Technology planning is a best practice – it gives you a roadmap to guide your decision-making as software, hardware, and business needs evolve. Last year, absolutely nobody created an accurate technology plan. But from what I’ve seen, the businesses that did plan were better able to adapt as things changed.
One company, for example, had planned to build out remote work capability for its workforce by 2024. They had their roadmap in place but were taking things slowly. Then, quarantine happened, and remote work became a necessity. Because they had a plan, they were able to speed up implementation drastically, enabling remote work for their entire staff within a month.
Their plan wasn't close to accurate and a lot had to shift, but their planning made it possible for them to adapt. If they had no plan in place at all, they would have been starting from scratch – and they probably wouldn't have been able to make it happen in time to stay profitable.
Here's the point: While we can’t predict everything that the coming 12 months will hold, it's best to plan for what we can. Technology planning now will give you a better chance of adapting as your needs change.
Here's what you should do to create your business’s technology plan:
- Determine your business’s objectives
- Evaluate your existing technology
- Align your budget
- Create a roadmap
- Plan to evaluate your progress
Let's cover each piece in more detail below.
1. Determine your business's objectives
We're not just talking about technology objectives here, although those should definitely be considered. We are talking high-level business objectives – the goals your business has for the coming year.
Your technology plan should match your business objectives.
Hopefully, this sounds like common sense, but, too often, technology and business objectives end up at odds with each other. Sometimes, this is because business leaders don't have a thorough understanding of how new technology can help – it's hard to keep up with every new update, after all. Sometimes, there's a lack of awareness of potential IT problems – say, that a mission-critical server is nearing the end of its lifespan.
The key is simple: Communication between whoever is driving the high-level objectives and whoever is responsible for technology. Your business objectives should come first. They will direct your technology objectives. So, there needs to be an open dialogue.
2. Evaluate your existing technology
After you have goals, you can begin evaluating your technology in light of your objectives. There are two main components here.
First, your technology should be maintained so that you can continue operating your business smoothly. This involves basic upkeep: Replacing any outdated hardware, updating software and patches, running network diagnostics, and holding any needed user training. This is a continual effort; servers should be updated every five to seven years, and workstations should be updated about every three.
I recommend creating comprehensive documentation of your technology assets with records to inform when updates will be needed. Depending on your capabilities and budget, you may need to prioritize some items for upkeep above others. Documentation will help you to determine what is essential.
Second, your existing technology should be evaluated to identify any areas where it will be inefficient in meeting your business objectives. Let's say, for example, that a business goal is to cut customer churn in half, but your existing CRM doesn't have the capability to manage customer lifecycle at a scale to make that possible. You might need to invest in a new CRM.
As with maintenance, you should document and prioritize new technology needs.
3. Align your budget
At this stage, you can start getting practical with your finances.
The most common question is, how much should you spend? The answer, of course, is that it varies. Studies from the past decade found that average businesses put about 5% to 7% of revenue toward information technology, but that’s almost certainly outdated in the wake of the pandemic.
The real question: What do you need? When you’ve completed steps one and two above, you should have a better idea of what the answer to that query is.
There will be technology updates that you’d like to make but that aren't critical for achieving your goals. There may be new technologies that are expensive upfront costs, but that are necessary to reach your objectives. Only after you've identified goals and your current state can you craft any kind of meaningful budget.
The exact number as a percentage of revenue isn’t highly relevant – but my guess is it’s closer to 10% than to 5%.
Again, communication here is key. For a technology plan to be meaningful, technology leaders need to have a seat at the table during high-level budgetary and planning sessions. If they don't, then any proposed budget is only wishful thinking.
4. Create a roadmap
Up to this point, your plan has remained largely theoretical. Now, it's time to get practical.
Your roadmap will be where the rubber meets the road. It should include:
Your technology maintenance schedule.
When will the hardware and software updates happen? How will they be implemented without disruption to employee productivity? Plan the nuts and bolts of your updates on an estimated timeframe.
A plan for the deployment of any new technology.
When will new technology be implemented? How will existing systems be phased out or integrated? What will employee training look like? Again, plan these things out on an estimated timeframe.
Clear roles and responsibilities.
Your roadmap must include the "who" – the people responsible for carrying out your technology plans. This may be an outsourced provider, an internal department, or you, but it can’t be an assumption.
Avenues for adaptation and technology support.
Inevitably, you will face technology issues in 2021. What will you do when things change or when problems crop up? Your roadmap should allow for adaptation and incorporate options for support.
5. Plan to evaluate your progress
Finally, your technology plan will require regular updates and check-ins to keep on track. You should build these things in.
Regularly ask questions like:
- Have our business objectives changed?
- Has anything about our current technology changed?
- Have the needs of our workforce changed?
- What has gone well in our technology plan to date?
- What has gone poorly in our technology plan to date?
And update your plan accordingly.
In my opinion, your technology plan should be updated on at least a quarterly basis. Build checkpoints into your plan and be ready to adapt it as you go.
Follow these steps, and you’ll have a better chance at using technology to hit your goals in 2021.
That's the key, really. Technology should empower your business, not hold it back. By strategically planning to use technology to hit your objectives, you give your company a better chance of actually doing so.
You and I both know that there’s no perfect plan. But if you determine your business’s objectives, evaluate your existing technology, align your budget, create a roadmap, and plan to evaluate your progress, you will be in far better shape than if you have no plan at all.