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Successful Technology Transformation

January 16, 2020

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Bold Vision and Focus on Outcomes = Successful Technology Transformation

Matt Scarborough Technology Transformation Success

by Matt Scarborough, Chief Executive Officer

Let’s make THIS our New Year’s resolution: No more IT projects that fail to deliver on their intended result

If you work in the financial services industry, you know that every new year brings challenges—from regulatory scrutiny to consumer behaviors—that are difficult to predict and even harder to control.

There is one thing that you can control, however, and that’s how you plan for and implement IT projects that deliver on the intended result.

Billions of dollars will be wasted on technology investments if organizations don’t do the hard work required to transform their business

The financial industry spends many billions of dollars every year, typically 0.4 to 0.5% of assets, on technology. In fact, the pressure to invest in technology initiatives has increased so much that it is driving M&A decisions.

Much of this money, unfortunately, is wasted because these companies don’t make it their focus to do the hard work required to transform their business and get the most out of their investment.

In fact, how many large IT projects have you seen recently that failed to deliver the intended results? (I’m betting the number is high.) 2020 will prove to be no different. That trend doesn’t need to apply to your organization, however.

Make it your resolution to “do” IT projects right and get the most out of the significant investments you make in tech.

Read on to learn how to achieve these desired transformations.

Be relentless: To deliver on a successful technology project, understand your desired outcomes and focus on them (not requirements)

Transforming businesses through technology-dependent innovation is hard. Far too often, we blame technology constraints as the sole reason that we have not transformed our businesses already. Therefore, our investments focus on technology while assuming that the actual business transformation will need to happen later (it rarely does).

The keys to success here are to do the hard work up front—both defining the desired business transformation and executing iteratively on the creation of those outcomes. Business and technology must happen in parallel, not consecutively.

Getting the results: Think big AND act small

The sweet spot in these efforts involves balancing apparent contradictions: Thinking big and being visionary while connecting with in-the-weeds detail.

This starts with defining the future business vision, design principles and expected benefits. Design principles are critical in this process. While visions may sound similar in many areas across different companies, design principles define how you make the trade-off decisions involved in creating those outcomes in a way unique to your company.

Because there will be thousands of small decisions throughout any transformation project, defining parameters up-front enables resulting decisions to be made quickly and in a manner that is more aligned than these decisions would be otherwise. Getting this right may involve intense political battles up-front, but it’s worth it—leaving hard problems to be magically solved by technology is a consistent recipe for disappointment.

Leaving hard problems to be magically solved by technology is a consistent recipe for disappointment.

Maintain your focus on outcomes, NOT requirements

Once the first steps are done, the challenge then is to maintain relentless focus upon the desired outcomes. Typically, the desired outcomes are translated into tech requirements and then ignored while the focus shifts to requirements.

What’s a tech project leader to do? Stay focused on the desired outcomes by asking these questions:

  • Which outcomes do we want?
  • Which data are required to generate those outcomes?
  • What are the simplest and most customer-friendly ways to get the data with the confidence to know we can achieve our desired outcomes (i.e. all of our risk partners and business leaders can feel good about it)?

This work involves iteratively getting into the weeds, moving the business forward as much as possible within existing technology constraints, and precisely identifying where current technology is holding us back (and therefore informing the next wave of technology effort).

This is where “Thinking Big” connects with “Acting Small” again and again, in the relentless pursuit of the desired outcomes.

Commit to doing the hard things: getting the needed resources (the people)

Getting this right requires real commitment to doing the hard things. For example, getting an IT budget is a waste if we do not simultaneously address all of the realities that holds us back (and doing that also means committing the right resources to the effort).

Getting the right resources brings us an important combination: knowledge about the business, commitment to transformation, and the courage to escalate issues and run through walls. Resources (people) are hard to find, incredibly valuable, and critical to the success of these efforts. Yet this can be done and, sometimes, entirely with internal resources.

Getting the right resources brings us an important combination: knowledge about the business, commitment to transformation, and the courage to escalate issues and run through walls.

As a matter of fact, we have seen clients create ad-hoc teams of their best people by pulling staff completely out of their day-jobs and relocating them for months as a new team tasked with simultaneous business and technology transformation. The results have generally been very good. Mostly, however, the addition of the right external resources can enable the desired results and deliver a lower opportunity cost to the business.

Without a bold vision and relentless focus on outcomes, money alone won’t deliver a technology project that achieves the real transformation your institution is seeking

2020 will see continued increasing emphasis on technology-enabled transformation. The companies that succeed in these projects will be the ones who combine boldness of vision with relentless execution while addressing the known hard problems upfront and along the way.

This requires involving and committing the right talent to the entire journey and ensuring that enough of that talent brings fresh perspectives.

If you can do that, then you and your institution will significantly differentiate yourselves from peers throughout 2020 and beyond.

If you’re not sure if you can, bring on a trusted external partner to help you assess your risks, identify what’s holding you back, and help you develop the plan and the resources to deliver on your technology assessment.