https://www.flickr.com/photos/sbardella/

Some ideas on how to make effective technology choices for organisations

An organisation’s digital estate will be comprised of many different technologies; all the way from the hardware required, to the various front-ends that are used.

It makes sense for organisations to look for economies of scale, by understanding what is in widespread use elsewhere. Some initial research will help determine which are the predominant technologies in any given sector. It also needs to be understood by what skill sets those solutions are delivered, and in what environments are those skills found, because this will help establish how any use of technology is resourced.

Technology choices also need to be made in the context of appreciating what appetite there is for innovation, as well as learning what is disrupting the market more widely. This can be tough, because no one has a crystal ball. With emerging technologies it’s hard to know whether something is a fad, or indicative of where things are going. Seeing how any proposed technology meets the threshold of business continuity criteria can help, because this can help determine how to adapt if the landscape changes. It’s also key to understand what can be done ‘out of the box’ with any solution, or where custom solutions are required. This also helps limit the inheritance of technical debt.

If there is a case for change, then it’s key to establish the speed at which change can happen. Legacy systems, third-party integrations, location and relevance of skills, licence fees, budget and time constraints, as well as the frequency of development cycles are examples of considerations that will create dependencies and challenges within any project that looks to deliver change.

Because the way in which people and services access digital content, features and functionality constantly evolves, it makes sense to ensure any choices made are device agnostic so they can keep pace with these changes. There are plenty of organisations struggling today on inflexible platforms as their audiences have become more engaged on mobile as an example.

Considerations on market size also need to be taken into account. What bearing do levels of anonymous and authenticated traffic have on performance, and what blend of hardware and software will be mitigate any issues? (i.e. use of content delivery networks (CDNs) or caching.) What specific security considerations need to be taken into account? System and data security is key, as well as ensuring that it is put in place by appropriately experienced teams.

Managing content and customer data needs to be understood, alongside the capabilities that exist to provide these services. Editorial workflows need to be efficient, adaptable and applicable to the skills and the volumes of people needed to do the work. Content (which may also need to be migrated in, syndicated or ingested via third parties, or created by users) needs to be as unprocessed as possible so that it can work across a variety of front-ends. It’s not at all uncommon for the driver of any current technology re-platforming to be because an organisation has become severely restricted with what it can do with its content.

Once all of the high level considerations discussed so far are processed, there is then a whole body of work that needs to be done around more specific areas. Levels of interoperability between systems, single points of user authentication, suitability of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), support for various technology libraries or coding frameworks.

By the time all of this work is done, there should be a clearer understanding of the types of technology that can move an organisation’s digital ambitions forward. This should take into account what they have today, what is prevalent in their sector, what will best realise future plans, and, in terms of delivery, what is required in terms of skills, training, partnering or supplier selection to execute on all of this. This understanding can then be used, if needed, to create any Invitation to Tender, Request for Proposals or Pre-qualifying Questionnaires (ITTs, RFPs, PQQs), job descriptions, business plans etc. that can be used to kick-start the process by which this all can start to happen.

If this procurement process involves talking to software vendors, or agencies that specialise in certain solutions, then it’s important to fully scrutinise resulting responses. Ask challenging, informed questions and look for specific evidence that supports project objectives. Be mindful of the fact procurement processes mean being sold to, often by very convincing people, who don’t necessarily sit at the sharp end of getting things done, unlike the team who will have to live with the impact of a bad purchasing decision. Push back on outlandish claims. Don’t just accept them. Building collaborative workshops into decision making processes, where the aim is to validate claims made by vendors, through knocking up small prototypes, or proof on concepts (PoCs) is another way in which the chances of making the wrong choice can be mitigated.

The wrong choice during procurement will eventually permeate throughout the entire organisation, because it will result in a situation where the opportunity to maximise engagement with end-users is missed. Recovering from these sort of mistakes can take time, especially if the investment has come about as a part of one-off capital expenditure that can’t be easily repeated for a number of years.

Finally, any process which is used to help establish the right technology choices should be fully inclusive, identifying and taking insight from stakeholders as relevant. While I’m able to run processes such as these, all I bring to bear is my specific experience. Even though that has varied across development, content and product roles, for broadcast, out of home (OOH) and online, for both B2C and B2B, it’s not exhaustive. All organisations have people with specific domain and functional expertise, and the role of any exercise that looks to make technology choices that have the aim of delivering improvements across the board will have to take into account that experience across the board, to find the right way to capture insight and knowledge.