The future of technology strategy
Every so often, I get involved in discussions about technology strategy. These nearly always fall back on the tried and tested models that break strategy down into infrastructure, development methodologies, platforms, sourcing etc.
Although it purports to start with the business, and often involves a lot of consultation with C-level people, it usually retreats into the technological/organisational stereotypes that reproduce the same tired answers and pretty much the same document. As far as the business functions are concerned, it is then tucked away in the basement with whatever label the technology function has on the door today and ignored for the next three to five years.
Recently, however, I was involved in a discussion of technology strategy that took a far more interesting approach. The starting premise was not that the organisation needed a technology strategy. Rather that technology needed to be embedded in the strategy of every business line. Indeed, the technology strategy should not exist as a separate entity.
Whenever I see a great example of the exploitation of technology, it is not based on having a great CTO (again, insert whatever title you currently prefer). It is based on C-level management having an inherent understanding of technology and applying that understanding in their sphere of responsibility – although I accept this could be the outcome of having a great CTO.
Traditionally, the CTO identifies technologies that could benefit the organisation then sells it to the business. Alternatively, the business asks for a technology solution to a business issue that the technology function develops and delivers. Either way, the burden is on the technology function and if the solution does not meet the perceived need, that technology function is what all the fingers point at.
This separation has largely been driven by necessity. The way technology solutions were traditionally built and delivered focused on the detailed code at the heart of the technology. This necessitated highly specialised technologists to deliver. This is no longer true.
For a start, most C-level leaders now understand technology. They deal with it every day of their lives. Their organisations can’t live without it. Failure of the technology represents failure of the organisation and while they differentiate their organisation overtly through technology, they nearly always require technology to implement the innovations that deliver any differentiation.
Secondly, acquiring technology is now easy. C leaders do not need a technology function to do that. It is simply a matter of being able to fill in an online form and make a payment. Last year, I shared the story of a marketing director, fed up with how difficult the technology function was to deal with, who implemented her own strategy. She signed her team up to Office 365, Salesforce and HubSpot and hired an independent consultancy to implement the detail and, within three months, had her own technology infrastructure supporting her organisation. I have had howls of derision for proposing that someone would do this. But I know people who have. The solutions are there to side-line the technology function if the business wants to.
We as an organisation no longer have any critical systems running on in-house servers. We have found cloud solutions to everything. Yes, everything: telephones, email, CRM, finance, HR, operations, the lot. The only thing that is delivered by the in-house technology function is setting up laptops on the wi-fi network.
In the most effective organisations, technology strategy is no longer owned by the technology function. It is part of the business strategy just as much as finance is. It is embedded in every part of the organisation. C-level leaders need to be as familiar with exploiting technology as the CTO. If the technology function is to have a role, it is in helping and guiding the business in the decisions it makes. The days of building a standalone technology strategy are over.