It does not matter the size, scale or shape of a business; whatever the type of business, its technology strategy is fundamental to achieving the businesses goals. In today’s fast paced, evolving digital environment a technology strategy needs to be aligned with the business one. If the technology strategy is always asking the question of how is it helping to deliver the business strategy then there is a much higher chance of successfully delivering both.
A technology strategy can easily become the white whale that an organisation is always chasing or placed on a imaginary pedestal that can never be achieved. The truth is a business’s technology strategy needs to be simple, easy to understand and relevant. It should follow a simple structure;
- Why does it exist? What is it purpose? This is always the starting point and in its most basic form the answer is to enable delivery of the business strategy. As the organisation delves into this further it is worth calling out what parts of the business strategy the technology one is helping to enable.
- What is the vision for technology in the business? What are the new technologies and digital innovations that are going to enable the business to deliver its objectives?
- How is technology going to get there? This is where it is most important to keep it simple. It’s easy to write down on a piece of paper that the organisation is going to automate 50% of processes over the next 3 years, for example, but how does that actually happen? A business’s technology strategy needs to articulate the approach that it plans to take for the journey and make sure timelines are realistic. No one appreciates over promising.
A business strategy is the blue print by which an organisation plans to grow and develop their business over the coming years. Whilst not set in stone, it is a set of guiding principles by which they will drive the direction of travel for their organisation. The purpose of a technology strategy is to provide the equivalent visionary blueprint for how the organisation wishes to develop and augment their technology platforms on which they run their business. It exists to articulate the infrastructure, applications, integration and resources required in delivering those business goals.
If the business strategy is looking at growth and expansion over the coming number of years, then the technology strategy needs to be aligned with that objective and be able to evidence how it is helping to deliver it. Whether it is delivering more flexible ways of working for a sales teams out meeting new clients, the introduction of a new digital platform for customers wishing to sign up for new products or services, or the upgrade of a customer relationship management system. As an organisation’s technology strategy develops, the CTO or equivalent should be able to point to which parts of the business strategy these new technologies and changes are helping to enable.
Once a business has understood its purpose for having a technology strategy, the next step is to clearly articulate what the vision looks like for technology in the organisation. What are the new technologies and innovations that need to be introduced to enable the business to deliver its goals? This step in the process needs to be carefully managed and considered because it is at this point really easy to allow FOMO (fear of missing out) to take over. A business must fight this temptation at all costs. A technology strategy must focus on what is relevant to the business it is written for, not what the latest, flashiest thing is in the industry right now. A strategy that is chasing the wrong technologies can be just as disruptive as doing nothing. An organisation must always remember the fundamental purpose of the technology strategy, and ensure its vision ties back to helping achieve the business objectives. If it doesn’t then it doesn’t belong in the technology strategy, no matter how flashy or interesting it seems.
In today’s fast paced, ever evolving technology landscape the CTO cannot be the only person horizon-scanning new and evolving technologies. It is critical that this is a shared responsibility and resources across technology and the business spend time individually and collectively looking at new technologies and how or if they can help their organisation. What is fundamental is that these individuals understand that this comes with its own responsibilities, not every technology can or should be adopted and a critical eye is key to minimising wasted time.
The final part to writing a good technology strategy is potentially the most important part, as it is the first step in transitioning from a theoretical paper based exercise into hands on delivery. A technology strategy needs to consider how the organisation plans to implement and embed its vision into the business. An organisation must consider the steps on the journey to not only technically deliver the solution but also to ensure adoption is successful as well. The strategy should consider the various approaches the business could adopt, for example should it consider creating a model office environment?, could they prototype specific use cases with a team?, should they phase the roll out to minimise risk?, and then articulate its preferred approach. The technology strategy must also consider the organisational model required, what resources are needed to support the implementation, what does the support model require when they are live with the technology? There will always be different ways to execute the implementation, but upfront when writing their technology strategy it is important a business considers what approach it will take as the early thinking will give valuable insight and inform when technology teams are at the coal face working to get the solution delivered.
If an organisation is able to recognise the importance of aligning their technology strategy to their business strategy then they must also ensure the right accountability is in place. Technology is the backbone from which a business operates and subsequently the accountability for technology must be clearly positioned as a vertical in its own right. If the board and the CEO of the organisation are accountable for delivering the business strategy then the CTO of the business must be accountable to the CEO for delivering the technology strategy. The board should want to see this in place because if the CEO is struggling or failing to deliver the business strategy then he must have direct accountability for the subsequent stakeholders enabling it, including technology. If a business is able to implement this level of accountability then it limits conflicts and improves the chance of success.