Mar 15, 2021 9:15:00 AM | 4 min read
When I was 10 or so, I went on my first ski trip with a friend, but one who had been skiing for years. (C’mon Suralink is based in Utah and it’s winter; you knew I’d work in a skiing analogy somewhere, right!) I was so excited to hit the powder and carve down the slopes. After a little mentoring and a few practice runs on a side hill, I was sure that I had become an expert, so we were off to the lifts. Once at the top of that first real run, I looked down and was convinced I had made a terrible mistake and was going to die. But my friend reminded me about the basics he’d taught me, and while I ate snow a few times, I made it down the run and went on to have arguably one of the best days of my young life up to that point.
While an avalanche of technology trends have rolled in (see what I did there 😉 ), after 20 years of building commercial platforms and solutions for firms, public agencies and enterprise companies, I’ve learned that building an effective technology strategy—just like skiing—is all about remembering the basics. And it basically all comes back to this: building value into your people, organization, and most of all, your products and services.
Building an effective technology strategy—just like skiing—is all about remembering the basics: building value into your people, organization, and most of all, your products and services.
So if you’re looking to build a technology strategy, here are a few tips from someone who’s been down this run a few times now.
Clarify your vision
This is the most important, yet often under-worked step in creating a solid technology approach. When you have a clear business strategy, it’s easier to cut through the buzzwords, marketing mystery, or simply the initial excitement around a particular technology or solution.
Whatever your goals—growing market share local or global, reducing costs, increasing efficiency, winning on client experience or product, etc.—your technology strategy must be focused on achieving your goals. Being able to describe what you are trying to achieve will not only help you set your direction, but filter out the noise and allow you to measure progress.
Identify the challenges you’re trying to solve and relate them to your vision
Once you know where you want to go, it’s time to figure out how to get there. Physically write down the challenges you’re trying to solve, how they relate to your vision, and then incorporate data. Include your tacit/gut-feel knowledge of the business, but dive deeper to really look at the data and analyze how you deliver solutions today. Identify issues or opportunities you may have and think through those that may arise as you move toward fulfilling your vision.
It’s important to stay open minded and humble during this exploration. Search widely to understand the challenges you’re facing, not just in your own solutions/processes, but the challenges competitors and others in the space need to solve or have solved. Of course, doing all this with a laser focus on how to best meet your clients needs and achieve the results you envision.
Evaluate your options
I’ve often been asked: “Which tool is best for my frontend/backend/machine learning/data science needs?” or “What can your solution do with AI to help make my business better?” My usual answer is, “What is it you are trying to achieve?” Technology (from SaaS platforms to data science initiatives and AI) is a tool, and can be a powerful one when applied correctly.
This is where investing in clarifying your vision and determining which problems you need to solve will pay dividends. The best technology strategy and solutions are the ones that solve the problems you’ve identified and enable you to reach your business goals. If you’ve clarified your vision and identified challenges, the conversations you’ll have with both your team and potential vendors will be on point and productive because you’ve set the criteria for success and are now in search of the best solution(s).
There are literally thousands of pages about how to evaluate technology for your organization, but here are three of the keys I’ve learned to use the hard way:
Establish governance: Decide who gets to decide, but listen to your subject matter experts and users and lay out a process to manage change over time.
- PoC whenever you can: Regardless of the promise of the technology (AI, machine learning, etc.) or the roadmap of a vendor, make sure you use it before you buy. Get hands on and make sure it actually delivers the benefits it says it’s going to deliver. Try to ensure that the new tech will fit within the rest of your strategy and organization, or that you are willing to adapt your organization and processes to incorporate it.
- Focus on your core value prop and consider buying/integrating the rest: Understand your secret sauce and augment it with platforms and tools to deliver and support it.
Look at your team and partners
At the end of the day, your vision will be fulfilled by your team (and potentially any vendors/partners you chose to work with). Knowing the strengths and skills you can bring to bear internally (governance, IT, development, delivery, etc...) will provide a strong foundation to build on and will identify where you could use additional expertise.
Bringing your team into the process early will help alleviate any anxiety about “being replaced” by technology and help them see where they can and will continue to add value to your clients. Finding trusted vendors or partners to be part of your journey can help you look around corners for problems or solutions you might not have considered.
Iterate, measure, iterate
Even with a technology strategy aligned with your vision, the data and targets, good options and strong team execution, you're not done. Business and opportunities constantly change and so will the technology strategy to support them. Big bang projects fail far more often than they succeed—regardless of your company size. The best approach is to iterate toward your goal, measure as you go, and adjust your strategy accordingly. If something isn’t getting you closer to your vision, address it. Sometimes that will mean pivoting away from something you’ve tried, but more often, it will mean incorporating learnings and balancing priorities for your next iteration or area of focus. Keeping your stakeholders involved and informed is key.
Like anything else in business, technology strategy is not a one-time event but an ongoing process and tool to help you achieve your vision. Commit to it and you’ll see results.
Jeremy Smith is the Chief Technology Officer at Suralink. Jeremy has more than 20 years of experience building and running commercial software products and successful engineering, product, quality assurance, and operations teams.