However, we also know that the most successful programs have an established and clearly communicated set of principles that act as the foundation that drives them to fruition and maximizes results. In this first article in our three-part series on thoughtful technology, we outline five core tenets of a successful tech-enabled transformation.
1. Align your IT and business ‘north star’
IT has swiftly moved from a back-office function to the frontlines of every business. While IT system deployment was once considered a one-time project, transformation programs today require a continuous, enterprise-wide effort, and it is no longer possible to separate business strategy and technology decisions. Tech executives are seeing their roles blurring and become less siloed as they work to ensure that technology is at the forefront of every initiative within their organization and a key factor in its long-term strategy.
Many companies devote too little time or effort to articulating their north star, and frequently settle for what is incremental rather than what fits their long-term vision. When delivering enterprise-wide technology transformation, success relies on collaboration between digital priorities and other major business objectives. With the alignment of business and IT, tech executives can lead their transformation effort with defined objectives.
2. Figure out where to focus – and where not to
For most companies, the ultimate goal of a technology strategy is to enable their organization to improve the products or services it provides to their internal or external customers. This could mean delivering them more efficiently, with more capabilities, or with a better user experience. The best technology strategies are aligned to well-defined business objectives, but the foundations are built upon a deep understanding of the organization’s current state operational capabilities.
Identifying which capabilities provide differentiation that enables a competitive advantage or business value is a critical part of constructing a technology strategy; it is these capabilities that deserve focused attention. It’s common to be eager to skip over the process of defining and categorizing these capabilities and move straight into ‘solutioning’, where progress starts to feel more tangible. However, one of the most challenging parts of a technology strategy is knowing where to focus your efforts – and, just as importantly, where not to.
For example, many organizations face the build or buy dilemma when implementing a new technology strategy. Differentiating capabilities may justify custom or spot solutions. But, for those that do not enable a competitive advantage, leveraging a solution already in the marketplace is typically a more logical than taking on the burden of building and maintaining your own version of the technology. Ecosystem partnerships are increasingly becoming an essential part of the puzzle, providing additional features that enable organizations to meet their strategic objectives and receive the ongoing benefits of the partner’s innovation while they focus on what sets them apart.
3. Map your end-to-end solution upfront
Digital transformation projects typically impact a much wider range of business process than just the IT department. And, without a clear solution roadmap, you run the risk of making a decision that can have profound and unintended consequences on another. Early stages of a complex transformation should include some form of initial blueprinting work to define the end-to-end solution at a high level. This doesn’t mean everything needs to be executed in a waterfall manner – you can still deliver your solution with an agile approach. But we’ve found that an upfront investment in a high-level articulation of your business value chain often reveals lesser understood dependencies that would result in rework that cost time, effort, money, and frustration far greater than said investment when identified later in your transformation journey.
4. Remember your size and agility needs
Regardless of the business size, technology transformation can be a major undertaking. However, for start-ups and scale-ups, the process will look different than it will at enterprise and legacy businesses. That’s not to say it doesn’t come with its own challenges; smaller companies are likely still in the process of learning about their customers, evolving their business model, and supporting their operations at speed. When developing their strategy, they will value simplicity, dexterity, and an ability to quickly adapt; technology transformation requires a balance between flexibility without too many bottlenecks while also meeting deadlines without fail.
As companies grow into larger, more mature organizations, efficiency drivers like integrated and automated solutions become more valuable. The sheer scale of hard assets, customer relationships and legacy systems at incumbent organizations vastly increase the complexity of a transformation program. In these scenarios technology strategy must provide enough ROI in the form of improved scalability, cost savings, efficiency gains, or ability to capture more revenue to offset the additional investment and maintenance burden that comes with it.
5. Invest in change management
Too many organizations fail at transformation because they don’t consider change management as a core part of their technology strategy. Even with the best tech talent, programs will stall if they don’t gain the buy-in and understanding of the critical stakeholders. Without this, initiatives will only deliver superficial results rather than lasting, sustainable change. As a core foundation, businesses have to train people from across every aspect of the business, not only those who are directly impacted by the program. For example, a new supply chain system will impact people in R&D, procurement, sales, marketing, customer service, and a multitude of other areas.
But change management goes beyond simple training; it provides a structured plan that builds champions, enables people to be successful in transitions, and can significantly drive the adoption required to make the strategy a success. We’ve seen initiatives fail because the buyers thought the cost for a change management program was too high – it ended up costing them the whole project, in addition to their credibility.
Whether you are a small start-up looking to implement a new innovation tool, or a large enterprise transforming your legacy system, a comprehensive and holistic technology strategy is becoming an ever more critical part of your long-term success.
At Cuesta, we believe that technology should be at the very core of business success, not an outcome, and we help our clients use tech as a powerful enabler to drive strategic value for the entire organization. You can reach out to me to talk more about leveraging technology to achieve your business goals.