Technology Roadmaps: A Guide to Effective IT Decisionmaking

We’ve established the power of technology to set businesses ahead of their competition. However, between the ever-increasing role that technology is playing in businesses’ ability to compete and the quickly changing technology landscape, business leaders are finding themselves torn between two extremes: on the one hand, C-suite execs are seeking to advance their vision for a strategy that will forward their organization’s business; on the other, they are more often than not locked into a reactive cycle of running from one fire drill to another.

CIO’s recognize this continuous struggle, as evidenced by their top strategic priorities according to a Wall Street Journal special report, which sites two of their top 5 priorities as: being a change agent and forwarding a business-centric vision. But this still begs the question, how?

Our answer? A technology roadmap.

What is a “technology roadmap?”

A technology roadmap is an extremely effective tool to structure the communication between an organization’s technology/IT department and its functional executives. It often helps leadership align investment priorities and see the forest through the trees, thus setting the business on a proactive trajectory when it comes to leveraging technology.

What should a roadmap look like?

In our experience, an effective technology roadmap includes:

  1. An overarching strategy statement that lists your business’ strategic priorities (note: these will mostly be non-IT-specific but should include the role that technology will play in each one).
  2. A timeline of initiatives and projects that will occur over the next 1-3 years with approximate start and end dates, durations, and resource requirements.
  3. A prioritized list of opportunities for improvement generated jointly by the business and IT teams, which should be refreshed periodically.
  4. High-level justifications for each project. These should be robust for projects over the next calendar year and can be simpler goal statements for projects past the 12-month horizon.
  5. Estimated cost and duration for each project. As with the justifications above, costs and durations should be specific and reasonably accurate for projects in the next year and can be slightly less so for projects further out.
  6. An owner for each project, such as the executive or manager directly overseeing the project. Yet again, this should be the specific account lead for projects in the coming year and can be the general owning executive for projects beyond that.

The process of developing these lists will help you identify opportunities for improvement at every level of the business as well as solutions to address them. For example, the process of building your roadmap may unveil areas of inefficiency, which are critical problems to solve in order to save time, headache, and cost.

In our experience, three of the most prevalent organizational challenges that roadmaps address are: efficiency (saving time, effort, and capital as well as eliminating frustration); cost (ways to reduce the technical overhead cost – this may mean overall costs go up or down, it’s more about the impact that spending the money makes); and risk (when technology goes unnoticed and ages, risk increases as does the cost to correct issues that may arise).

How is a roadmap used?

Now that you have a sense of what the roadmap should look like, the question remains: how will you use it? A technology roadmap is useful at several levels of an organization.

First, your IT leadership will use the roadmap to facilitate investment discussions with the rest of leadership. Your roadmap will serve as a baseline when discussing new projects or priorities with functional executives and help everyone balance investment and project priorities.

Second, your IT department will use the roadmap to improve planning for projects and resources. Your roadmap will be the guiding resource for people to anticipate resourcing needs and plan assignments, software and vendor selection, and costs ahead of time.

Third, your functional leaders will use the roadmap to understand what is required of/will be delivered to their departments. In particular, your roadmap will give leaders a clear picture as to how how they should balance existing roadmap initiatives with new requests. It will keep them aligned on strategic technology priorities across the enterprise and improve stakeholder buy-in before projects even begin.

Ultimately, it will be important to remember that a technology roadmap is not a static list. Just as your business and the economic environment you operate in are constantly evolving, your roadmap will be a living document that helps you and your colleagues navigate all of the tech options and investment opportunities, which are increasing in number every day!