage its technology assets and provide value to the organization. We routinely hear about the big technology decisions that organizations make, but behind the scenes, there are other key elements that are not discussed, but much more important to success:
- Alignment with the business vision / goals / plans.
- Supported strategy for how to purchase, deploy, and maintain technology.
- A reasonable, transparent governance model.
- Encouraging a culture of planning, testing, and training.
- Excellent communication across the organization.
Let’s look at each of these key elements in turn.
Alignment with the business vision / goals / plans
It is impossible for an organization to be effective in the purchase, deployment, and management of their technology assets and solutions if the people who are responsible for the technology, the people responsible for the purchases, and the people responsible for the business objectives, are not all on the same page.
Every employee should understand how his or her activities tie into the organization’s objectives and why they are doing what they are doing (on some level). There are things about technology-refresh cycles, deployment costs, and purchasing approaches that can affect how effective a business plan will be. Which technology manager hasn’t been on the wrong end of a request for a custom server that was needed “like yesterday!” because the person who needed it had no understanding of how long it takes to spec out and order a non-generic server?
The solution is not to have more tech-savvy business people but to have more communication-savvy business people. When business plans involve all possible constituents as early as possible in the planning stage, then many logistical issues and pricing issues can be mitigated or avoided altogether.
Corporatewide strategy for the technology life cycle
Organizations need to make a fundamental decision on whether or not to obtain and manage technology in one of the following ways:
- Obtain off-the-shelf (OTS) solutions and use them with little customization.
- Obtain off-the-shelf (OTS) solutions and rely on a lot of customization.
- Build or assemble moderately/highly customized solutions.
Each of the above strategies has its own pros and cons, and it is wise for organizations and their leaders to understand those pros and cons before settling on an approach. There are substantial implications — especially for staffing — in the choice that is made. Consequently, it is not a good idea to shift between modes every few years. Organizations that are build/customize focused will tend to need more staff — and more specialized staff — than those which rely on off-the-shelf solutions. OTS solutions don’t necessarily provide technology advantages that are unique to the organization, even though they offer more opportunities for outsourcing and reliance on external vendors.
This strategy should be aligned with the business at the highest levels or requests for staffing will not be well understood by the business and the ability to provide timely solutions will be greatly hampered.
A reasonable, transparent governance model
Those who have worked long in the technology industry know that there can be a religious fervor to platforms and products. Many people feel very strongly about their technology choices, whereas others will use whatever appears to get the job done. There is something to be said for best of breed. There is also something to be said for consistency of technology platforms.
Ultimately, using the extreme version of “whatever works” will result in integration headaches and rarely allows an organization to leverage economies of scale in either costs or staffing. Similarly, using the extreme version of “consistent platform” can lock you in quite adversely to a single vendor or ecosystem, making it hard for the organization to make business adjustments as warranted by the market.
The process for evaluating, testing, selecting, and reassessing technology solutions and platforms needs to be well understood and quite transparent in an organization. Having people adapt to change is hard enough without the specter of perceived back-door deals and favoritism.
Technology governance that is transparent and well documented will also take the needs of the business into account more effectively, making it more likely that every purchase adds value.
Encouraging a culture of planning, testing, and training
It has been my experience that organizations that afford time and space for their technology staff to adequately plan and test what they are rolling out derive far more benefit from the solutions thus deployed. There are fewer hiccups in deployment, less incidents of over/under purchases of licenses or features, and better integration with existing solutions.
Employees who have time for training — and it does not have to be formal outside training — generate more value for their organizations and make better decisions about when to take calculated risks on new solutions or platforms.
Excellent communication across the organization
There is no area in life where good communication is a hindrance or drawback. None of the following items discussed would even be possible without good communication, but it is critical enough that it needs to be especially called out.
Good communication from business leadership, along with good communication within the technology teams, will help ensure that good decisions are made and that people are well motivated in their areas of responsibility.
Understand your goals
So, what really counts in technology management is a clear understanding of what the organization is trying to achieve at any given time, coupled with an understanding of how various technology solutions and platforms can work together to fulfill those business goals.
Successful organizations that focus on building custom solutions understand that they need to have a slightly larger technology team that is aware of the business goals and has sufficient time for planning, procurement, testing, and implementation of the solutions that support or drive the business.
Successful organizations that focus on off-the-shelf solutions understand that they can rely on a smaller internal technology team but that they need to have trusted external partners that are aware of the business goals and that have sufficient time for planning, procurement, testing, and implementation of the solutions that support or drive the business.
Planning and testing time can never be overlooked unless success itself is not an objective.
It is not the newness of the technology that will ultimately win the day. A team with somewhat older technology but with clear business mandates and an effective timeline for planning and testing will win almost every single time against a team that has access and funds for the newest technology available but lacks alignment with the business.
And in the long term, it’s not even a contest — the well-aligned will always win against the one that lacks communication, a cohesive technology management strategy, and time to manage projects.
Photo credit: Shutterstock