Choosing technologies: how to make smart decisions in complex situations
16 March 2022 • 5 min read
Technology decisions can have huge implications for the future of an organisation. What gets decided can, for example, shape the way you work and the type of work you're doing in the future. It also can change who you're trying to hire - and, just as likely - who might be trying to leave. Even more importantly, technology decisions can - or, rather, will - impact the way you spend money. Often that goes far beyond the obvious cost of a specific platform and is instead a question of displacements - spend less here, spend more there; save here, invest over there.
This means that spending time thinking carefully about your technology decisions is incredibly important. To help you do that, AND Digital is hosting an event on March 31: Guiding... Tech Choices. Featuring AND Digital Practice Lead Stuart Barker and MongoDB VP of Developer Relations & Community Ian Massingham, the event will spotlight how technology and business leaders can make smart choices about tech even with constraints and legacy challenges.
To look ahead to the event and to discuss some of the topics that might come up, we spoke to Stuart Barker. Take a look, and then register for what promises to be a valuable and provocative discussion.
Hi Stuart! Technology choices have always been important, but they seem to be particularly important today. Do you agree?
Absolutely! The pandemic has demonstrated the need to have technology that enables businesses agility and the ability to scale quickly due to excessive demand, as we witnessed with the lockdowns driving much higher online/digital engagement.
Why do organisations find technology selection challenging?
What do organisations find hard about technology selection today? How can they be more effective?
It’s always been the classic case of buy versus build with technology selection, but with the advent of composable architectures and software vendors adapting to retain relevance it adds further difficulty and a third option of hybrid, e.g. buy versus build versus hybrid.
The key to being effective in the selection process is to understand the capabilities in your organisation that only need to provide parity with your competition versus those that you need to be market-leading or market-defining. The closer you get to market-defining, the more likelihood you will need to build those capabilities.
Should decision making about technology be top down or bottom up? What role do different stakeholders play (or should they play?)
I’d respond to this as needing to be “middle-out.” In a top-down approach, the decision makers are not close enough to the technologies being discussed. With bottom up, meanwhile, those proposing the technology are not close enough to the business domain/capabilities.
A middle-out approach ensures a different needs and interests are properly balanced. Collaboration between the business teams and technologists is particularly essential; knowing the art of the possible with given technologies is just as critical as having a strong understanding of the business domain. Ultimately, one informs the other. The best technology selection outcomes are when cross-functional, cross-discipline teams collaborate.
Learn more about our Spring 2022 event series Guiding Your Digital Future.
How to get technology selection right
How can organisations get technology selection right? What sort of processes and mechanisms should they have in place?
There are 3 parts to this: 1) Knowing what capability it is the technology is going to improve/enable, 2) Determining whether that capability is commodity or market-leading/market-defining, and 3) The process you're going to follow to make the selection.
The first 2 steps help you determine whether it needs to be a buy/build/hybrid technology solution.
The 3rd step, in my view, is not to simply issue a Request for Information or Proposal (RFI/RFP), but instead to actively engage with a shortlist of vendors/partners. The process of an RFI/RFP typically results in vendors or partners over-scoring themselves in responses. This means it's vital that the organisation still needs to put in considerable effort to actually test those responses through interviews and demo sessions.
At AND Digital, we advocate skipping directly to the interviews and demonstration steps. It allows for a more compressed selection process. It shouldn't just include functional and non-functional fit, but also an understanding of the vendor or partner's product management maturity and cultural fit to the requesting organisation. We have run many of these types of selections for our clients; they result in a far more agile selection process and a better overall result for our clients.
The importance of engaging with developer communities
You’re talking with Ian Massingham, who works in DevRel and Community at MongoDB. How should organisations be thinking about relationships with development communities? And why does it matter from a commercial perspective?
We speak to many clients where the discussion is about solutions being Customer Experience and Employee Experience led. However, as more and more clients want to build ecosystems or monetise the technology capabilities they have built by making them available to other businesses, we start to discuss concepts such as Platform-as-a-product. It's at that point that we also start to introduce the value of thinking about Developer Experience.
Making the access and use of those technology platforms as frictionless as possible can generate a halo effect within developer communities. You see this very often in the open source space; there's a symbiotic relationship between new tools and libraries and new users. MongoDB is a great example of this.
In short, then, it’s critically important to both understand the needs of your developer community, but to also advocate within the community to support adoption. The higher the rate of adoption, the sooner you will achieve break even and profit from the investment needed to build the technology capability in the first place.
Trust in technology decision-making
How important is trust in making tech decisions? How do you build it?
There are multiple perspectives to building trust, that between the vendor/partner and requesting organisation, and equally the trust between those conducting the selection and their stakeholders.
In terms of the stakeholders and those conducting the selection, that’s where the middle-out approach really plays a critical role. This approach ensures all parties have a sense of involvement in the selection process and have buy-in throughout the process. As a result, establishing the trust relationship needed to ensure success.
It’s slightly trickier between the vendor/partner and requesting organisation. At its simplest, it’s ensuring you have objective input from other customers of the vendor/partner and building the common ground between the two organisations. Can the vendor/partner genuinely understand, empathise and demonstrate the needs and challenges the requesting organisation has articulated? Are they prepared to challenge with their own thinking and experience?
Thanks for chatting Stuart. To dive deeper into the strategies and techniques that can improve your technology decisions, register for Guiding... Tech Choices.
Register on Eventbrite.