What is a Technology Roadmap and Why do You Need One?

by | May 4, 2021 | Best Practices, Business

9 min read

As your business matures, its needs and surroundings change. One of the most dynamic and fastest-changing elements is technology. If you need any proof of that, simply consider what your cellphone looked like ten years ago. When it comes to your business, changes are a lot more involved than simply buying a new cellphone, however. They often involve sweeping overhauls of complex, expensive IT systems.

One way you can tackle the problem of aging technology in your business is with a technology roadmap.

What is a technology roadmap?

A technology roadmap is an internal document or series of documents that a company prepares in order to outline its plans for its IT infrastructure. It explains how those technology changes will help the company meet its short-term and long-term business goals.

This document is often visual in nature, and that’s for good reason. A technology roadmap helps individuals and business units across the organization understand the company’s plans for IT. The idea is to reach a consensus on both the company’s needs and the technology needed to meet those needs.

The goal with a technology roadmap is to leverage IT so it becomes a strategic asset. In order for an asset to gain strategic importance, it must help the company accomplish its mission. That’s why the creation of every technology roadmap begins with a discussion about the company’s short-term and long-term goals. The company also needs to have a clear vision of the future. What is it trying to accomplish? That needs to be determined from the start (if it isn’t already) since adequate decision making can’t be done without a clear sense of where you’re trying to get to.

Lucidchart makes the added distinction between technology roadmaps and IT systems roadmaps, but the difference is a little hazy. There appears to be some overlap, but the takeaway seems to be that technology roadmaps forecast new investments to replace obsolete equipment while ‘IT systems’ roadmaps outline key IT capabilities the company has or needs to have to keep running smoothly. However, both are still classified as ‘technology roadmaps,’ so the distinction might be unnecessary.

How do you make a technology roadmap?

There are three main steps that companies have to undertake in order to successfully create a technology roadmap.

Step One

The first step is a preliminary one. As explained above, the company needs to have a shared understanding of its short-term and long-term goals. That is essential for success. If the technology solutions recommended by the plan do not align with those goals, what good are they? So, before any real development can start, the company defines those goals.

The company must also identify the essential conditions of the roadmap. What needs to be done? Who’s going to do it? By incorporating different perspectives from across the different business units across the company, you ensure that everyone’s needs are met and their opinions are heard. Along the same line, the preliminary step involves defining the scope and boundaries of the roadmap. A planning horizon is established, and a level of detail is specified. An important question is also asked: Can the roadmap support the company’s vision, or does its scope need to be widened?

Step Two

In the second step, the company has identified its needs and vision. Now it needs to actually develop a framework to meet and achieve them.

There are seven parts to the development stage of a technology roadmap. They are:

  1. Identify the central “product” of the map. What has to be mapped?
  2. Identify the critical system requirements and their targets (such as staying under a certain price)
  3. Specify the major technology areas that help achieve the system requirements.
  4. Use the requirements from step 2 to define technology drivers, the critical variables for determining technology alternatives.
  5. Identify technology alternatives and timelines that satisfy targets.
  6. Make a technology recommendation based on trade-offs.
  7. Finalize the report and share its findings.

Step Three

Now that the technology roadmap has been created, it’s time to assess. The group(s) involved in implementing it need to critique, validate, and hopefully accept the recommendations. If the recommendations are not accepted, it’s back to the drawing board. Even though a rejection would be a setback, it is not a failure unless the company abandons the idea of the roadmap entirely. It’s far better to take the time to come to an adequate solution after one unsuccessful attempt than to give up entirely.

The review process is not “one and done.” The company needs to conduct periodic checks and perform updates if necessary. This is essential because technology is constantly evolving. The company does its best to predict what will become obsolete over time, but it’s harder to predict and work around emerging technologiesespecially those that don’t exist yet. Circumstances within the company can change as well. Scheduled reviews will help ensure the company is prepared for the future.

