Editor's note: The following is a guest article from Sathish Muthukrishnan, Chief Information, Data and Digital Officer at Ally Financial.
A business has "tech visibility" when the leaders of a company have a clear picture of the technology on which the company and its value proposition rely. This visibility gives leaders an in-depth understanding of not only how the software and hardware work but also its strengths, weaknesses, and the degree to which it can support long-term growth.
Tech visibility may sound straightforward, but operationalizing it requires businesses to investigate and redefine the scope of various business functions.
Historically, departments including management, sales and marketing focus mostly on customer-centric issues, while technologists work on tech-centric issues – often leaving technology siloed from other business operations.
The rapid evolution of the technology landscape makes this division a two-fold challenge. First, almost all business operations are underpinned by some form of technology, which means technologists are managing lengthy to-do lists. In addition to solving technology problems, they are increasingly encouraged to interpret and solve problems that relate directly to the customer experience.
Second, as emerging tech continuously pushes the boundaries of what we know to be possible, technology leaders must facilitate innovative problem-solving while finding ways to communicate the how to their business counterparts.
To meet evolving customer needs at scale, strategists and technologists must develop an understanding of one another's challenges and goals.
To this end, effective communication is a necessity. From the business side, customer needs and experiences must be explained definitively. From the technology side, tech functionality should be communicated at a level that facilitates clear understanding.
In practice, this usually means a mutual give-and-take process. When communication modes and styles are sufficiently tailored to bridge the knowledge gap, the real problem-solving can begin.
Here are the three best practices business and technology leaders can use to achieve tech visibility:
1. Start with the customer
The fundamental question should always be, "What problem is the business trying to solve?" Once this is answered, the customer experience around that problem can be defined, and potential solutions can be designed and tested.
For most modern organizations, technology brings these solutions to life, but make no mistake – technology is the cart, not the horse.
2. Dig deep to understand technology's 'how' and 'why'
To create viable solutions, technologists must demonstrate how and why those solutions will work. Will it scale? Will it lead to resilience? Is it flexible and future-fit? Technology leaders may intuitively understand the answers to these questions, but business leaders may not. Fixing that disconnect is at the core of tech visibility.
3. Build trust among key stakeholders
Collaboration between an organization's technologists and its strategists may be strained at first. As communication is optimized and multifunctionality comes into full swing, a sense of mutual trust will arise.
It is normal to proceed cautiously in the beginning – large investments, careers, and market share are all at stake. Teams should acknowledge those stakes explicitly and embrace any discomfort in the learning process. You must make it through the fog before achieving true visibility.
The advantage of visibility
Even though technology acts as the foundation of many business functions, it is often still viewed as a "black box" inside many organizations. As we increasingly operate in a world where every company is a technology company, it is less efficient to simply throw problems over the wall into the tech arena and leave them there, hoping the tech team will eventually return with a solution attached.
Establishing tech visibility empowers technologists to unleash their creativity on important problems. Its collaborative nature gives voice to a broader range of perspectives. It is also built on constant, open communication, which minimizes the chance that a given solution will be unfit for a business's future.
Ultimately, the greatest advantage of making technology visible is identical to that of establishing visibility in any other context: It allows business and technology leaders to see further ahead, prepare sooner, and move faster than those without it, ensuring a brighter future for the entire enterprise.