Build a technology platform
It’s become a cliché, but the world is increasingly digitising. Across all sectors, we are seeing technology capture an increasing share of the value chain and enabling businesses to grow faster than they could even ten years ago. Across our investments, we’ve seen time and again that building a business on a solid technology platform not only allows you to operate effectively today but will enable you to scale long into the future.
Your business’s technology platform is the IT infrastructure that enables it to function. That includes all the systems and processes used to meet the needs of existing customers, from sales and account management to distribution and operations. It is also the tools that drive the acquisition and retention of new clients. A best-in-class technology platform allows you to offer a differentiated customer experience and support faster growth.
In practice, there is no single off-the-shelf IT solution that will provide your business with the technology platform it needs. This is why we’ve invested in an in-house growth acceleration team. They work with our investees to make the best use of technology to deliver value in their business and guide them through the process of building the right technology platform for their business. Sometimes, it may involve reinventing a process or updating an old system. Other times this may involve deliberately choosing not to digitise some processes. Our team can help you think through these trade-offs.
Inevitably, building your technology platform will involve a number of elements. It might be helpful to think about classifying the build into three different groups:
- Re-platforming to enable growth. This means thinking about whether your IT infrastructure provides everything you need to support customers properly today, but also in the future as their numbers grow. For example, it could mean moving from on-premises IT equipment to cloud solutions, which add flexibility and scalability.
- Upgrading internal technologies. Are your current IT tools fit-for-purpose as your business grows? For example, businesses often start out by working from simple Excel spreadsheets; as they grow, customer relationship management (CRM) solutions will be much more effective and offer more sophisticated functionality.
- Driving business insight. New data and analytics tools can be very powerful as you seek to unlock new growth. They’ll help you build a much more detailed understanding of your customers and the markets in which you operate, empowering you to make informed decisions with conviction.
Building a technology platform in practice
At Livingbridge, we believe tech-enabled businesses will secure ever-greater competitive advantage in the future. Our technology enablement team has worked with many of our investees to empower them to make the most of that opportunity.
Since investing in this online ferry ticket aggregator, Direct Ferries, in 2016, we have worked with the business to redevelop its technology infrastructure underpinning its e-commerce systems. This project has enabled their technology team to iterate their proposition faster, critical in the competitive online travel space, and launch more effective AB testing. This has resulted in Direct Ferries significantly improving its conversion rate, both increasing customer acquisition and supporting the efficiency of its marketing spend.
The technology enablement team also worked with the email signature software provider Exclaimer, guiding them through the process selecting a new CRM system, working with the sales to team to implement it and maximising the impact of the tool across functions. The platform has given Exclaimer much greater visibility of its customers and its market, especially supporting its work with partners, allowing better visibility over its pipeline. The last two years has seen Exclaimer win a series of awards for its growth and its performance in export markets.
Elsewhere, we’ve also worked closely with Stowe Family Law, where we invested in 2017, to build a technology platform that allows it to scale. In this case, we helped the business implement tools such as data dashboards that give its lawyers a much better view of customer conversion rates and the impact these have on revenues. The company’s growth has since accelerated, with its lawyers now able to engage much more effectively with the sales process.
These aren’t isolated examples. Our experience, gleaned from the investments we’ve made in great companies over more than 20 years, is that a business’s technology platform is now integral to everything it does. Building a technology platform fit for the future is a key step in unlocking your business’s growth potential.
How to build an IT road map
Every business should have an IT roadmap. That is, a document which sets out the main IT developments and technology initiatives planned for the next six months to three years, in terms that everyone can understand. It’s a statement of intent, clearly communicating where you will make your most significant technology investments and what the business’s priorities are.
Crucially, the IT roadmap doesn’t come from IT alone. While it makes sense for the business’s most senior IT executive to lead the process of road mapping and to control the document, developing this work should involve every business function. Best-in-class IT roadmaps are tightly aligned to the commercial imperatives of the business and set out the capabilities required to deliver its ambitions. This inevitably requires conversations with senior leaders to distil what those ambitions are.
Your IT roadmap sets out a clear plan for the business’s most important IT and technology projects over the next six months to three years. It is a strategy document that everyone in the business should be able to read and understand, not a technical piece of work.
That’s not to suggest your IT roadmap should become some sort of wish list, detailing what every executive thinks it would be nice to have. Once everyone has outlined their goals, there will inevitably be a debate about priorities. The IT roadmap is the conclusion, setting out a clear vision of where the business will invest based on a hard-headed assessment of the budget available and the capabilities most-needed.
It’s important to have a structured process for achieving that vision. How will the senior leadership team assess the proposals in the context of strategic objectives? Who will finalise and sign off the document? And how will it be shared across the wider business?
What does a great IT roadmap look like?
Brevity and simplicity are key features of best-practice IT roadmaps. You should be able to set out your plans on one or two pages. Aim for a series of headlines that spell out each initiative and when they are planned for. Explain clearly what the initiative is designed to achieve for the business – what problem it will solve – and the resources it is expected to require.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of being too technical and provide too much detail on the specifications. Clearly, IT itself will need to understand what is required to deliver each new project, but that isn’t the point of an IT roadmap. As soon as the document strays into this territory, it’s likely to lose its audience in the wider business.
Concentrate on what you want to achieve, rather than the technology that will deliver this capability. When Livingbridge moved to a cloud-based IT system, our IT roadmap set out how everyone would be able to work on any device from anywhere, rather than talking about hosted servers.
It’s also important to be realistic about timings. IT’s plans for the next six months should be tactical, based on previous IT roadmaps, but shouldn’t be on the current document. Similarly, trying to second guess what might be required much beyond three years’ time is too much like sticking a finger in the air.
How Livingbridge can help
At Livingbridge, we believe that tech-enabled businesses able to harness innovation and data are more likely to succeed. An IT roadmap is therefore crucial and we’ve invested in our in-house tech enablement team to equip our investees to deliver this.
We can guide you on what the document should look like for your business in particular given the context of its marketplace and objectives. And we can work with you to develop a best-in-class IT roadmap that empowers you to make bold decisions about where to invest.
Getting this process right can deliver dramatic results. For example, after we invested in the online heating oil retailer BoilerJuice in 2016, we helped the business plan for a transformation of its technology infrastructure. The company’s IT roadmap set out a phased approach to moving much of its infrastructure into the cloud, giving more room for scaling up the business, and to implementing new data and analytics capabilities, to generate a much better understanding of customers. In the six months after our work, BoilerJuice’s new customers increased 83% year-on-year.
Previously, we helped our investee company Encore Tickets to develop a two-year IT roadmap setting out a phased replacement of its legacy IT systems with new web-based trading and ticketing platforms, in order to help it realise its ambition to grow much more quickly online. The initiative was a major factor in driving a 150% increase in sales during the period in which we were invested in the business.
In an environment where technology is likely to be key to your competitive advantage, an IT roadmap is essential. Everyone in your business should have access to a document they can use to easily communicate the company’s priorities for investment in new capabilities. If not, now is the time to start developing it.
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