All organizations are on a journey from where they are today, to where leadership envisions the organization should be in the future. A vision of the future is (hopefully) defined by goals and objectives, and (hopefully) includes a strategy of how to get there. In today's digital world, information technology is a critical enabler for any organization, so there will be countless technology decisions between here and there and each will bring the organization closer to or further from the envisioned future. Hence the importance of making better technology decisions.
What is a Technology Decision?
Before going any further, let's establish some working definitions:
Information Technology. The Gartner Glossary defines Information Technology (IT) as follows:
“IT” is the common term for the entire spectrum of technologies for information processing, including software, hardware, communications technologies and related services.Gartner Glossary
In layman's terms, Information Technology is all the stuff typically used to electronically store, retrieve, view, move, or manipulate information. In this article, we refer to this as “technology” to avoid conflating it with the Information Technology department.
Decision. Oxford defines decision as
The action, fact, or process of arriving at a conclusion regarding a matter under consideration; the action or fact of making up one's mind as to an opinion, course of action, etc.;Oxford English Dictionary
After consideration, we concluded that this definition works for us!
A technology decision, therefore, is a conclusion related to technology reached after consideration!
People use the word decision to refer to both the pre-consideration challenge (“we need to make a decision”) and the conclusion arrived at (“this was the decision”).
What is “Better?”
We define “better” in this case to be a conclusion that provides better support than other possible conclusions for the following:
- Business Need. What is the specific business driver of this technology decision? In a well-managed organization, this business need will align with the organizational vision, but ensuring such is outside the scope of this article. While we advocate strongly for always considering the more organization-wide implications of technology decisions, the specific business need requiring the decision must always be front and center.
- Organizational vision. What is the organization's vision for the future as embodied in its mission, principles, values, goals, objectives, and strategy? In a well-managed organization, management will communicate this organization-wide. If not well-articulated, or if aspects of the vision are confidential and not widely shared, then extrapolate from marketing materials, executive messaging, and organizational lore.
- IT Vision. What is the IT vision or technology strategy? This vision may be well described in published materials – vision, principles, values, strategy, goals, and objectives or it can be extrapolated from existing IT guardrails – processes, standards, reference architectures, etc. It is IT management's response to the Organizational Vision, which answers the question of what the organization's technology needs to enable. IT Vision answers the question of how it will do it.
- Operations. What will technology cost to build, install, operate, and support? What runs well in the organization's technology environment? Organizational technology standards and non-functional requirements (NFRs) provide the blueprint for what runs well.
Technology Decisions are Inevitable
“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing.”Theodore Roosevelt
The thing about technology decisions is that there is no avoiding them. If you don't make a decision, it makes itself, often reaching a conclusion that wasn't even one of the options under consideration. There is no such outcome as “no decision,” just unexpected and sometimes detrimental default decisions. Minimize the number of technology decisions that make themselves and make better technology decisions by having a process in place for making these decisions.
Process for Better Technology Decisions
The subject of cognitive bias in decision making is a topic unto itself, but it refers to the errors in thinking that can irrationally influence how we make decisions. We have all witnessed a decision-maker make a technology decision for reasons having nothing to do with sound analysis, e.g. he or she has used and liked a product in a prior organization. Having a well-defined decision process can introduce objectivity into decisions to offset the impact of cognitive bias. Here are some of the elements of an effective technology decision process:
- It scales up and down. The amount of process and rigor used to make a technology decision should correlate to the magnitude of impact the decision will have on the organization. You can measure the impact of a decision by evaluating different facets: financial (cost or revenue), disruption to people (organizational change), or risk, to name a few.
- It fits the organization's culture. Organizations make technology decisions differently depending on organizational culture. For example, some organizations centralize decision making, while others use a more distributed approach. Unless you plan to change your organization's culture to match your decision process, you need to have a decision process that works for your organization.
- It results in an artifact. A good decision process includes an effective approach to share and discuss both the consideration and the conclusion. A document of record is crucial when there are numerous parties involved in the decision. But it is also invaluable for a decision-maker of one to gather thoughts to make a decision as well as have a way to recall the reasoning behind prior decisions.
It is also critical that decision-makers have the information they need to make better technology decisions. We can infer the necessary information from the section above, where we defined what was meant by “better technology decision.” The required information is:
- What is the business need?
- What is the organizational vision?
- What is the IT vision?
- What works well in the organization's environment?
Navigating the The Journey
The road for your organization's journey from where it is now, to where leadership would like it to be is paved with technology decisions of all sizes. Your technology decisions will take your organization somewhere. Making better technology decisions will take the organization where you want it to go.
If you think you could use some support to improve the way your organization makes technology decisions, please contact us! We have helped other organizations design the right “navigation systems,” and would love to help you!