6 Digital Criteria to Evaluate Superior Technology

In my last post, I proposed six business, cultural, and strategic objectives you can use to evaluate digital transformation enabling technologies. The intention of these objectives is to align executives and stakeholders on opportunities and challenges worthy of investment independent from any evaluation of solutions and technologies. Now there are plenty of methodologies to evaluate technology and I once blogged on 10 attributes of agile platforms, but I propose that technologies aligned with digital transformation efforts need a new set of consideration and criteria.

I divide the criteria into three categories dependent on the primary owner. Stakeholder criteria are usually driven by business teams responsible for selling or developing workflow against the new technology. Business driven criteria aim to evaluate the technology on longer term viability and strategic capabilities. Technology driven criteria are driven by integration capabilities and alignment to existing platforms and strategies.

Evaluation Criteria for Technologies Deployed for Digital Transformation

Below are the key criteria that I focus on for new technologies - 

  • Delivers a User Experience that People Love - Reviews of digital business and technologies starts with an analysis of user experience across multiple sales channels (omni-channel) and device (multi-mode and especially mobile). This is for good reason because if the experience sucks, if it doesn't simplify life for end users, if the value proposition is irrelevant, if the data and experience is not ubiquitous across devices, if the user interface isn't intuitive or if it exhibits other poor usability considerations then the platform will fail to achieve the desired transformation goals.

  • Has Embraced Self Service Capabilities - "Enterprise" applications enable configuration and customization capabilities largely by providing application development and administrative tools to the IT staff. Today's SaaS platforms are better measured by how easy and how much of this configuration can be accomplished easily and correctly (without complications or quality issues) by non-technical business users. Many self-serve applications allow users to customize look/feel, publish forms, configure dashboards and reports, enable simple workflows, or perform common data operations. The more sophisticated platforms are fully self-service and enable citizen developers through simple visual interfaces, low-code tools, or entire desktop applications fully designed for business self-service.

  • Has Achieved Critical Mass of Fanatical Developers and Users - At minimum, users and developers should love the technology and be promoting it on social media. The vendor's conferences should be huge and getting bigger every year. Chances are if the social sentiment of a technology is strong, it's a strong endorsement that it's easy, powerful, versatile, secure, and stable.  Developers and users do not socially endorse platforms too easily or have the budgets to attend conferences regularly, so when you see thousands of daily tweets, tens of thousands attending the conference, subreddits that have frequent and positive feedback then it's a sign that this is an easy to use platform that has made others successful in a wide variety of opportunities.

    Why do I list this criteria as business and not technical driven? If you ask the vendors, existing customers, or third party analysts to evaluate the size, financial strength, or customer satisfaction of the technology then you're likely to get an incomplete and possibly biased picture of the platform's long term viability. When you can measure a growing ecosystem of passionate supporters, then you can measure this endorsement against competitive options. That's one reason why leading platform providers like Google, Apple, Amazon, Salesforce, Twitter, and Facebook all work really hard to cultivate large and supportive developer communities. 

  • Demonstrates A Strong Commitment to Data Portability and Quality - Technologies can create, process, and deliver data but they often don't do all three in isolation. Digital platforms have to enable growth and that should drive a slew of both data and quality considerations. What usage data is the platform collecting and how is it used to improve user experience? Does it have well used APIs and other tools to get data in and out? Does the platform provide sufficient functional, regression, and data quality testing tools? What tools, reports, and guidelines are provided to insure that business driven configurations do not yield performance issues. What is the performance and cost impact of using the platform with Big Data and increasing volume or velocity of data? What flexibility does the technology have to configure data security and enable auditing? This is a partial list and needs to be tailored to the type of platform and how it will be used.

  • Participates in the Digital Ecosystem - It's one thing to have an API, but is the technology already "out of the box" integrated with other technologies? Can you easily enable single sign on with Azure Active Directory Okta, or competitive platform?  Is it already configured in a data integration or IFTTT platform like Zapier, Informatica Cloud, SnapLogic, or similar? Can your self-service BI platform like Tableau or Qlik automatically connect to it as a data source? What app stores is the technology plugged into? I'm not just talking just about mobile applications on IoS or Android; what about SalesForce, AWS, or Azure marketplaces?
    What's worse - and what drives me irate as a CIO - is the selection or review of new technologies that overlap with platforms and capabilities that already exist in the enterprise without considering reusing existing platforms or calculating the future costs to consolidate technologies.
    The media and industry analysts promote this issue by developing new and sometimes proprietary terminology for technologies that have common capabilities. For example, are you buying a CRM, a Sales Automation platform, a 360 degree customer experience platform, or tools for marketing automation? These tools and platforms have overlapping capabilities that can be competitive strengths or commodity offerings but selecting multiple tools leads to  complexities.

    The best way to avoid this is to develop reference models that document a technological future state that aligns with strategic priorities. Reference models are often useful to document platforms, capabilities, reference data, data flows, and enterprise workflows. Then, when someone wants a "new solution", the organization is in a better place to review existing capabilities or identify primary requirements for any new technology selections.

What do you think?

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About Isaac Sacolick

Isaac Sacolick is President of StarCIO, a technology leadership company that guides organizations on building digital transformation core competencies. He is the author of Digital Trailblazer and the Amazon bestseller Driving Digital and speaks about agile planning, devops, data science, product management, and other digital transformation best practices. Sacolick is a recognized top social CIO, a digital transformation influencer, and has over 900 articles published at InfoWorld, CIO.com, his blog Social, Agile, and Transformation, and other sites. You can find him sharing new insights @NYIke on Twitter, his Driving Digital Standup YouTube channel, or during the Coffee with Digital Trailblazers.