Imagine a road trip without a set destination. You and your family pile into the car. No luggage. No maps. No GPS. You decide you'll just wing it. For a few, this might sound like the beginning of an exciting adventure. For the rest of us, it sounds like a nightmare.

Yes, you could end up somewhere really nice. But more than likely, you'll waste a lot of time retracing your steps when you get lost, spend extra money on things you could have packed, and end up arguing with your family about when to stop, where to go, and where to spend the night. Chances are you'll wish you'd never left home in the first place.

Most of us would never just get in the car and drive, hoping to find the perfect vacation destination purely by chance. And yet, this is what many companies do every day when it comes to their technology.

Caught up in day-to-day business operations, many small and medium-sized businesses fail to consider their future technology needs. They react, instead of plan. Instead of staying ahead of the curve, many businesses fall behind, failing to remediate recurring technology issues, plan to replace hardware & software before it’s of the age when it causes issues, or take advantage of technology that could streamline their day-to-day processes, boost employee productivity, or add value to the customer experience.

In short, they don't know where they are going and they probably won't like their destination when they finally arrive.

So how do you plan for long-term goals, while keeping your short-term needs in mind? You need a technology roadmap - a document that lays out a strategic plan to align your IT expenditures with your business objectives and priorities.

Your technology roadmap can help you:

  • Predict future technology needs
  • Define the road that your business will take to achieve long-term objectives
  • Guide future purchasing decisions and avoid costly mistakes
  • Collaborate with your team to determine weak points in your current processes
  • Seize opportunities to better serve your customers

Your Technology Roadmap Should Include:

  • A vision of your technology objectives for the next 3 - 5 years
  • A detailed list of your current technology and projections for future needs
  • A detailed timeline of upgrades and expected implementation
  • A budget for each stage of the implementation process

Creating Your Technology Roadmap

Start Where You Are

The first step in creating your technology roadmap is to start where you are, with what you have.

Make a detailed list of all of your current hardware and software including:

  • Email & Calendaring
  • Custom Databases
  • Document Storage
  • Remote Access
  • Instant Communication
  • Accounting Software
  • Workstations
  • Network equipment (firewall, wireless access points & switching)
  • Phone Systems

Be sure to collaborate with your staff to get an accurate picture of everything your business currently uses for day-to-day operations.

Plan for Hardware and Software Upgrades

Next, determine when your current hardware and software will likely need to be replaced. For example, if it's been more than a few years, you'll probably need to upgrade your workstations soon.

You might also want to plan for future operating system upgrades including workstations a new server, new printers, new network equipment, or discover how you could benefit from cloud services and applications that could eliminate the need for refreshing hardware, and enable your business to be easily scalable up or down. Be sure to add any additional hardware or software you might need for any future employees you plan to hire.

Make a list of all of your future technology needs and your projected dates for replacements and upgrades. It's useful to break this down into more immediate needs, gradually working up to the 5-year mark.

Here's a handy breakdown of various time periods:

  • 1-6 months
  • 7-12 months
  • 13-24 months
  • 25-36 months
  • 37-48 months
  • 49-60 months

You may find it useful to create a spreadsheet with the time periods listed in columns. Then simply add the hardware or software that needs to be replaced in the appropriate time period column.

Determine Opportunities & Challenges

Next, determine what's currently working and what can be improved. Talk with your staff about any current frustrations or inefficiencies they deal with on a day-to-day basis. Is there a way to alleviate these problems?

For example, if you are currently recording customer information in 3 different places, is there a way to combine the information into a single system to cut down on duplicate records?

Next, identify any gaps in your technology. Do you need hardware or software to do something you aren't able to do right now? Are there ways that you can use technology to better serve your customers? Again, collaborate with your staff to get their input.

It can also be useful to coordinate your efforts with an IT consultant who can evaluate your current technology and recommend solutions to alleviate issues and fill gaps.

Determine Costs

After you've made a list of the hardware, software and services you'll need to upgrade and identified items that could improve efficiency or close gaps, it's time to crunch the numbers. Research the solutions you want to implement and get budgetary pricing information. Make sure you include the cost of each product and any labor needed for installation, configuration or customization.

Prioritize Your List

After you've completed your cost analysis, prioritize all of the upgrades and improvements on your list. What is most critical? What can be done in the shortest time? What can wait a year or two? Is there a way to break down larger projects into stages that can be completed a little at a time?

Complete Your Roadmap

After you've gathered all of the necessary information, it's time to create your roadmap. Creating a spreadsheet can be useful to gather everything together in one place.

Here is an example roadmap to get you started

  1. Start by listing all of the planned upgrades, and place them in a timeline.
  2. Next, create a list of all the items and their related costs, relative to the projected timeline to create your budget.
  3. Finally, write your 3 biggest technology objectives based on the timeline and budget you've established. This will provide an overview for your technology roadmap that gives you the 20,000 foot view.

Revisit Your Roadmap Annually

It is important to treat your technology roadmap as a living document that is likely to change as your needs change or new technology emerges. Be sure to revisit your technology roadmap at least once a year, or more frequently depending on your business needs and size to make adjustments and reassess your technology objectives.

While creating your technology roadmap won't be easy, it's well worth the effort in the long-run. With a roadmap to guide you along, you'll avoid many of the pitfalls that plague many small and medium-sized businesses, make better decisions, and move your business toward your most important objectives.

Need help creating your technology roadmap? Technical Action Group is here to help your business stay ahead of the curve. Just call Technical Action Group at 416-489-6312 to talk with an IT consultant about creating a customized technology roadmap for your business.