It’s an inescapable fact of today’s business environment: Growth and efficiency depend on how effectively your organization leverages data and technology.
For centuries, management of cash and physical assets have been central to building a growing, sustainable, successful business. Today, our technology systems that underpin the lifecycle of data are just as critical an asset as the cash and physical components.
In this guide, we’ll cover why it’s so important to have an easily communicated technology plan from the executive perspective, how to create a strong plan and how to budget for future growth.
- Learn how to look at technology through a strategic executive lens
- Discover frameworks and strategies to develop more accurate budgets and forecasting
- Learn how to avoid pitfalls of hardware vs systems thinking
- See how to make your plan more effective and actionable
- Uncover the building blocks of a strong technology assessment
- Learn how to manage changing circumstances in the marketplace
Technology: The bedrock of modern business
Data and technology provide the lifeblood of every aspect of a modern business, including driving internal process improvements, maximizing marketing impacts, building sustainable customer relationships, accelerating sales and providing effective customer support.
There is now a clear imperative for all CEOs and boards to have a strategic understanding of the technology strategies, choices and investments their organizations need to make. Vistage International found that 40 percent of small- and medium-business CEOs surveyed plan to increase their technology investments for 2021. We’ve found a similar result among the clients and markets we serve.
The CEO’s challenge is to develop an appropriate strategic perspective on the choices to be made, so effective guidance and decisions can determine budgeting, investment priorities and talent strategies across the organization.
Foundations of technology planning
All modern organizations require a strategic investment plan for technology. This plan should be sponsored and championed by the CEO and executive leadership, and ultimately reviewed and approved by the board where appropriate.
But that is often easier said than done.
Developed by operational executives and CTOs who have completed corporate digital transformations, this guide covers why it’s so important to have an easily communicated technology plan, how to create one and how to budget for future growth.
What is a strategic technology plan?
In the simplest terms, a technology plan addresses the data and underlying technical capabilities needed to enable the organization to achieve its strategic objectives. It can be boiled down to:
- A vision about how data and technology will enable strategic outcomes.
- A roadmap and platform architecture that defines the blueprint for forward-looking capabilities.
- A short-term action plan that moves implementation forward while delivering near-term value to the organization.
- A plan to streamline and automate the organization’s processes in alignment with technology investment priorities.
- A resources plan that aligns structures, skills and functional capabilities with the roadmap and planned technology investments.
- Operating and capital budgets and multi-year projections that follow a “run, grow or transform” investment model.
An effective technology plan, then, does not simply encompass future needs based on your current operating framework. It must accommodate the evolution of the operating model and be driven by a handful of future scenarios.
A real-life example of technology planning in action
Consider the case of one of our past clients, a publisher who sold a series of highly valuable annual reference books with lots of tabular data.
A thorough review with the customers of the books found most only bought them every two to three years and used them mainly for reference. After converting to a web-based annual subscription model, combined with an Excel plug-in, the publisher more than tripled its revenue.
The technology required for publishing the books and supporting the web platform was similar from a data perspective and not very challenging for the new product. What was different was the requirement to have a secure and reliable solution that is directly customer-facing. New technology platforms were introduced, but new procedures and support capabilities also were implemented.
Considerations from the C-suite
The six elements above are required for any effective strategic technology plan. But success in these areas will depend on embracing some core principles.
One is to place an “outside-in” customer perspective at the core of the design of all digital products and services. Another is to ensure the strategic technology plan is closely aligned with the business’s strategic operating plan and is owned by the entire executive leadership team.
Most important, however, is effective communication.
But clear writing alone is not sufficient. To achieve true cross-departmental alignment, the CEO should appreciate the different perspectives of each member of the core audience for the plan, see below:
Steps to creating an effective technology plan
Based on our work in technology strategy over the last several years, it’s safe to say you’ll require a master technology plan and then several smaller functional-specific plans for key strategic investments or operating transformations.
Here are three key steps to creating an effective plan:
1. Analyze your current technology state
Ensure you have the proper experience and expertise to conduct the technology assessment, either with in-house skills and expertise or by enlisting an external consulting firm. External partners should be able to demonstrate the depth of expertise in real-world technology operations valid for assessing your needs.
Interview key technology and business stakeholders to understand the current state of their technology landscape, capabilities and operational alignment with strategic objectives and – most importantly – perceived gaps and deficiencies in current capabilities.
