On the road to nowhere?

Posted on 1 Apr 2010 by The Manufacturer

Confused by technology offerings and how to make them work for your business? You’re not alone. Dominic Oughton expands.

Business and industry today seem to be groaning under an ever increasing burden of techniques, methodologies, tools and technologies that all claim to align organisational strategy, facilitate productivity and, ultimately, promise the holy grail of profit and growth.

Finding the right approach for your organisation can, however, be like looking for a needle in a haystack and particularly when it comes to IT solutions the offerings can be dazzling This creates a danger that technology is purchased in a fit of enthusiasm for some alluring capability when in fact that technology is inappropriate for your organisation’s strategic outlook and its need to be flexible in today’s fast moving and complex business environment.

A familiar scenario? If so you will probably also know that the problem is frequently compounded when the technology is inefficiently implemented without proper support and in pockets of the organisation rather than in a coherent well communicated strategic action – understood and appreciated by all whose input impact on the data optimisation.

To counter this risk and cope with the challenging context in which business is now functioning successful enterprises need to define long-range goals, develop strategies to achieve them and identify the capabilities and technologies needed to deliver success. In my work with organisations across industries as diverse as pharmaceuticals, food, electronics and metals I have increasingly seen them turn to roadmapping to achieve this goal.

Roadmapping is an approach to visualising strategic planning to communicate market, product and technology requirements. Through the roadmapping process, organisations achieve increased visibility across the enterprise, providing decision makers and other stakeholders with information necessary to make more accurate and informed decisions about the future.

Roadmapping is a hugely flexible approach, providing an ideal vehicle for developing product and business strategy, supporting collaboration across functions or through the value chain and communicating a business case or investment proposal. What this means in real terms is that roadmapping offers help in:

•Aligning different perspectives from a range of stakeholders, for example understanding how external environments and markets drive new product programmes and what technologies and capabilities are needed to deliver these.
•Developing an insight into the linkages between these different perspectives; yielding understanding of the impacts of different courses of action.
•Capturing a complex situation onto a single page in a graphical form that can be readily communicated and understood by all parties
•Delivering an action plan; roadmapping is not about predicting the future but about deciding on a preferred future situation and constructing a route to achieving it.

Developing a roadmap through a collaborative, workshop-based process delivers added dimensions by creating shared understanding, ownership and buy-in across functions, companies and whole sectors.

Whilst the effectiveness of roadmapping is increasingly being appreciated, many companies fall at the first hurdle; where do I start? Over the last few years I have worked at The University of Cambridge’s Institute for Manufacturing to research these challenges and develop “fast-start” tools to allow companies to move rapidly forward along the roadmapping journey.

Taking this collaborative, structured approach to roadmapping will hopefully, not only make the outcomes more effecitive but also make the challenge less daunting. What it also encourages is careful ongoing evaluation, reporting and analysis that ensure continuous improvement and enable clear action plans for roadmap adaptations.

A prime example of when roadmapping can be critical to project success and ROI lies in the implementation of ERP systems. As more and more manufacturers in the midmarket follow in the footsteps of larger enterprises in their desire to have a best of breed integrated ERP platform so the need for them to understand the potential strategic divergences between IT and business strategy increases. Roadmapping is an ideal approach to help them maximise the potential of their investment and keep the project itself on track in terms of cost, time and capability.

You can hear Dominic explain more about the roadmapping – its technicalities, challenges and benefits at ERP Connect 2010 a new free event from The Manufacturer helping organisations fast track their ERP projects and achieve best practice use of their technology.