Six Critical Strategies For Selecting Breakthrough Digital Transformation Platforms

What criteria are you, your business stakeholders, influential technologists, and executives using to evaluate a new software application or SaaS platform?

Are you concerned about features and functionality? Is it the design of the user interface that grabs your attention? Perhaps you go deeper to understand how much of the platform can be configured or customized to meet specific business requirements? If you're in procurement you'll be looking at financial and legal considerations while IT operations will be looking at service levels, security, and system integration capabilities.

That's all necessary and critical for the evaluation, but I would label them as "table stakes" (for you poker players) or "par for the course" (for the golfers out there) when reviewing a new technology. What this means is, all vendors need to have a competitive offering in all of these criteria and what you might see and need to evaluate is the strategic and implementation tradeoffs made by the vendor depending on their competencies, maturity, and capabilities. In other words, traditional technology evaluation criteria only exposes tactical difference between comparable platforms.

Evaluate Technologies for Digital Transformation

Perhaps traditional criteria is "good enough" for evaluating a new application aimed to fit a specific problem - a tool - however these criteria are completely insufficient if you're going to deploy them as part of a digital transformation. Transformation implies targeting new revenue opportunities, establishing new ways to engage customers, staging organizational transformations that yield order of magnitude efficiencies and evaluating other transformations enabled by mastering this digital lens. The way most stakeholders view a technology and the nature of traditional technology selection criteria is based on how the business operates today and not through criteria that enable a digital future.

To best evaluate technologies for digital transformation efforts, I suggest leaders develop a set of business and cultural strategic objectives and then include a new set of technology criteria to evaluate options. I'll provide my thoughts on evaluating the business objectives in this post, then follow up with technology considerations in my next one.

Business, Cultural, and Strategic Objectives To Evaluate Transformation Enabling Technologies

Presented below are five objectives leaders should meet on, evaluate, and document prior to any review of new technologies in consideration for a business or digital transformation

  1. Develop a Shared Vision on Future Needs - Today's needs should more or less be well understood and are often capture in functionality objectives. But consider where the organization "should" be 3-4 years out and articulate a list of future objectives. Even though the implementation time for new technologies is shorter today then a decade ago, leaders today often leave out this analysis and then realize that the solution selected isn't designed for a new or transformative set of objectives.

  2. Identify Strategic Opportunities and Problems - You would think that leaders are on the same page about what business opportunities and issues they are trying to solve, but my experience is that this is rarely the case. Since transformations will involve evaluating different approaches and often multiple technologies, it's critical that leaders acknowledge a priority list of both opportunities and issues.Some of these need to be future-proofed against the future vision to help prioritize the future versus today's needs.

  3. Review Customer Segmentation and Experience - Many digital transformation efforts target improvements in customer experience as a primary benefit, so this driver is worth reviewing independent of strategic benefits and even vision. Identifying a future customer segmentation and an ideal target of customer experiences can help prioritize opportunities and differentiate solution options.

  4. Dimensionalize Multiple Solution Sets  - Ten years ago, technologies competed on a relatively narrow set of categories and capabilities such as databases, middleware, application development etc. Today's technologies are far more fragmented and so there are often multiple solutions that can be deployed with very different underlying technologies. Non-technologies executives often fail to see where two technologies directly compete on capability and where other technologies can enable entirely new types of solutions. The technology leadership team needs to educate business executives on the various solutions that are applicable and to propose priorities and pilots.

  5. Model Organizational Impact - Many technology evaluations attack organizational considerations by defining roles/responsibilities on operations once the technology is deployed but fail to reconsider restructuring or process realignment as part of the evaluation. In planning for a transformation, the leadership team should consider documenting several organizational models and use the evaluation to map technologies under consideration to people and process.

  6. Communicate Financial, Legal, Risk, and Security Constraints - While transformations can be enabled by new technologies, selecting appropriate technologies is often bounded by a number of real world constraints. Unfortunately, leaders are often unaware of these constraints or have different interpretations of their importance, so documenting these helps complete a shared vision (point #1) with these considerations.
The five objectives above map out a charter for a transformation review. In my next post (part 2), I will propose a new set of criteria to be used in evaluating transformative technologies.

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