Your company is a tech company. Let me say that once more. Your company is a tech company — at least in the figurative sense.
Being a “tech company” in the figurative sense simply implies that a company is adopting practices traditionally tied to leading innovators in technology.
Such organizations are using data to direct their business initiatives and carry those with efficiency — practices key to successful digital transformation.
I know what you’re thinking. The tech practices referred to above are a little vague — which is why I asked Shawn Mandel to share some tips that readers can actually implement within their own organizations to modernize digital strategies.
Shawn Mandel is a digital leader with more than 20 years of industry experience and has had a hand in shaping and accelerating digital innovation at several Canadian organizations (Including TELUS).
Labeling Shawn as an expert on what it means to be a “tech company” and how to do transformation right is something of an understatement. Aside from his titles directly tied to technology, he’s served roles spanning strategic planning to product development.
Based on Shawn's deep and diverse experience, here are the key practices that make figurative tech companies tick and pointers on how to adopt them.
Diverse KPIs serve as north stars
For many companies, revenue-tied KPIs direct business initiatives. New projects are launched to drive net profits and those still in progress are streamlined to reduce spending and resource use. According to Shawn, technology companies consult more expansive, perhaps even holistic, KPIs while planning their next moves.
First, they prioritize indicators of team well-being. These metrics relate to employee satisfaction, retention, attendance and quality of work, among other things. When employees are dissatisfied or burnt out, motivation dwindles, progress slows and, in worst-case scenarios, eyes wander to roles elsewhere.
Second to team well-being is customer health. Specifically, organizations look at customer sentiment, advocacy, engagement, relationship and ROI. Fluctuations in each area can uncover which personas or stages of the customer journey need tending to before it hits your bottom line.
Third, they consult business KPIs. While every company prioritizes these financial indicators differently and may choose to track some while leaving others out, it's a general rule that organizations of any size track revenue/sales, profitability, liquidity and ROI. These cornerstone KPIs serve as early pulse checks for success, offering a comprehensive “big picture” look at company status.
Finally, companies should weigh technology KPIs. Like team well-being, these KPIs have the power to influence every other KPI bucket. If your digital platforms and architecture are set up properly, they can impact performance, overall customer experience and, in turn, those ever-important KPIs tied to the ever-powerful dollar bill.
Data informs decisions
Once tech companies have access to data on the above KPIs, the most successful ones internalize it — which Shawn and others note isn’t easily or frequently accomplished.
And Harvard Business Review agrees. In its recent study of Forbes 1000 companies, 91.9% of respondents shared that they accelerated organization-wide data investments during 2021. Many of these companies also reported that they are struggling to manage the data, much less use it to drive business value. That’s money down the drain.
“We have all this data that we’re collecting. What are the insights we’re taking from it? What are the actions we’re actually doing to close the loop?” asks Shawn.
In his eyes, the companies doing it right understand that the data collected is only valuable when put to use. Such organizations introduce tools to collect the data, analyze it and then weigh their findings against the KPIs previously mentioned.
Then, instead of stopping here, they consider all the projects or iterations that can be carried out, selecting and carrying out the one(s) most likely to result in more favorable data points and better KPI outcomes during the next quarter or fiscal year.
Basics are done brilliantly
In most cases, the project or iteration best carried out is the one that’s most basic. Inventing something entirely new requires extensive ideation and development, which our fast-paced, digital-first world, and competitors, won’t allow for.
Shawn points out that the most successful modern-day technology companies didn’t create something new. Apple didn’t invent the mobile phone nor Facebook social media. Both companies used the work and ideas of others before them as starting points. After selecting that promising product or idea, they considered what its pain points were and iterated from there, taking good to better and better to best.
“The overarching goal? It’s maintaining a level of excellence or maintaining a level of discipline on the things that you're building,” says Shawn.
As technology continues to progress, “best” is a moving target, which is why iteration has been and is continuing to trump creation. Do the basics brilliantly in the quest for excellence — it’s that simple.
Reliability is front and center
Supporting iterative projects demands technologies and practices that go beyond sustainable — they must be reliable. For technology companies to make those incremental and frequent changes in response to changing KPIs and new data, the technologies and architectures in place have to work, and they might not always be cheap. But boy, are they worth the investment.
Shawn isn’t a stranger to failure. He knows from firsthand experience that a successful launch or iteration is the child of numerous unpublicized, unspoken failures. While failing fast and moving forward is a byproduct of iterative development practices, without reliable technology, failures in maintenance and day-to-day responsibilities become a possibility.
“A lot of [my current projects] are grounded in this idea of creating an optimization machine," Shawn says.
"If you invest in reliability, your team frees up time. They aren’t spending as much time in the trenches fighting challenges or incidents. If you do a really good job with reliability, your customers have a better experience."
According to Shawn, technology KPIs mustn't be overlooked. We’ve created a white paper that walks you through how to assess the performance of tech stack in respect of this. If time is money, then reliability is an investment every revenue-hungry company should make.