by Isaac Sacolick

5 reasons why technology selections matter in digital transformation programs and tips on evaluating winning platforms

Mar 21, 2018
Digital TransformationTechnology Industry

Technology organizations driven to move faster may overlook important digital criteria that separate out winning platforms from others that may become tomorrow’s legacy systems.

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Organizations need to implement faster, so it’s easy for technology leaders to underinvest in the time and effort applied to vendor analysis and technology selection. In addition, many technologies are being marketed and sold to non-IT executives that have limited skills to determine how technologies fit into the business architecture, assess the skills required to deliver business results, or manage a plan from proof of concept through adoption.

There are many technologies out there to select from for any given business need. For example, there are over nine hundred technologies listed in a recent big data landscape, over five thousand listed in a marketing technology landscape, over two thousand in the IoT landscape, and over eighteen hundred in the AI landscape. This can make evaluating and shopping for new capabilities a difficult proposition especially when it’s likely that business needs require multiple products and some form of integration.

I believe that technology selections matter and what works in one organization may not be the optimal selection for others. With that in mind, here are some considerations before shopping for new technologies.

1. Requirements will change based on market and customer needs

If you’re going to make quicker decisions on selecting technologies, the first thing to consider is that you might make some mistakes picking technologies that should work well in concept but don’t in practice. A related consideration is that markets evolve, customer needs change, and the requirements driving you to select today’s technologies will evolve over time.

This implies that you need light weight, nimble technology platforms that can be adapted as needs change. There are a couple of things I look for to evaluate the adaptability of technology platforms and tools. Is it easy to do the simple and common operations? When the organization requires more customized or integrated capabilities, does it have configuration, programming capability, and APIs to enable this development? Are user interfaces intuitive and are the more advanced capabilities well documented? Does it export its data easily if you need to switch platforms?

Most importantly, is the vendor’s product being used with a wide variety of use cases? When there is a critical mass of adoption then there is a greater likelihood that the technology can be applied to growing and evolving needs.

2. A boom in new technologies likely means future consolidation

If you’re looking at technologies from smaller startups that have yet to prove themselves, consider that Series A deal sizes skyrocket in the US in 2017. When you evaluate any technology, consider the chances that startups may not survive, and successful ones are likely to be acquired.

Beyond just looking at the company’s financials if they make them available to you, there are other ways to evaluate young technology companies. First, consider their architecture. If the platform is developed on top of standard architectural components and if they make the configurations you develop exportable, then if the need arises there are more opportunities to switch platforms. Second, evaluate their sales and marketing plans. If the platform was an easy buy for your organization, then there is a stronger likelihood of the startup growing their sales. If the technology is a development platform, research whether the development ecosystem is growing and whether they are happy working on the platform.

In addition, consider requiring that small organizations put their intellectual property in an escrow service that you gain access rights to under defined business scenarios. If you are considering a large purchase, then look for opportunities to make investments in the startup or join an advisory board to have a front seat to how the startup grows their business.

3. Do people love the user experience?

Look beyond what the platform does and consider how easy it is for people to use it. In one of my recent posts, I suggest 6 digital criteria to evaluate superior technology and four of them are tied to how satisfied people are with the end user experience. If the experience is clunky, if it doesn’t offer self-service capabilities, and if there isn’t evidence of a growing ecosystem of happy users then those are warning signs that the platform you are reviewing may need a user experience upgrade before it’s ready for prime time.

The best way to evaluate this is to define proof of concepts and to get a mix of differently skilled end users to try out the platform. Look for happy, enthusiastic people who aren’t looking for more documentation and training to get the basic jobs done.

4. Does the platform enable experimentation and testing?

Many platforms today offer APIs and programmatic capabilities to customize. Some require a developer to configure and others are configuration and rules that business users can implement. If your only option is to develop directly on production systems including production SaaS environments, then there is significant risk exposing untested changes to end users. If you don’t have the capability to audit and rollback changes or to evaluate experiences with different user roles, groups, and permissions, then it’s hard to know explicitly that a function change works as desired. If platforms don’t provide performance metrics while you are developing a new capability, then the function may not be usable in a production environment.

While vendors provide different tools to extend their platforms, one key differentiator is to evaluate how easy it is to test changes before they are pushed into production environments. This is a larger problem for SaaS vendors that offer development capabilities. To be “enterprise ready”, they should be offering devops services with testing platforms, methods to develop and automate tests, version control integrations, and continuous integration and continuous delivery procedures to push code changes.

5. Complex implementations may become tomorrow’s legacy systems

It’s easy to be wowed by a new technology capability or platform but it’s a lot harder to evaluate what its impact will be to support years after the initial implementation.

IT leaders don’t need another generation of siloed platforms. Consider the integration capabilities of new platforms and the development ecosystem. Integration is more important than ever so if the technology doesn’t have the capabilities to integrate data or workflow then it might end up being a siloed platform in the enterprise architecture.

On the other hand, platforms that have many active users in larger organizations pose other challenges. Consider a self-service BI solution that enables hundreds of people in the organization to create dashboards, or a CRM that needs to be extended with proprietary workflows. For platforms that are deployed to many users, IT leaders need to evaluate whether the platform makes it easy to create a governance model. Who gets access? How are artifacts documented and versioned? How is usage measured so that unused artifacts can be decommissioned?

The better platforms either provide governance models or easily integrate with other management systems so that early success doesn’t bury the organization with hard to support implementations.