Contributing Expert: David Trask – National Director: ARC Facilities
If you’re reading these lines, it means that you decided to click on the title and are interested in learning about the critical mistakes that business leaders make regarding technology so that you do not fall into the same trap.
The Good News: Building an effective technology stack for your business does not need to be an overly complicated process.
The Bad News: You won’t be able to get there with a single technology solution.
Let’s unpack these ideas a little more.
Five Critical Mistakes
The reason why these five mistakes happen so frequently is that they are the result of a rational thought process. It is very rare that technology leaders will make decisions without a rational basis. The problem is that many decisions have unseen impacts that can sometimes obfuscate or overshadow the leader’s initial intentions.
Mistake 1: All-In-One Solutions
The first mistake that many technology organizations make is to pursue an ‘all-in-one’ solution to technology problems instead of developing a technology ‘stack’ that addresses the organization’s needs.
The reason why this mistake is number one on the list is that it stems from a perfectly rational tendency to limit the amount of software that needs to be purchased and maintained. After all, most vendor evaluation sheets will have a list of desired functions for the software. In many cases, the decision about which technology solution to implement will be based on which option address the majority of the organization’s defined needs relative to its overall cost.
However, the factor that is overlooked by this traditional method of analysis is that most technology solutions do 1-2 things extremely well, a wider array of things pretty well, and a broad swath of functionality is done at an average to poor level.
Bottom-Line: No technology does ‘everything’ well, so focus on the solution that does the 1-2 things that are most important to your organization at a very high level.
Mistake 2: Integrating Everything
The second mistake that technology organizations frequently make is attempting to integrate everything.
At first, the prior statement seems strange since integrating systems is how you automate processes to generate the business efficiencies that generate sustainable value. The problem is that not all systems can be effectively integrated.
The first way this phenomenon manifests is with legacy technology that is not designed to interact with other systems. In many cases, they can handle data intake but are not designed for data output to connected systems. In any situation where legacy technology holds a critical part of the portfolio, full integration is unlikely to be feasible.
The second way this problem comes about is when integrations are created, and a major system upgrade is required which means re-building all of those integrations. In many cases, companies will delay those upgrades until they become critical, and the result is a high degree of technology-related operational chaos as a high number of interdependent projects suddenly need to be executed within a tight time window.
Bottom-Line: Full Integration of a Technology portfolio is far more complex than most people realize.
Mistake 3: Under-Estimating Effort
This mistake is not specific to technology. In nearly every segment of business and life, there is a tendency to underestimate the amount of effort that will be required. Further, the effort requirements for successfully completing projects frequently follow a ‘long-tail’ distribution where the range of outcomes spans from a ‘low’ that is slightly below the estimate and a ‘high’ that extends to an extreme level.
The reason for this is that the consumption of time in dependent operations follows a nonlinear path. The ‘best case’ execution time for a sequence of dependent times is finite and necessarily higher than zero. However, any delays in execution, resourcing constraints or errors in estimation will compound on top of one another and can stretch out toward infinity.
Further, this phenomenon is compounded by every degree of separation between the management decision-makers and the people who will be executing the project.
Bottom-Line: Technology projects frequently require much more effort than people intuitively think.
Mistake 4: Over-Customization
This mistake stems from the fundamental desire of most people to minimize change. The way that this manifests is frequently during the ‘requirements’ phase of a technology project. What usually happens is that the business stakeholder expresses a desire for the system to execute a process or work product that is the same as a prior system.
In many cases, meeting this desire will require that the system goes through modest to extensive customization. Generally speaking, customization drives increased costs from technical consultants and requires continued maintenance since customized elements frequently require revision when system upgrades are implemented.
Bottom-Line: The best way to minimize the amount of disruption caused by system upgrades is to reduce the amount of customization that is implemented.
Mistake 5: Misunderstanding Your Customer and Their Objectives
The single most important thing to understand about your customer base is that they really want to achieve a ‘result.’ One of the best things you can do is to truly understand the result and ensure that your solution brings to that result with the least amount of complexity possible.
There are two key ideas here that are worthwhile to unpack:
First – Really understanding the ‘result’ your customer wants. Note that we are not talking about the process they will go through, because the customer doesn’t really care about the process other than wanting it to be easy. What they care about is the outcome, and the only way you can learn that desired output is through genuine listening.
Second – Minimizing the complexity and risk of disruption for the customer’s experience. This desire frequently drives requirements for customization but can create a risk of disruption when vendor upgrades require rapidly developing, testing and implementing fixes.
Bottom-Line: Designing the fastest and most simple way to deliver the results your customers want requires a full-cycle view.
What To Do About It
Now that we have unpacked five of the key mistakes that technology leaders make, let’s dive into what can be done to avoid falling into the trap. This is important because every mistake articulated in this article was the result of actions that seemed extremely rational at the moment. Because of this, it is important to distill the needed actions down to a very simple heuristic that can be applied to the entire technology portfolio.
In this case, the following quote is an excellent guide:
“Be Interested, Not Interesting”
What this means is to genuinely listen to what your clients want and what they need. Starting from the result that the customer needs, work backwards to create that outcome in a manner that has the highest reliability feasible with the least amount of complexity to the customers.
Further, it is critical to avoid the temptation to push our own viewpoint of what the customer needs or how it should be achieved. The truth of the matter is that all people come with their own perspectives and biases. There are no people who have the ability to intuitively approach all situations objectively, so it is critical to implement a process of analysis that minimizes the amount of personal preference we are able to implement.
Practically speaking, this all comes back to truly understanding the customer’s desired result and architecting the most reliable way to deliver that result.
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