It's the most wonderful time of the year … well, for some. In 1996, Staples put out this commercial, which became wildly popular. The dad excitedly throws a few packages of sticky notes into the cart and dances with an old-timey pencil sharpener. (How many people under the age of 25 could even identify one of those?) Similarly, when I was a kid I got a new pair of sneakers, a Trapper Keeper, and a few pencils to prepare me for the new school year. Well, just as in business, times have changed. Technology is at the center of everything, digital is king, and there’s no going back.
Much like CIOs, many of today’s parents find themselves in unfamiliar territory when trying to understand this new digital landscape. What technology is available to me? Which things do I need to get started? How much will this cost? How do I prioritize my investments in digital and what metrics will I use to measure whether this new digital tech is delivering value?
According to the Consumer Technology Association, American parents will spend an estimated $18.5 billion on back-to-school tech products/accessories in 2016. There are "must have" lists for both grade school and college students. (It appears several versions of headphones and portable Bluetooth speakers are "must haves" for school.) While parents are wading through all these options, and feeling the pressure from their "customers" (a.k.a. children) to deliver on new capabilities achieved with digital tech, CIOs are facing similar circumstances in business.
Although business, culture, and technology are always evolving, the pace of change we're experiencing today is like nothing the world has ever seen. Keeping up with market changes and customer expectations, while pushing innovation, keeping the lights on and staying within budget, is a daunting task for many CIOs. Visibility into a clearly defined strategy, with specific goals, tactics, KPIs and metrics, helps when prioritizing strategic investments. It's also recommended that decision-makers avoid the tunnel vision that comes with project-focused initiatives, and instead use capability planning to set expectations and measure results. For example, the school may inform a parent that each student is required to have a tablet to participate in the coursework. If the parent takes a project-focused approach, they may simply buy their child a tablet and consider the project complete. However, did we take the time to ask "what does my child need to be capable of doing with their tablet?" before making the purchase?
To make informed decisions about tech investments, it’s important to meet with key stakeholders to understand the relationships in the business ecosystem. In school, the student may be graded on their ability to effectively gather information about history or science online, or collaborate with other students through dedicated social media channels for class projects. In business, CEOs may prioritize initiatives such as reducing time to market, eliminating information silos that divide business units, or improving the customer experience. To successfully manage the execution of these projects, you can tie strategy to a roadmap for execution on digital transformation initiatives. With this roadmap, you can spot opportunities for strategic investments in digital tech that will help the business (or student) achieve their goals.
Technology drives business, and now technology drives education. For both parents and CIOs, without a clear understanding of how we're defining success, the required capabilities, the existing and available technology in the IT landscape, and the ecosystem in which all of these things will coexist, it's very difficult to make precise, intelligent decisions about strategic investments.