Are you investing in the right technology?
In the first of five articles looking at how technology can drive a business forward, we begin with investment and how to make sure money is being spent in the right areas.
“Investing in tomorrow’s technology today is more critical than ever.” So said Bill Gates, and far be it for us to disagree with the great man. But there is still the question of where exactly to invest?
In April this year Gartner estimated that worldwide spending on IT would reach $4.4 Trillion in 2022, a number which is set to rise by another $200 billion next year.
Spending on technology is big and so businesses need to be really clear about where to invest. Whether it’s about driving incremental sales, fixing an underperforming platform, delivering a better experience for your customers or just learning more about what your customers are doing - the right technology can help with all of that.
So where to start?
Fix for now, and for the future
“Essentially you want to strike a balance between the strategic and the tactical,” says Apadmi co-founder and CTO Adam Fleming. “Usually our clients are coming to us because they are trying to fix something that isn’t working.
“But the trouble is if you focus only on that, it’s easy to take lots of steps in the wrong direction which can be really damaging.”
Taking a strategic view is essential to understand what is going on within a business, to properly understand where technology fits in. What are the goals and limitations of the organisation?
Navigating the technology and the business
It’s not just about understanding the technical requirements and limitations, but also being conscious of the moving parts required to make any technology project a success.
Typically that falls into three areas:
Stakeholders - Accommodating requirements from multiple stakeholders and making sure the right people are involved.
Existing suppliers - Supporting, collaborating and managing existing contracts and supplier relationships.
An appetite for change - Is there a genuine desire for change and is the team empowered to do what needs to be done?
“When it comes to investing in technology, there is absolutely no one-size fits all.” continues Fleming. “It has to be a solution specific to each business. It could be a containerised setup in something like Kubernetes, or you might look at the services from a large player like AWS or GCP, or you could potentially look at a PAAS offering from someone like Boomi or Monarch. You still need support on the back-end and a team who know how to implement and often more importantly maintain those environments.
“Either way you have to cut your cloth to fit both budget and expertise - of those two areas, expertise is the one which can often be overlooked.”
Legacy tech and legacy teams
Expertise of course means expense. Several organisations are finding to their cost that maintaining legacy teams of expensive developers to maintain ageing systems is untenable, but sometimes unavoidable.
"It becomes a hindrance, not a help, which is exactly the opposite of the role technology should be playing
Resource becomes more costly as there are fewer people with that expertise and the focus becomes less about software development and more about operational management.
“You’re simply servicing the technology to keep it working, rather than optimising and using it to create efficiency,” laments Fleming. “It becomes a hindrance, not a help, which is exactly the opposite of the role technology should be playing in a business.
“Navigating that is fraught with risk. Of course there’s a trend to get rid of expensive data centres and move everything into the Cloud, but there are businesses (bigger, more established organisations like financial institutions), which might not want to be beholden to a large server company. You have to be able to support on both counts.”
Released from the shackles of existing infrastructure, younger and leaner start-ups don’t have to worry about the costs of legacy technology, but they have their own crosses to bear. These are less about looking backwards and more about having one eye on future technology costs.
“We’ve worked with several start-ups and the challenges are slightly different,” says Fleming. “They can start with Phase 1 and enter into a low cost agreement which is fine to get up and running when they only have 50 users.
“But what happens when the business scales and users grow? Have the right ratcheted structures been put in place to sustain that growth? Being the biggest customer with a small provider can be a tricky place for a growing business to be.”
Fix your tech, fix your business
Wherever a business is at in its technology journey, there seems to be a consistent truth relating to the catalytic effect projects have in uncovering wider problems.
Conversations with clients often start with technology, but can quickly become a broader conversation to understand whether technology is just an enabler and therefore secondary to the core business, or is it intrinsic?
“In the past Apadmi has been introduced as a partner who can help with an app,” explains Fleming. “But that necessitates lots of other questions around the technology required to support and feed into that platform. As a result our expertise spans far beyond that.”
“Quite often when we get involved, the suggestion is there are systems in place to supply the data and infrastructure we need to create a great application. But the reality can be anything from an ageing database to a bespoke system running on an old PC everyone’s too scared to turn off.
“Conversations about technology stacks often come about through necessity in order to ensure the right structure is in place and existing systems are stable in order to make a new application happen. Our experience has taught us how to be good at quickly understanding what that needs to look like and putting in place a plan to get clients where they want to be as quickly as possible.”
Trust in the technology, and the partner
Trust plays an important part in that. You have to be honest about what’s achievable without standing in the way of progress. Clients and stakeholders have to trust that questions being asked at the beginning of projects are for the greater good, rather than delaying short term goals, which can be frustrating.
“We often see projects too late and it can be really helpful to have conversations earlier,” says Fleming. “Clearly you don’t start talking to a builder before you know you need a house, but equally you wouldn’t look for a builder before you’ve at least spoken to an architect. We don’t have to wait for a fully-fledged brief and we have the expertise to be able to help shape requirements.”
So where does that leave us with the answer to the original question. Is money being spent on the right technology?
Investment is of course required for businesses to ensure their technology and platforms are fit for purpose. But as this article from Bain shows, the expectation should be that overall costs come down as the efficiency effects of the updated technology are felt. You have to make sure investment is directed not just at maintaining the status quo, but also at the areas which will facilitate growth.
Essentially the cost of the technology is mostly about the resource required to understand and implement it (as well as perhaps the cost of not getting it right). But selecting the right partner and factoring in the ongoing cost should also be considered.
“There is an initial perception that the real cost of technology is the initial outlay of the build or appointing a partner,” concludes Fleming. “But the ongoing investment is just as, if not more important, for the technology that realistically should be lasting for the next 5-10 years.”
Turns out Mr Gates was onto something…