THE BLOG
09/01/2016 01:04 pm ET Updated Sep 02, 2017

The Value of a Technology Roadmap

I often am asked about the most important elements to building a strong roadmap. I usually share my experiences and point people towards the many articles about the importance of a strong product plan. After all, the product roadmap is a critical guiding document for many businesses. But that does not mean that a product roadmap is the only roadmap you'll find in the workplace.

A technology roadmap (also known as an IT roadmap) is a document which outlines the plan to reach short-term and long-term goals through the use of technology solutions. This type of roadmap typically provides key information which helps organizations make better decisions around technology investments.

As companies better understand their options ahead, they can use a technology roadmap to determine which technologies to pursue, as well as the plan and timeline to implement the new systems.

The central planning consideration is to ensure that technology and infrastructure investments will meet the short-term and long-term goals of the organization.

There are various categories and approaches to technology roadmapping. However, roadmaps for technology groups generally fall into two different categories:

IT systems roadmap
  • Defines the systems that enable core capabilities across the organization. At a high level these are systems like CRM systems, ERP systems, data analytics systems, and other important systems that support the business.
Technology roadmap
  • Shows the technology currently available today and highlights improvements that are scheduled and even considers when it may be scheduled for end-of-life. For example, a core CRM system that is being replaced by a new one will show when one will end and the other will be brought online.

Who needs a technology roadmap?

Companies utilize various technologies to support their employees. And because the collection of technologies are often complex and resource-intensive, the overall infrastructure must be planned and implemented in an organized manner. Ultimately, the purpose of a technology roadmap is to align key stakeholders, such as engineering, IT, and other business units, by creating a plan of action to implement new technology solutions or maintain existing ones. This plan helps teams to better grasp the technology requirements needed to reach the end goal, and provides a clear path for the desired use case for the organization.

What is on technology roadmap template?

The key components of a technology roadmap include:
  • Goals
  • New system capabilities
  • Release plans
  • Milestones
  • Resources
  • Training
  • Risk factors
  • Status reports
Goals Goals in a technology roadmap are no different than goals in a product plan -- they represent the short-term and long-term achievements that the organization is hoping to achieve. The only difference is that in a technology roadmap, those goals are achieved through the technology solution. Specifically, the goals will focus on the business capabilities that are enabled by the technology system, as well as what will be required to maintain the systems going forward.

New system capabilities
New system capabilities are what will be provided through the enhanced technology systems. For example, adding customer asset tracking to a CRM system will offer greater insight to several business units. The new system capabilities are an important component of a technology roadmap.

Release plans
The release plans focus on enhancing the systems to support the new capabilities that are needed by the business. Releases on a technology roadmap are generally very predictable and are scheduled months in advance. They are also communicated broadly throughout the organization, as the release likely affects many teams.

Milestones
These are key accomplishments achieved during the technology development process. Tracking milestones allows the stakeholders using the systems to understand the progress towards the long-term goal, at points throughout the project. Milestones are typically tagged to specific dates and treated as performance targets to ensure the organization is on track. It helps to keep the team engaged when you can identify items marked as "done."

Resources
It is essential to detail the resources needed to implement and -- most important -- maintain the systems once they are in place. IT groups must plan to simultaneously roll out new functionality as well as update legacy systems as needed. This creates cross-functional dependencies between multiple groups.

Training
Training elements will spell out the type of guidance necessary for the internal team to support the system, the users of the system, or both. Training can apply to a new system that is being implemented for the first time, or enhancements to a current system already in widespread use.

Risk factors
What are the internal and external barriers which may prevent the organization from achieving the goals and milestones noted in the technology plan? These may include limitations of the technology itself, as well as broader market conditions that present a difficulty for the organization.

Status reports These are an important and necessary part of the technology roadmap to keep everyone informed. Delayed implementation of one key system will affect the plans for business units that were depending on it. For example, a business wanting to introduce a new partner discount plan for their channel cannot proceed until systems are enhanced to handle a new discounting framework.

What teams are most involved in a technology roadmap?

The most effective technology roadmaps are developed based on input from key teams. Examples of technology roadmap stakeholders include:
  • IT
  • General managers
  • Product management
  • Project management
  • Operations
  • Engineering
  • Finance
  • Sales and marketing
  • Legal

Technology roadmapping is an ongoing process to identify the key technology initiatives that will support the needs of the organization.

This process keeps business units focused on the most important high-level objectives so the organization can form the technology roadmap and plan to deliver on the milestones. The roadmap should also take note of any potential risk factors so the team is aware of potential roadblocks and can prepare accordingly.

Of course, sometimes plans do change. The technology roadmap should be updated to reflect any changes in projects or timing. This way the entire team can visualize the detailed plans and how they might impact tasks for each person in the organization and the overall business.

Creating a technology roadmap is only one part of the process. It important to share it with key stakeholders so that the organization can stay informed on the overall plan, as well as how the technology projects are tracking. This allows everyone to fully understand the overall state of the entire project and individual projects within the technology roadmap.