Particular focus should be placed on the following functional domains:
- Data architecture and data life-cycle management practice
- Development and software engineering capabilities
- Application and technology solution delivery processes
- Technology operations playbooks and processes
- Compliance processes
- Licensing portfolio costs and management processes
- Contracted third-party services portfolio processes and costs
2. Develop your technology roadmap
Identify any functional gaps between your defined forward-looking business strategy and your current enabling technology landscape.
Quantify the costs and investments associated with addressing prioritized investments. Analysis should include engineering costs, third-party consulting, software licensing or cloud-based operating expenses, new staffing required to fill skills gaps, etc.
Define priorities and sequencing based on alignment to high-impact strategic requirements and the level of investment and associated risk.
Make sure your plan adopts the following principles:
- Forward-looking viability
- True ability to scale
3. Manage the technology implementation
Establish a small, dedicated team to manage the implementation. This also can be handled internally, but key staff should still be closely involved if the job is outsourced to a consulting firm.
The team will define implementation options and create a phased schedule that addresses dependencies and linkages between each investment stream.
Adopt an agile approach to carrying out the project, with success measured in short, manageable sprints and frequent value delivery of value.
It will be critical to continue close communications with all stakeholders as you make technology decisions.
Developing your technology budget for growth
Once you have your plan, it is time to establish budgets. While it’s often contemplated in terms of which one comes first, it is difficult to budget without knowing what type of growth and change you want your technology to drive.
Working with so many organizations and technology budgets, we’ve seen a lot of dos and don’ts when it comes to budgeting.
Too often, budgets and reviews are focused simply on line-items such as hardware, software, security, networking, data center and staffing costs. But these don’t tell the whole story of the business, nor do they speak to the rationale for how technology investments are supporting the business today or paving the way for future growth.
Developing an effective technology budget requires detailed review and mapping of the business and customer/user needs for investments.
The best way to allocate scarce budget resources across budget functions is to ask whether that function is needed to “run” the business, “grow” the business or “transform” the enterprise. A commonly accepted target ratio for mature companies using the run-grow-transform model is 55/40/5.
One benefit of this approach is that it ensures you will reserve at least a portion of your investment for experimentation with leading-edge capabilities such as cloud services, machine learning or robotic process automation.
Technology budget size and scope
Understanding your industry benchmarks is a good way to begin determining the size and scope of your technology plan. Start by defining your industry as narrowly as possible. Map the industry leaders, followers, mainstream and laggards and map your own place on this continuum today and in the future.
Then, you’ll want to define and benchmark each of your technology spending platforms and categories such as end-user computing, security, networking, e-commerce and customer relationship management (CRM). You can obtain benchmark data from such sources as Gartner, Forrester and IDC, among others.
Don’t stop at benchmarking.
Once you have the data, analyze where in the range your technology budgets fall, and where the opportunity may be to make allocations both more efficient and effective for growth.
A final reminder when looking at your budget is the importance of teamwork.
As a CEO, your job is to bring together the plans between operations, finance, product, technology and service departments. A reserve, a capital spending plan or some other flexible approach to reallocate budgets based on changing priorities may be necessary to create future products. This may also be necessary to seize new market opportunities and improve the customer experience in a changing competitive landscape.
Teamwork and communication here is essential. For more considerations specifically about technology budgeting, read five questions CEOs should ask about technology budgets.
Planning for changes and “what if” scenarios
While change is the only constant in our world today, it’s a component we must consider as we plan and manage technology.
Many companies establish three- to five-year cycles for their in-depth business strategy review, with annual review and update cycles. The technology plan cycle should match this business strategy cycle.
Major accomplishments or events can lead to the update of the plan.
For example, if a new CRM platform has been implemented, or a cloud policy has been established, these events should trigger a review of the plan to ensure any consequences are accurately reflected in the plan.
Unplanned events should also trigger a plan review – whether the event is within technology, the company, or the company’s marketplace. As an example, new products from a competitor should trigger a business plan review, and thus can impact the technology plan.
Obviously, there is no one single approach to developing and implementing a strategic technology plan. But we hope the guidance above sparks some thinking about how to tackle the problem in manageable pieces.
Developing a plan in a way that makes all stakeholders feel included is key.
Keeping the customers’ needs in mind, as well as the business’s imperatives, is also a core part of our message. And, when budgeting, deciding which functions you want to run, grow and transform will help you allocate your spending in a way that keeps current business operations intact while finding new revenue and staying current with customers fast-changing technology demands.