- Technology is in constant need of an upgrade, but it must be done strategically to stay ahead of the competition.
- What to change, and how to do it, must be thought about strategically with an eye to now — and tomorrow.
- Customers, employees, culture and flexibility all require consideration in the modernisation process.
The life cycle of information technology is becoming shorter every year. Strategic capabilities that once set a business apart may now be ‘table stakes’, shared by all competitors. As this trend continues, companies need more than an upgrade; they need to modernise the way they ‘do technology’. Whether keeping or discarding legacy systems, this means giving more strategic thought to the technology in place right now, and the capabilities that will be needed in the future.
Understanding what to get right — the elements of an IT system necessary to reach strategic goals — is essential. Knowing how to get it right — how to plan, sequence, invest, design, and engage the enterprise around the technological modernisation — is equally important. Here are 10 guidelines for digital transformation, from legacy systems to platforms for tomorrow:
1. Put customer
Although there may be many triggers for an IT modernisation decision, one explicit goal is paramount: to deliver value. Every investment in technology should amplify the benefits for end customers: through better experiences, product quality or operating efficiencies that add value. First step? Start by developing a clear business case for the modernisation effort, showing the expected value and innovation.
2. Simplify the
As organisations have evolved over the past 10 years, the underlying architecture of technology has evolved with them, often in a haphazard and ‘as needed’ fashion. The systems which remain can require a range of different approaches to support, integrate, adapt and upgrade.
Modern modular platforms have changed all that. Standardisation of software code and integration standards have enabled systems to interact more fully without requiring bespoke designs. Tools such as application programming interfaces (APIs) allow a business to develop interoperable components that fit together in standard ways and interact seamlessly.
3. Design for flexibility
Modern organisations have a constant need to adapt within a ever-changing environment, requiring continuous innovation in products, services, and practices. Systems must also have the flexibility to keep up.
How can a business develop its own capabilities to design and deploy future-ready IT systems, that can flex as needed for innovation and growth? Or learn how to use artificial intelligence and machine learning to gain greater agility and speed?
4. Engage with workforce
Technology modernisation is often seen as only a matter of changing IT systems. But these changes only sustain themselves if people accept and embrace them. Therefore new systems must align to the company’s culture — starting with a clear recognition of the new habits that people will need to adopt.
An evolution in technology architecture may well involve a significant cultural shift, with a new structure and new competencies.
5. Adopt a services
The traditional approach to technology treats systems as assets that a company owns and operates. A modern approach treats technology as a set of services that a company can consume and integrate as needed, without necessarily owning the systems at all.
Select and combine services from a range of best-in-class providers, within an overall framework that suits the organisation’s unique needs.
6. Plot the journey
Just as successful transformation is a staged journey, so too are technology modernisation efforts. Iconic companies have achieved their success through a fully coherent, differentiated, strategic identity. They methodically developed the capabilities and business models they needed to deliver this vision.
7. Organise by
For most large and medium-sized companies it’s difficult (if not impossible) to reorganise all legacy IT systems at once. Efforts must be divided, prioritised and sequenced, or they will be too large and complex to manage.
Most technology modernisation efforts are organised by traditional projects: temporary efforts, framed and budgeted by categories of IT systems, and delivered by teams that disband when the project is complete. This often leads to a short-term focus that can distract efforts from the most important goal: building the capabilities that deliver value.
8. Be agile and
When executing the modernisation, look for ways to realise benefits faster. Avoid the ‘big bang’ waterfall approach, which can involve many months’ wait before results start to be seen. Divide the modernisation roadmap into discrete delivery increments, releasing usable functions on a frequent release cycle.
It’s better to be incomplete and rapid than complete and slow, as long as user feedback is being obtained frequently and direction shifts based on best judgment about what users say.
9. Invest in resources
that make the change stick
Before commencing modernisation, perform a careful analysis of the breadth and diversity of resources needed for a successful outcome. Project management and transformational leadership capabilities are as important as technical capabilities.
Be highly selective in forming the team that oversees the effort. Choose people with a strong bias for change, a powerful desire and ability to learn, a high tolerance for complex and uncertain situations, and a solid reputation for collaboration and teamwork.
10. Partner based on
shared values and trust
The technology systems that a business is modernising are key to its future. Therefore, do not treat modernisation — or the procurement of goods and services needed to support it — as a transactional event. The goal is to find partnering organisations who can deliver mutual benefits, and with whom a relationship can be developed that goes beyond transactional.
Effective and sustainable IT
Taken together, these ten principles will help lead to an effective and sustainable modernisation of IT systems. The critical issues, as with any organisational IT effort, are not purely technical. They involve learning how to design systems more effectively, to engage individuals, and to complement change throughout the overall business.
For more information on technology modernisation for your business, see the long-form version of this article, “10 principles for modernizing your company’s technology”, in strategy+business.