Being a digital executive these days is difficult.
To start with, many organizations are no longer satisfied with digital technology as a cost center; executives are often expected to manage a P&L that generates real revenue and ROI. Digital technology executives are also, I would argue unreasonably, expected to have a perspective on every new technology trend that surfaces regardless of whether or not that trend may have an impact on the organization. Their offices are usually the first stop that a C-suite executive or board member makes with questions around emerging technology. "Hey, Johnson, what are we doing with [insert new tech trend here]?"
In sports and media organizations, the person in charge of digital technology is often responsible for "owned and operated" (O&O) tech stacks, which traditionally focused on how the organization made money through media rights, sponsorship and advertising via web sites and mobile applications. Over the past ten years, these digital teams have needed to evolve to manage dozens of technologies and vendor relationships, including content and video management, streaming platforms, subscription and identity management, ad tech, CDN, edge computing, mobile applications, back-end technologies and services, loyalty programs, fantasy and much, much more.
More recently, just as many sports and media executives had laid a foundation for these types of technologies and the processes and people to support them, the attention of the tech ecosystem shifted toward new opportunities in sports betting and Web3 technologies. There’s a ton to focus on, and it’s not getting easier.
As the co-founder and CEO of a technology services company, I've found there are three primary challenges facing all executives: (1) the development of sound strategy that properly positions the organization for growth, (2) the development of the people and processes that ensure the predictable and dependable execution of that strategy and (3) the ability to adjust either strategy or execution when needed.
With the pace of business today, primarily driven by the emergence of new technologies, the gap between strategy and execution is growing, while the need for flexibility is becoming more and more critical. So how can an organization possibly develop and execute the right strategy when the world around them feels like it is in a constant state of change?
I think the answer is program management.
Where project management is the planning and organizing of a company's resources to move a specific set of objectives toward completion (ideally within a specified budget and timeframe), program management is effectively the parent of project management as it is a strategic approach to executing and managing multiple related projects. A properly run program management function ensures that teams are focused on working together to achieve the strategic vision of the company.
Program management is particularly important within a company's technology units. Considering that the average enterprise has over 200 technology solutions and 900 different applications, without a strictly coordinated and operationalized effort to integrate and manage technology, things can get out of hand pretty quickly. In fact, IT leaders estimate that only 29% of their applications are integrated. This means lots of siloed technology, technical debt and lots of risk and inefficiency.
To take a program-based approach to digital technology, align your overall business strategy with a series of initiatives designed to achieve specific goals. I suggest that one of these initiatives should be the exploration of the way new technologies can help in achieving business goals. For many organizations, some combination of a lack of domain expertise and/or a lack of bandwidth prevent them from investing resources into exploring new tech, primarily because it’s an investment that is hard to connect to short-term KPIs.
The same executives who want to ensure their company is informed and exploring the latest/greatest technology usually also like high-profit margins, and while those two concepts are not mutually exclusive, they are not easy to align. By leveraging a program approach to new technologies, digital executives can produce the evidence they need to request increased budgets and illustrate how investments in new technologies may accelerate business strategy.
Program management is a discipline that requires experienced team members and a thoughtful and rigorous approach to process. To get started, digital executives should identify projects that include outcomes that are both urgent (i.e., they have mission-critical revenue or risk components) and are strategically important to the organization. Some questions to ask include:
• What tech requirements do the projects have in common?
• Which technologies already exist within the organization?
• Which of these will need to be procured?
With a list of these projects and technologies in hand, start exploring a path to create programs that build both momentum and efficiency.
The good news is if you’re overwhelmed by the pace and volume of new technologies to consider, you are not alone. The bad news is that the number of new technologies and velocity at which they emerge will continue to increase. By taking a measured, program-oriented approach to technology, you’ll be taking the first step toward aligning technology with organizational strategy.