Whether your category is eCommerce, automotive, health care or anything in between, to stay ahead in today’s marketplace, every company now has to also double as a technology company. The role of technology in business impacts everything from website user experience and cybersecurity to inventory management and data reporting, each vital in helping a business scale and succeed more efficiently.
“Most companies can and do manage their money and people, which is a necessity,” says Chief Information Officer (CIO) David Mitchelhill. “But unfortunately, quite often they abstain from understanding the technology, which is basically the IP of their company. If you think of a company as a building, the people you need to design the building so that it will stand up to every storm are totally different from the people who run it on a daily basis. Companies need to hire the architects.”
But navigating a force this disruptive requires strategy that isn’t just efficient, goal-oriented, and competitive, but flexible enough to adapt with rapid changes, too. So we asked Mitchelhill and fellow CIO Kevin Malover to break down the components of a technology roadmap, the value of an outsider’s perspective, and why staying agile is the key to success.
What Makes a Good Technology Roadmap?
Sometimes called an IT roadmap, a technology roadmap is a strategy that shapes a company’s technical infrastructure, organizes and prioritizes goals, and works in tandem with IT to accomplish business initiatives. Every company needs its own unique plan that can address specific scenarios—whether the company is flailing, anticipating acquisition, launching a new project, or simply working to stay competitive.
Malover recommends starting the process by giving your company an M&A-type assessment to better understand what the issues are. For every company, that checklist looks a little different. An e-commerce/online distributor of mechanical equipment, for example, had grown consistently through the years, but to get to the next level and truly scale, they understood that they needed more structure to avoid bottlenecks. After some analysis, it became clear that they had to tie their web platform to an accounting system, streamline inventory management, improve security standards, and enhance reporting to make better decisions about how to grow the business. Bringing in an interim CIO helped them think about how technology could amplify their goals through this change period and beyond.
But as tempting as it may be to overhaul everything and reach for the latest technologies, that isn’t always the right path.
“We’re confronted with shiny, bright objects every day,” he says. “There are solutions for every problem, and vendors and advertisers make those things sound simple. But we all know that there are complex integrations necessary to achieve the value out of those solutions—the same complex integrations and operational diligence necessary to achieve the value out of what you already have.”
Building Flexibility for the Future
The point of a technology roadmap isn’t just to address what’s going on today or even next quarter but to future-proof the company for the long haul.
“The velocity of technology today is just immense,” Mitchelhill says. “And companies that we consider mainstream at the moment could be forgotten within 18 to 24 months. So they have to change the velocity of the decision-making process in a revolutionary way.”
One common roadblock to navigating the new has been a heavy reliance on employees or internal experts who have grown up with the company.
“The chaos and rapid change doesn’t allow one person or one group to really obtain all the skills necessary to accomplish a particular market issue that they’re really going after with technology,” Malover says.
He points specifically to the practice of relying on IT to solve business problems. “Rather than empowering the business owner to solve the problem, a lot of times they just pile it on the CIO or CTO’s plate and say, ‘Hey, you go solve this business problem.’ The reality is they’re not generally responsible for the P&L associated with it. People ask, ‘What’s your IT strategy?’ The question should be, ‘What’s your business strategy and how’s IT going to enable that?’”
Bringing an Outsider In
Even though many companies already have a CIO in place, that person is often too busy putting out fires elsewhere in the company to focus on actual strategy. That’s where an interim CIO can be instrumental.
That was the case for one multi-billion dollar consumer products company that wanted to stay competitive in their market. After multiple acquisitions and outsourcing IT, the company had become siloed and disjointed. The goal was to integrate and create a global IT roadmap that would take charge of application and infrastructure management, security, enterprise architecture, staffing, and performance management. It was a massive undertaking, so the CIO brought in an interim CIO to help build out the much-needed structure and guide the company through this major transition.
“Having sat in the CIO and CTO seats, one of the things that I’ve found is you don’t know what you don’t know,” Malover says. “And so bringing in outside advisory services, whether that’s to supplement the CIO or to advise the CEO or CIO—that outside viewpoint helps a lot. In this chaotic environment, you need to be really agile with the talent.”
That said, owners and boards need to keep in mind that bringing in a seasoned expert to manage your employees and implement changes can send the wrong message if intentions are not communicated clearly.
As Malover explains, “To create the environment where people within the company are accepting of bolting on this resource, there’s some gravitas you have to have to make it clear that, ‘Hey, we’re not here to take your job. We’re here to make you successful.’”
InterimExecs RED Team is an elite group of CEOs, CFOs, CIOs, and CISOs who help organizations through turnaround, growth (merger, acquisitions, ERP/CRM implementation, process improvement), or absence of leadership. Learn more about InterimExecs RED Team at www.interimexecs.com/red-team or call +1 (847) 849-2800.
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