Code4Software founder Jared Freedman on building a solid foundation for a technology roadmap.
Jared Freedman, founder and CEO of Hollywood, Florida-based Code4Software, understands what it takes to build a technology vision. Since 2006, Code4 has done everything from block-and-tackle internet application development and enterprise application development for Fortune 500 clients, to “virtual” world development, including creating virtual environments combined with in-world marketing and commerce.
In each case, he says, the first order of business was the development of a goals-based technology vision. “Whether you’re talking about building a single application or creating a map for all of your technology, it starts with goals,” he says. “The objective might be to increase revenue, gain more market share, outwit a competitor, tighten security, or any number of other appropriate results. The bottom line is, knowing your goals and being able to measure results are critical, because open-ended goals will never be fulfilled, and goals that cannot be measured have no way to be completed.”
Vision building blocks
“Whether you’re considering a single, purpose-built application or considering a longer-term technology plan, it starts with that vision—with a roadmap built around the specific needs of your business,” Freedman asserts.
So where do you start? According to Freedman, the foundation for a vision begins with an assessment of where the business is today and where, ultimately, you’d like it to be. He outlines a foundational approach to developing a roadmap based on several key factors, including:
- Current resources—Creating an inventory of what the business possesses in terms of infrastructure, human capital, and liquidity.
- Current technology acumen—Determining the current technology skills that can be relied on for in-house use. Such skills typically include computer network configuration and administration, information security, software development, systems integration, and the like. These skills can be held by the founder or employees, as long as the key issue of reliability is maintained. “In technology, it is imperative that you utilize professionals who will stand behind their work,” he adds.
- Access to resources and technology—How easy or difficult it is to acquire new resources, such as infrastructure, capital, liquidity, IT resources, and technology skills.
- Current state of the business—Broadly defined, it’s your number of customers, market position, overall revenue, and costs of doing business, combined with current efforts at growth or mitigating losses.
- Desired state of business—“This is what this whole exercise is about,” says Freedman. “What is the goal to be achieved with the business?”
Other key issues to consider are capacity for risk, time constraints, and ongoing operational impact.
It’s not about starting from scratch
Once you have an understanding of these facets, you can begin to form your vision. “Don’t assume you have to start from scratch,” says Freedman. “It might be nice in theory, but most businesses already have ongoing operations that need to be maintained, even as the quest for a new technology vision takes place. What is currently in place and what is acquirable in the near term form the ‘realm of possibility’ within which to work. There is little point in crafting a vision that can’t be executed, so these boundaries keep ideas realistic.”
As far as looking at potential solutions, Freedman suggests starting with a competitive analysis and checking out industry association websites for best practices. But don’t stop there; find ways to go to the next level and surpass what your competitors are doing. This doesn’t necessarily mean reinventing the wheel. It might just mean faster delivery of goods and services, higher quality, lower prices, greater selection, greater ease-of-use, or a related objective. Regardless, make sure that efforts against those goals are measurable.
Clear goals, create clear vision
At some point, you may need to reach out to a solutions provider to both help form your vision and implement it, which is why Freedman says that understanding and being able to articulate your objectives becomes so important. “As a business owner, you may not necessarily be a technology expert,” Freedman notes, “but if you know what success looks like, it makes the roadmap easier to formulate and act on.”
He uses the example of a client who is among the largest providers of waste hauling and recycling services in South Florida. The company’s goal was to streamline its use of paper—to do away with the clipboards drivers carried to account for routes covered, fuel usage, inventory, etc.—and move everyone to handheld devices. There were solutions for larger, enterprise firms, but nothing that worked specifically for their needs.
“In that case, the goal was to streamline paperwork, which served as foundation for a vision geared to improving productivity throughout the hauling process,” says Freedman. “To get there, we worked together to map priorities and functions, determine how we could best put current resources to work, and create a concrete plan of action that included specific deliverables, milestones, acceptance criteria, and budgets. We helped them realize that vision by developing the Signature Cloud for them. Signature Cloud is a mobile device signature capture app combined with cloud-based storage and a Web-reporting tool. After the launch of the product and a few iterations of refinement, the customer took over the product and taught their own internal development team the skills necessary to maintain it. We saved them money and helped them achieve their budgetary goals and, ultimately, achieve their technology vision. And it all started by understanding goals.”
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