The Right Speed for Technology

by Janice Giannini

With a deep mastering at the intersection of IT and business strategy, consultant, board adviser and former C-suite executive, Janice has been harnessing the true power of IT for more than 30 years. An Executive and Board-level digital strategist at the intersection of risk and IT, she enhances competitive position through vision and equity with large-scale risk identification, quantification and mitigation in an ever-changing marketplace, generating long-term value for clients. She engages with senior executives and teams, particularly in complex businesses where misalignment is blocking their desired success, to develop and execute practical business strategies and plans. Clients have found her especially helpful when they recognize they must integrate an eagle's eye and worm's eye view in order to identify and remove obstacles. Janice has consistently taken on those challenges that others chose to run from. This typically involves those challenging times when failure is not an option and integrating business, technology and people changes must be accomplished simultaneously. As a result, many of her clients are complex organizations who won't settle for anything less than developing widespread professional competence.

Talk to just about any executive about technology, and you'll hear a similar complaint: it's too slow. What they mean, of course, is that the time from conception to product roll-out does not meet the business's needs.

The question is how to speed up this process, and the answer has more to do with core business practices than departmental processes or the technology itself.

Here are the questions the cross-functional leadership team must ask in an effort to better match technology projects with business needs.

  1. What business or businesses are you in, and why?
  2. What does "too slow" look like?
  3. What does the right speed to market look like?
  4. What does too fast to market look like?
  5. What is your comfort zone for the company's risk profile and rationale?
    • Is your risk profile uniform across your business, or do you differentiate across product lines?
    • Is this widely communicated and shared with the entire business?

Having a common understanding about these matters gives the cross-functional leadership team members a springboard for developing a plan to speed up technology development. The next step is to determine the mindset of your business. Ask yourself the following:

  1. What does responsiveness look like? Are you measuring it meaningfully today? In this context, meaningfully equates to being able to take positive action based on the metrics.
  2. Are you building what the customer really wants or what you think they want? Are you operating on the assumption that if you build it, they will come? Either strategy can work, but it's imperative that the business team understands it.
  3. What is the level of urgency across all aspects of the business? How can you tell? Is it consistent, or does it wax and wane?
  4. What is the willingness for the cross-functional leadership team to think and act differently to produce a faster response time or shorter cycle time from idea inception to roll-out?
  5. What is the correlation between risks and speed to market? Is it acceptable? Is the leadership team in agreement on this?
  6. Have you created an over-constrained problem for your business to solve? In the world of mathematics, an over-constrained problem is one where you have placed so many conditions that there is no real-world solution. (Conversely, an under-constrained problem is one that has many solutions.)
  7. Can you accomplish your goals given the way your business currently operates?

Understanding the mindset of your business through this lens can provide insight into what you need to do differently to meet both customer expectations and revenue targets. Many executives have realized that today's business environment requires them to periodically re-tool their business. Although re-tooling is necessary, it's not enough. You must also be willing to reframe the drivers of your business, moving from "How do we speed up technology implementations?" to "Let's discuss what this business needs and make it happen."

There will be trade-offs that the cross-functional leadership team may not initially be comfortable with. The business leadership team will likely need to look at the cost of everything you are doing today and make changes, including finding new partners and/or sunsetting certain activities.

Businesses today compete globally with both established businesses and smaller, more entrepreneurial enterprises. Your overall business success depends on correctly balancing control, risk, revenue generation, available technology, speed, and partnering. That balance is not easy to establish, as it impacts the whole business-not just the technology function.

Are you in the business of making technology happen faster, or are you in the business of making it happen to grow revenue in a new world? The question you choose to answer will have a significant impact on the long-term health of your organization.