by D. A. Rupprecht

I love road trips, driving to wherever the road leads. But I also like knowing where I am and where I’m going. When young, I used to read roadmaps on our family road trips, as I always wanted to know where we were and how long before we reached our destination. While Google Maps and GPS have replaced roadmaps, the concept is the same.

Enterprise Software’s Dead End

You can apply this analogy to a company’s IT system. The CEO drives the business while the IT department points it in the right direction.

When road-tripping, you want to see exciting things. In business, that means growth, and there are myriad ways to achieve it. Migrate to the cloud. Use local SEO on mobile devices to attract prospects. Connect with customers on social media. And develop digital strategies to string these together.

While your IT department can help do all these things, often they react rather than plan, chasing short-term gains that hinder longer-term growth. This includes myopic technology buys.

The enterprise software rut eats into a company’s agility, as new functionalities require ever more investment when applied to old tech. Getting the newest, most enticing technological solutions becomes secondary when you’re playing catch up and updating, patching, and fixing outdated tech. Chief information officers know this, and try to guide their organizations towards longer-term solutions.

Creating a Vision

Going back to road-trips, say there’s a scenic viewpoint from where you’ll be able to see for miles, giving you an advantage over competitors. But you need to plan. When driving up that long, winding route, you need enough fuel, an experienced driver, and a well-maintained vehicle for that steep climb.

Businesses too need to develop strategies to best utilize technology, and that’s where technology roadmaps come in. Using them, CIOs can strategize as to the best way to get there. When everyone collaborates towards that goal, the whole company wins.

Developing a technology roadmap for five years into the future helps businesses prioritize. The best technology roadmaps include:

· Strategy statements that list priorities (not specific to IT).

· Timelines for projects and initiatives that include starting and ending dates, project size, and how long they’ll take.

· Prioritized listing of opportunities to make IT and other general business improvements.

· Justification from C-level execs on how to sanction each project over the financial year.

· Estimation of time and cost for projects, providing reasonable accuracy for at least a year.

· Have one person own each project, with the responsibility to oversee and delegate; this could be the CEO or, for smaller businesses, the owner.

The IT department should center on this vision, updating:

· Holistic systems architecture diagrams that include interfaces, manual data movements, and platforms.

· Systems inventory that’s updated regularly with usage statements, user numbers, who owns it, and dates when technology becomes obsolete.

· Lists of IT complications that support staff might see, which good help desk software should easily track.

Function & Usage

After discussing future investments with other leadership, CIOs should base new projects on this roadmap, factoring in any needed tradeoffs to prioritize what’s best for the business. IT roadmaps should improve planning, helping with vendor and software selection, assignments, resourcing, and costs. Department heads can use it to understand technological requirements that aid in making IT-related requests and align that with the organization’s goals.

Above all, the vision should be functional. Having management actively and directly involved will also result in employees and other stakeholders to buy into projects before they begin.

Sometimes a company’s IT department isn’t designed to create a strategy, so using an outsourced IT consultant can help businesses actively manage these technological roadmaps. Wavestone – an IT consultancy – looks at creating strategies around the following functions:

· Financials: Look at IT functions and make changes to shed those activities that can be done more efficiently outside the company.

· Infrastructure & Apps: Determine whether applications and infrastructure are relevant to a company’s strategy.

· People & Organization: Employees’ capabilities should be assessed in how they work within a company’s structure.

· Processes Alignment: Assess how current IT processes will work with future technological solutions.

· Sourcing & Contracts: Look at whether the business can be better served through sourcing services internally or externally.

· Strategic Alignment: Ensuring business priorities are not only relevant but align with IT strategies.

Benefits

Technology roadmaps allow IT departments to:

· Make strategic investment decisions when managing projects.

· Create collaboration between IT and other departments as well as a company’s customers.

· Better negotiate with other department heads and employees requesting assistance on projects to eliminate unnecessary redundancies.

Department heads outside the IT department should use technology roadmaps as companywide strategy, working with IT leaders to decide on which technology projects will best achieve their department’s goals. Roadmaps help make resourcing transparent, allowing team members on a project to clearly trace costs in detail and where to designate resources. Having someone involved who understands the technology additionally encourages cooperation rather than conflict within an organization.

Conclusion

Knowing where you’re going as a company is important. Just like those maps I read as a kid, technological roadmaps create a clear vision that can help guide a business into the future. These long-term strategies not only help make the relationship between management and employees more cohesive, allowing for easier communication between departments, but they help everyone to be on the same page.

Author’s bio: D. A. Rupprecht is a freelance writer and indie novelist, based between South Africa and the US.