This started as a piece solely about Modern Technology Strategy and ended up with a large focus around buzzwords and hot-button phrases. The technology industry devours a good buzzword and I quickly realized we cannot cover something as foundational, and quite frankly, as triggering as Modern Technology Strategy without understanding why.
I can only imagine, being the start of the year, that you’ve been inundated with some version of 2023 Technology Trends and Predictions. This topic is fun, often interesting, and easy fodder for content creators (Are we not suckers for a good top 10 list? Yes, yes we are). However, is the information actionable, functional, and applicable to your business? Not for most.
The Value of a Good Buzzword
With many trends, predictions, and buzzwords (see also: innovation, disruption, digital transformation…), I find myself asking, “But, what does it all really mean?” Since there is a certain amount of creativity, shock, and awe involved in the latest and greatest technology, the focus on trends and predictions has become akin to the clothing on the fashion runway; no one is wearing that outfit in the real world, but the show is an amazing exercise in possibility. And that is the hook, right? We are drawn to and lean into possibility; the shiny new idea, gadget, or theory that is going to make our operations, organization, or team exceptional (see also: the latest weight loss fad). Here’s where most of us go awry (me included), we attempt to take these ideas and phrases at face value, like the expression itself has meaning. When in reality the word, phrase or idea is strategically vague, encompassing many ideas simultaneously rather than a singular, universal understanding or definition. Why? Because the landscape is too broad and too nuanced and moving much too fast to discuss in a precise way. Buzzwords allow for evergreen content that is applicable to the masses; a way to simplify the complex into sound bites and good quotes. Hence, Modern Technology Strategy.
Shifting from Strategically Vague to Actionable
Turning the sparkle of possibility into the hammer of reality never lands spectacularly, but is so, so necessary. And I want to reclaim a few of these phrases. I like them (there, I said it); the ideas behind them are valid, but we must pull them from strategically vague to meaningful and actionable. And I’ll give you the punchline right up front: in order to make this shift you simply must decide what they mean. Yep, you decide based on the context and interpretation that best serves your business.
We talk to people every day that get hung up and almost paralyzed by these phrases and ideas. The ambiguity and overall enigma of technology seems to throw people off. This is my attempt to demystify it and put it into a logical framework.
If you’ve found your technology strategy to be de-prioritized, already going off the rails, or a non-factor, this article is for you.
Breaking it Down: Modern Technology Strategy
“In 2023 I’d like to focus on developing a Modern Technology Strategy.” That feels good to say, doesn’t it? It sounds like it has some teeth, like it is going to get us somewhere…productive. Because, that idea, in and of itself has merit. What that idea means to you in a functional, actionable way is the hard, but critical part.
Let’s break it down. Everyone in the room can likely agree on the overarching thought behind this: you want to design an updated or possibly altogether new plan around technology. I imagine that is the last thing anyone in the room would agree on.
- Modern. Is that relative to what you already have or is it relative to what is available in the world?
- Technology. Are you focused on technology overall or on one area of the business specifically? What are the dependencies? What is the budget?
- Strategy. What is the end goal? What does success look like? Who owns the process? And possibly the most important question of all: What kind of impact will it have on the business objectives?
Clarity in these situations is paramount; you can’t throw a phrase like Modern Technology Strategy around as if it is then going to handle itself based on integrity alone (see above: buzzwords). Additionally, your technology strategy is not synonymous with your business strategy. If you go after technology for the sake of technology, it will be an unwinnable chase; it will lack focus, it won’t be measurable, and you will likely lose money – a lot of it.
So, how exactly do you develop a modern technology strategy? Wrong question. How do you use technology in a way that will have the most influence on our business goals and values? Your tech strategy, while necessary, must be a factor that lives within your business strategy, bolstering your objectives, not driving them.
The entire tech landscape is completely overwhelming. We get it. It is difficult to wade through even for seasoned technologists. You must take a step back. Break it down. Prioritize. Stay away from the shiny trends and fads. Pay attention to the evergreen options; look for the things that aren’t going away. Keep going back to your goals, purpose, and mission: How does it align? Is there a disconnect? Do you have the most basic things covered, i.e., cybersecurity?
The People Factor
Another sneaky, but vital factor many leaders skip over with their technology approach is people. No technology aspect or design, no matter how well-crafted, value driven or seemingly intuitive, will be successful without including your people and considering the effect on them from an operational, educational, and psychological perspective. You’ll need to widen the scope beyond simply problem solving. Who will be running point? What resources or new skills will they need? Will the transition include downtime? What kind of learning curve are we dealing with? What kind of adoption rate is necessary? Will the implementation impact a critical deadline? All these items, if not addressed and done so with clarity, will tax your team, impede the process, and cause the business to suffer. People are not just part of the consideration when deciding on a technology strategy, they are the consideration. Get them involved. Ask questions.
Back to Buzzwords
It’s not my intention to bash buzzwords, they are the woobie (I just re-watched Mr. Mom) of technology conversation and content; comforting, albeit overused and a little frayed. I’m also not saying to give them up. Just don’t lean on them as a universal truth versus a universal language, or a collection of ideas. Appreciate the proper place for this ambiguity and endless possibility. Hint: it is not within the walls, be it virtual or otherwise, of your business. Clear is kind.
Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification when talking tech with someone else, i.e. “What exactly does digital transformation mean to you?” And don’t feel the need to define everything – take what is relevant to you and leave the rest. Again, the field is boundless. Take small bites. Congratulate yourself and your team on the small wins. Allow for evolution, discussion, and room to change as your business grows or evolves. What is relevant and true today may not be tomorrow.
Taking the Reins
While there must be a technology strategy (without one you end up with disparate systems and inefficient processes), don’t let the tail wag the dog here. You didn’t go to school to understand cloud computing or cybersecurity, however, no one knows what your organization, department or people need better than you. Take the reins. Reclaim these phrases and make them work for you. Get curious. Maybe this is the year you move to the cloud and bypass the maintenance and headaches that come with an on-premises server. Possibly it’s time to uplevel your cybersecurity protection or explore more sophisticated IT options. You don’t have to understand the nitty gritty details; there are plenty of resources for that. You simply must understand the value to your business and your people.