Business alignment is a critical success factor to technology innovation.
Paying Attention to Trends on Customer Inquiries
If you are receiving a fair number of inquiries from customers about a particular new trend, it may well be worth your time to consider investing in this area. It is quite possible that they are using this new capability as a differentiator and a means of comparing and contrasting different solutions.
Although the capability may be not be a primary use case for what they want to use the product for and it may not even be used that often, it is something they can put on a checklist and use to make a decision.
Such items can help them gain support and excitement within their organization about why using the product they are considering is a good choice. It can help them justify the cost for the change or the purchase to begin with.
Getting Customer Feedback
Your customers are one of your best sources of information. There are different kinds of customers:
- Fans. They always have great things to say. Listen for patterns. The key is to find out what is behind the patterns. What is driving their adoption, and what maintains their enthusiasm for your products?
- Utilitarians. They are using your product because it is convenient, it is easy, it is practical, and it makes financial sense. The key here is to understand the key value proposition that keeps them coming back.
- Captives. They are using your product because they have to. Either they are not the decision makers about buying your product or there are no competing products in the marketplace. The key here is to understand who drives the purchasing decisions and what influences them.
- Followers. They are using your product because others said it was a great product. The recommendation can come from many different sources; it could be from a friend, or it could come from online comments. The key here is to find out what people are recommending and why. This is your real value; it’s an endorsement. In a similar fashion, hearing the negative things others are saying about your product can give you insights into what you need to improve.
No matter who your customers are, you want to make it easy for them to provide feedback. If you use a survey, keep it short, provide some multiple-choice questions, and provide a place for them to type in their comments in their own words. They may praise your product or roast your product, but getting a wide variety of feedback from your customers can give you insights into where you need to go and what improvements you should pursue. It may be as simple as adding link on the product’s website to solicit ways to improve the product.
Analyzing Customer Feedback
Once you get the customer feedback, ensure that internally everyone has access to the information, whether it is good or bad. The more access everyone has to this information, the more it can help influence their daily decisions about the work they do (see Figure 10.3).
Figure 10.3 Customer trend analysis: customer feedback can give you investment insights.
Look for common patterns in what is being said. You are looking to tell a story that can be used to help understand how your product is doing in the marketplace and help drive where investments should be made.
When to Be Cautious about Trends
There are a variety of situations when following or looking to follow new trends is simply not a good idea. For example:
- There is a great new technology and you want to reimplement a system that already works and that customers love.
- You are coming to the close of a major release and the team is working to stabilize the system.
- Your current system is already experiencing significant operational challenges, and the root cause is not known.
- Switching costs outweigh any perceived or realized gains.
One of your major goals as a technology architect is to manage risk, not introduce it. You need to ensure that you have adequate time to recover from destabilizing the system after the new technologies, approaches, or patterns have been introduced. As the idiom goes, “Discretion is the better part of valor.”
The last thing you want to do is harm your reputation unnecessarily or be viewed as reckless by the executives who are overseeing the work that you do. To mitigate this risk, always go in with your eyes wide open and be willing to listen to other people’s perspectives, whether positive or negative. Seek to understand their concerns and make sure you’re considering feedback from all levels.
Any change is difficult, and you don’t want to make it harder by pushing something your company and its people or customers aren’t ready for. Patience and persistence are valuable skills at this time. If you are right, as mass awareness grows eventually people will come around to seeing the value of your approach and recommendations. Remember that being too early can be just as bad as being too late. Timing is everything.
When to Embrace a Trend
There are a variety of situations that naturally lend themselves to exploring trends and bringing new and innovative approaches to the problems that need to be solved. These include the following:
- The business wants to do a technology refresh and modernize the technology stack for an important application or system.
- The business wants to establish a presence in a new market with a new set of applications or systems.
- The current set of technologies, approaches, and processes has been determined to be inadequate for solving the problems at hand, and a new approach is not only warranted but welcomed by everyone involved.
If you seek to introduce new ideas at the appropriate times, you will gain the trust of the business that you can take a pragmatic approach to moving the business forward. This form of partnership will serve you well.