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How to Build Your Innovative Technology Team

Written by Linda Rolf on 1/16/2018 and updated 5/10/2018

There was a time not so long ago that technology and the IT teams that kept it all together were excluded from strategic planning discussions. Decisions that would ultimately rely on their successful technology execution were often made in the absence of any technical expertise and context.

Technology teams were handed specific results they were expected to deliver. There was no "why" to connect the "what". That missing link often led to poorly selected tools and technologies --- the "how" --- because of incomplete information and the rush to meet deadlines.

The outcome was predictable.

One Client's Aha Moment

"Where are we on the project? Does the development team have its assignments?" But then an interesting thing happened. It was determined that the client's development team was behind on a key task.

The group immediately leapt into problem-solving mode. "What is Dennis working on? What help do we think Karen needs to meet the due date?" This futile speculation continued until one out of patience manager leaned forward and quietly said "Why don't we just bring Dennis and Karen in here and ask them?"

Why New Technology Thinking Is Important

Today, forward-thinking companies of all sizes recognize the value of the right technology expertise actively participating in strategic discussions. Where technology was once viewed as an isolated "thing", it has now evolved to be a valued business asset that directly contributes to company growth.

Marketing automation technologies, the demand for real-time customer engagement and continuous customer experience analytics are here to stay. It's this deep reliance on sound technology that has changed the role of technology leadership and their teams within the organization.

Regardless of your organization's size, both strategic and hands-on technical expertise is essential for your company's growth. These roles and attributes are equally relevant in both the large C-suite team organization and the resource-stretched five-person company.

What Are the New Technology Leadership Roles?

1. Strategic Contributor and Innovation Leader

Your technologist is included in every meeting for every business unit from the beginning. He has a broad depth of both business and technical expertise acquired over a number of years, preferably in different organizations.

His role in each meeting is to:

  • Listen, ask relevant strategic questions and gather information with an open mind

  • Develop an understanding of how each initiative aligns with the overall company goals

  • Clearly understand each business unit's objective

  • Capture high-level technology requirements that align with the specific business unit's goals

  • Every company is under tremendous pressure to compete at what can feel like an overwhelming pace. Innovation is the key to moving forward, and technology is the fuel that drives these projects.

    CIO Vijay Sankaran of TD Ameritrade says "As businesses mature, what ends up happening is a more execution and operation mindset can creep in. So you have to be very deliberate around how you get new juices and ideas flowing." Creating that innovative mindset begins at the top of the organization and is supported and executed by the technology leader.

    2. Strategic Thinker First, Then a Technologist

    Technology people are usually quick to leap to "how" and all of the associated implementation obstacles they will need to overcome. After all, they're problem solvers who relish the next big challenge.

    It's not time to bring in the technical doers yet. They will quickly derail the discussion and frustrate everyone in the room. Momentum gone.

    The technology strategist is someone who can maintain her holistic focus on the company's long-term objectives. Because she is an active participant in every planning session, she can spot solution overlaps, connections and potential opportunities across the entire organization.

    It's not unusual for someone in a business unit to bring a technical solution to the group. Regardless of the reasoning behind it, this solution-first approach is often detrimental. Because "we already know how to do it", the all-important discovery discussions never happen.

    Your technology strategist can shape a collaborative, innovative mindset that will bring the group back to the appropriate problem clarity discussions first.

    The technology leader will ultimately translate those big goals into actionable technical requirements for the problem solvers.

    3. Assess the Existing Technology Framework

    If you don't know what technology assets you have now, it makes absolutely no sense to keep bouncing on the let's-buy-that-software trampoline. And yet it happens to smart companies every day. Why?

    A lot of reasons ---

  • Everyone wants to try the shiny new thing.

  • Your competitor is using it / not using it so this must be the right thing to do.

  • The absence of an experienced technology strategist lays the groundwork for the self-anointed tech expert. This is a position you need to get rid of as quickly as possible.

  • It's natural for every business unit (even if it's just one person) to chose the tools that work best at any given time.

  • Regardless of how you have arrived at this place, there is an easy solution.

    A savvy technology leader is going to ask every business unit these fundamental questions early in the planning process:

  • What tools / applications / software do you use?

  • Why do you use them?

  • Who uses them?

  • What do they do?

  • How long have you used them?

  • Did the company buy them or build them in-house?

  • Are these installed on local desktops and/or mobile devices?

  • Are these managed by an internal server, an external company server or a SaaS third-party solution

  • What would you like to change about them if you could?

  • What do you like about them?

  • What tools do you need that you don't have?

  • The list goes on, but the point is obvious.

    The speed at which technology adoption needs to happen for a nimble company to remain competitive has compounded this situation.

    Conducting a thorough technology inventory delivers some immediate actionable benefits including:

  • Identifies technology overlaps among business units. This creates opportunities to consolidate and streamline.

  • Reveals potential solutions to strategic goal items using existing assets, eliminating additional financial investments

  • Uncovers potential security risks that need to be addressed in your strategic plan

  • Identifies additional data analytics sources to support and enhance customer experience initiatives

  • Creates a technology roadmap that connects and aligns strategic goals with existing technology investments

  • Pinpoints priorities in new technology acquisition

  • Guides future technology adoption practices

  • 4. New Marketing and Technology Collaboration

    Agile marketing teams regardless of size must rely more and more heavily on technology to support, drive and measure the effectiveness of their initiatives. This growing dependence is creating a shift in the IT and marketing relationships.

    IT is learning that it needs to adopt a think like the external customers mindset.

    Technology teams have newfound opportunities to contribute to customer experience project results through data retrieval and technology integrations. With access to data across the organization, your technology team has the unique ability to identify and implement tools that deliver meaningful analysis and reporting.

    Marketing must develop a level of comfort and competence with both marketing automation frameworks and software applications.

    Your technology team can fill this skills gap while also fostering knowledge growth. Given the rapid pace that technology is being woven into the customer journey, it's not surprising that this technical depth doesn't exist in many marketing teams. Mitch Joel and Mark Schaefer highlight this challenge in their recent podcast.

    5. Collaborative Company Go-To Resource

    Effective technology leaders are curious learners. Their continuous exploration enables them to connect seemingly random requirements into "how about this instead of that" solutions. They just see things in ways that most people don't.

    This objective strategic perspective will naturally encourage employees to gravitate to your leader. Learners love to share and inspire others to discover the same excitement. Technology is no longer the "thing" to be feared, maligned or tolerated. It becomes the unifying toolset across the organization.


    1. Every company regardless of size needs to develop a strategic technology leader.

    2. Technology leaders are curious learners. They are not comfortable doers.

    3. Including the strategic technology leader in every business planning session contributes to a unified growth model.

    4. Technology and marketing teams are becoming more collaboratively connected to serve and support the entire organization.

    5. Technology is an essential framework for customer engagement and a meaningful customer experience.

    Tags: technology strategy, technology leadership, strategic growth, strategic innovation, marketing technology

    Linda Rolf has traveled the technology landscape for more than three decades. She has designed and developed enterprise applications for a wide range of industries including insurance, healthcare and private member communities. Linda sees unexpected connections among everyday business and the ever-evolving technologies, propelling Quest Technology Group's clients to new growth successes.

    Linda is a passionate entrepreneur, avid learner, creator and connector of ideas and people.

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