Elements of a successful roadmap

Every technology roadmap is unique, but there are elements that you can expect to see in them all. These include:

  • Goals and initiatives: Since your roadmap helps you to figure out how IT plays a role in hitting your short-term and long-term goals, you need to include them.
  • New system capabilities – What do your new tools need to be able to do? That needs to be defined before alternatives can be identified.
  • Plans for release – The timeline for when the new capabilities will be rolled out. It lays out the steps for supporting the new tools and the employees using them. This includes training.
  • Resources – The people and items needed to implement and maintain the new IT systems while simultaneously updating and preserving legacy systems as needed.
  • Milestones – These help stakeholders (investors, employees, customers, and suppliers) understand that progress is being made.
  • Risk factors – Any barriers to success such as limitations of the technology itself or adverse market conditions.
  • Status reports – These keep the different business units inside the company on the same page. Can everyone continue as planned, or are there delays or complications meaning changes have to be made?

Why do you need a technology roadmap?

There are plenty of reasons why you need a technology roadmap. The first is that it helps keep you organized. IT systems are complex and resource intensive, so they need to be understood from a big picture perspective. Management can’t make smart business decisions without having a clear picture of the abilities of their IT infrastructure. You can outline a plan for success for the whole company by adequately mapping out IT.

A technology roadmap also helps you immediately. During the process, you will shine a light on the IT capabilities you are currently lacking as well as any technical issues employees and customers are having. The roadmap is not just a long-term plan for the future; it outlines ways to fix issues right now. When you’re tired of “just putting up with it” or not getting anywhere with your IT guy, try working with an expert to make an IT roadmap.

In addition to addressing current IT issues, a roadmap will help you increase productivity and cut costs too, both of which can have quick impact on the company’s bottom line. Remember, IT should be a strategic asset, not a liability. It should serve your needs just as you serve the needs of your customers. A technology roadmap will reveal what capabilities your team need to do that. Likewise, it will reveal any unnecessary capabilities or applications you’re paying for.

The roadmap helps the company and its stakeholders visualize the implementation of new solutions. This is important because when a company is growing rapidly, it sometimes gets pulled in different directions too quickly. The separate business units can have priorities that are in conflict. By taking a big picture view of IT and focusing on the ways it can help everyone meet short-term and long-term goals, a technology roadmap resolves those conflicts.

Finally, system failures can be mitigated if not avoided entirely with an adequate plan for IT systems. The technology roadmap provides this. It will critically evaluate existing legacy systems as well as the need for security and privacy. As with everything else, having a strong plan is the best way to address security concerns and other vulnerabilities that can impede business growth.

Replacing Legacy Systems: Kroger

Another reason why you need to start using a technology roadmap is to deal with the aging technology in your own business. If you still think using outdated legacy systems is okay, simply looking at Kroger. The grocery company recently announced a large data breach that it attributed to a vulnerability in a third-party file transfer tool (FTA).

The FTA was created by Accellion. It allows an enterprise to securely transfer large files. However, Accellion FTA is now twenty years old—a lifetime for IT—and it’s nearly the end of its life. It relies on a now-unsupported operating system called CentOS 6. Accellion said that it had planned to migrate all of its customers to a new product called kiteworks by November of last year, but they failed to. Now, as a result, customers still running the FTA are vulnerable to existing weakness in the unsupported too.

This highlights the problem of running a service that relies on an technology that is no longer supported. When this happens to a technology, it means that vulnerabilities found today are not patched. Unpatched vulnerabilities are a cybercriminals favorite thing. They exploit end-of-life tools as a means to hack into their targets, often with out the targets knowing they are exposed.

It sounds like Accellion knew they were running into a problem, but they were not prepared to switch all users to kiteworks by the end-of-support deadline. Clients of theirs were exposed. Even though the burden of migrating customers to safe products falls on Accellion, customers of theirs like Kroger need to increase the level of scrutiny placed on their legacy technology. Franky, using an application for twenty-plus years should have been one red flag. An IT roadmap will outline legacy systems’ lifecycles and create plans to phase them out.

RELATED: What You Need to Know About the SolarWinds Hack

Bogged Down by Bad Technology

No matter your company size or industry, you need to IT. And when IT is not meeting your expectations or requirements, it’s time for a change. Have a strong plan for those changes with a technology roadmap. You can avoid being the next victim of a data breach caused by an outdated IT system, and you can get a head start on budgets for the years of growth ahead.

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