10 years on, what would I tell my younger self about business technology?

Hindsight is a beautiful thing but often in short supply. Given what I know now, it’s interesting to look back and decide what critical pieces of advice I’d have given myself ten years ago, which would have ensured I was on the right business transformation track for the future.
And while you might expect that much of my advice would be about technology, it’s not.

1. Set a vision and roadmap

Sitting my younger self down with a cup of coffee, I would have told him to set a vision and roadmap that reflects the most important outcomes for the business. And that your people and culture – not your technology – will determine the growth and success of your business.

To start building your vision with a clear picture of how you want your people to work and experience the changes you have planned. And only then choose technology that will support that people-centric vision.

In other words, work backwards. Start with your outcomes in mind. And when you do make technology decisions, make sure they futureproof your business to mitigate the cost and impact of change that comes with starting with a ‘technology first’ approach.

2. Embedding adoption is critical to success

I’d warn my younger self that the large technology platform roll-out you’re due to execute shortly for a well-known bank may only take six months to go live. But because there won’t be much, if any investment in organisational change, bringing people impacted by the impending technology uplift along on the journey will take another 18 months and require a solution retrofit to make it useable. (Is this a familiar occurrence that resonates with you?).

But on a happier note, I’m also going to tell my younger self that we have a full OCM service at Eighty20, so the future looks brighter!

So, while it may be too late for the banking and finance project, it’s not too late for you. Curb your enthusiasm for change until you’ve ensured it will be palatable to your people. Don’t just roll out new technology and expect high user adoption and acceptance rates without investing in organisational change management (OCM). Not everyone appreciates a ‘new shiny toy’ like you do!

OCM is the quintessential way to ensure your people feel more engaged in the change process. So, make sure they feel important enough to be part of the process. They need to be invested in the success of the project, and you can only do this by providing value and meaning to them. They need to understand, accept, and even embrace the impact of the change you’re implementing.

3. Do it now

I’d also tell my younger self not to delay change and adoption initiatives any further. Build them into your transformation project from day one (or you run the risk of compromising the transformation and its benefits down the track). Do it early, to ensure its value is clearly understood and agitate your stakeholders into thinking about the necessity of change. Failing to put these initiatives in place from the outset means you won’t see the right level of adoption to change and therefore your proposed business case will be blown out – or even thrown out.

Unless you start as you mean to continue, no one will realise the benefits or the savings of the value proposition you’ve put forward due to change fatigue, scheduling delays and business interruption.

And I’d remind my younger self that these initiatives aren’t just about telling people what you’re planning but require you to put a framework around it. Think through the ‘what’ and ‘why’, and the impact on your people, and consider whether the rate of change is too much and too fast.

4. Measurement matters

Then, I’d share this: While keeping people outcomes front of mind is critical to the success of your technology strategy, so is putting in place the ability to measure success.

So, I’d tell my younger self that aligning desired technology outcomes with business strategy is key to success. To ensure you can measure success, set up KPIs and metrics as soon as possible to enable measurement, feedback, and improvement over time.

Luckily, my younger self worked with very large global integrators – and for them, KPIs were king – so that was a great foundation. The age old saying “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” drove a particular set of behaviours, but what I’ve learned since then is to rationalise how much you measure. Not because the more you measure, the harder your job, but because with too many measurements, it almost becomes impossible to drive improvement across all facets of the KPIs you are measuring against.

So, focus on measuring what’s realistically attainable, what’s meaningful. And most importantly, what’s valuable! And have the vision and wisdom to recognise if newer technology that comes along during your one, three or five-year roadmap will change and influence the outcome.

5. Prepare financial readiness for funding vs long-term benefits

I’d tell my younger self to do the math. It’s one thing to ask for funding but prepare to articulate the hard, soft, short- and long-term benefits to the business stakeholders. Back to my point above, you need to use the data insights you are measuring to influence decisions. You need to be commercially astute, or engage people that are, to negotiate a mutually beneficially outcome and then build a business case that is well rounded, well thought out, and accurate.

The reality is that there will be times when the maths doesn’t always stack up. An astute leader will be able to decipher noise from value, identify key value propositions for the business and where the detail in numbers is absent, work towards creating them!

6. Enlist senior stakeholder support

Next, I’d advise my younger self to make sure he gains stakeholder support, especially in large enterprises where you must appease many levels of management along with a broad range of expectations. What motivates one stakeholder might not excite the next. So, it’s critical to help stakeholders understand the larger value proposition for the business outside their role. When you do this well, then and only then will your chances to onboard them as a proponent increase.

And if they don’t?

Decision latency can push or completely stall a project which has the potential to transform a business’s ability to survive and thrive for the years to come. You must be creative, influential and highly resilient when trying to win the hearts and minds of your stakeholders! They need to trust, believe and invest in the vision.

I’d tell my younger self to look out next year for this 2013 research paper. Especially the bit which cites expectation failure (where the technology system doesn’t meet stakeholder requirements, expectations, or values) as one of the four primary reasons for the failure of complex technology projects.

7. Ramp up the tangible business benefits

Back to vision! My advice to my younger self would be to use the vision to generate organisational excitement for a dream that incites change and business benefits. For example, ramping up excitement about enabling the ability to evolve to cloud without the ‘then’ perceived security flaws, risks and immaturity.

Imagine we employed Pareto’s theory of 80/20, and proceeded knowing that we were close enough to target state to realise significant business value and evolve. As opposed to holding until the hyperscaler had announced its most recent feature releases which meant all your requirements were now met!

When large transformation projects are performed internally, there’s often a lack of objectivity because everybody’s caught up in the moment or just focussed on their patch. So, endeavour to bring in a completely objective view backed up with thought-leadership and practised, well-proven methodology so you can achieve more in less time. Be bold and measured, and don’t be afraid to fail. Fail fast, fail cheap and learn!

8. Ask for (independent) advice

I’d tell my younger self to humble yourself and allow yourself to be challenged by others more (at the tender age of 31, chances are, I didn’t know as much as I thought I did).  

I’d say: Don’t be afraid to change strategy if yours doesn’t stack up. If you’re at the point where you have decision fatigue and can’t execute… Stop… Reset… and try something different, then move forward. The worst thing that you can do is wait, lose the opportunity and potentially become irrelevant. If you can’t move forward, seek an external view from a trusted advisor, a mentor to challenge your thinking, clear any thought blockers, and help you determine objectives, outcomes, and achievable timeframes.

I’d also tell my younger self that I still have the same mobile number and to call me. I know you’re open to learning, and I’ve got a lot of extra advice gained from a further decade of real-world experience under my belt, and I’m keen to share it. As do the people I work with. So don’t be afraid to ask.

9. Take the long view

My last piece of advice to the younger Terry is simple. And short.

Take a strategic view which includes an operating model for supporting the transformed state of your technology. Don’t forget that change begets change, so preparing for that means you can make it a positive outcome, not an unforeseen headache. 

In retrospect

Ten years ago, I was already over a decade into my career. And I’d gained a significant level of knowledge and a real passion for what I do.

But I’d like to think that I would have benefited from and taken onboard the wisdom that only experience brings. In short: Focus on the people, the people, and the people. This is how technology success is enabled.

In the second blog in this series, I’m taking an up-to-the-minute view: What’s important right now?

What technology decisions should I be considering in order to maintain and further the all-important focus on people – while remaining true to other critical business objectives like cost optimisation, security, flexibility, scalability and more?

Stay tuned.

If you need support in developing a technology roadmap, get in touch to discover how we can help.

In partnership with NetApp