Most of us in the business world are technologically literate. That is, we are familiar with many different technology tools and have at least a basic understanding of what they do. This technical competence has many obvious advantages but it also has a potential downside: It can make business leaders leap to prescribed software solutions to their business problems and undervalue the role of strategy behind technology decisions.
Before deciding how to tackle a business problem with technology or committing to a specific technology tool or software vendor to solve it, organizations would be well-advised to first retain their agency or software partner to perform a strategic analysis of the business problem before recommending a solution. This upfront investment pays off in the long run—it provides a map of options, challenges faulty thinking, may bring novel options to the surface, minimizes surprises, and can potentially save organizations money and headaches.
Rather than trying to describe the technology solution in your RFP, put the effort into clearly defining the business problems to solve. In so doing, you challenge the agency or software partner to demonstrate their strategic chops, and your business reaps the benefits.
Putting your effort into clarifying the problem and the business goals
Unless your organization is required to use a specific technology or set of technologies, freeing your thinking from specific software assumptions lets you focus on defining the business challenge as clearly and thoroughly as possible. This, in turn, will help your vendor develop a strategy that is based on the full picture. This exercise also can help organizations articulate, clarify, and recognize their own goals in ways they may not have done otherwise.
Broadening your range of options
While it is easier for an agency or a software vendor to define a software solution if you provide them very detailed specifications at the outset, this can limit their creative thinking. Defining the first part of a project as a standalone strategic exercise helps uncover new opportunities or novel, lower-cost approaches to the problem that might not have been considered otherwise.
Getting an honest assessment of the pitfalls
Framing your strategy independent of a specific software provides a greater distance from which to look at all your available options and weigh their pros and cons objectively. A thorough strategic analysis will prepare you for potential pitfalls and give you opportunities to course-correct early.
Having a chart that maps your spend
Even if you haven't secured funding for the full solution, investing in a strategic plan will give you a valuable, tangible asset— a “map” that charts your options, defines the basics of the project, and estimates your spend as accurately as possible.
Getting a feel for your potential partner
Tasking your agency or software vendor with developing a strategic plan gives you an opportunity to test their strategic mettle and get a preview of what is like to work with them. You will get a sense for how they think, how they solve problems, and how objective, creative, and capable they are.
An unfortunately common outcome of investment in software is “shelfware”—software that is no longer (or was never) used because it was chosen based on an incomplete analysis, wasn’t the right tool for the job, or was too difficult to implement in a way that allowed it to deliver on its advertised promise. Investing in a strategic technical plan before making the commitment greatly increases your chances for success and makes the ride much smoother.