Technology as a Product – A step change towards business partnering (but let’s not over-engineer it)

9th July 2021

The only constant in life is change.

In the last 40 years, the role of technology and its impact on business has undergone a sea change. From humble beginnings as a cost centre, the technology function has moved centre stage and now provides the edge that differentiates a business from its competitors in the market as well as in the minds of the customers.

In the old days, business leaders treated technology functions as an overhead, a cost centre tolerated to deliver what is requested of it at minimum expense. Businesses demanded tech that worked but had no interest in detail like how it worked or how it could work. Times have changed, the Digital Revolution has made every company a technology company with innovation and creativity central to product and customer strategy. Modern day businesses cannot afford for their technology experts to simply be order-takers, they need to bring their expertise to help drive the evolution of the organisation.

Today, technology leaders in the best firms, are an equal partner to the business. They have end to end ownership of their domain, they are salespeople for their products, they keep an accountant’s eye on costs and take an entrepreneurial approach to innovation. This concept of ‘Technology as a Product’ requires a positive change in mind-set, a change in the relationship between IT and the business, technology teams delivering greater value and revenue.

Before we continue, we will take a moment to pre-empt any confusion/aggravation about terminology. The labels used when describing the concept of product management are often contentious, as there is no industry standard on the use of the terms “Service” and “Product” in this context.

For simplicity’s sake, we will refer to “Products” as being the consumable result of IT services, people, equipment and software. Products are always recognisable to their consumer, are unique, tangible and deliver autonomous value (mostly). It is possible to call these “Services” or “End to End Services” or XaaS.  For the purposes of this paper we chose to call them “Products”. Why?

In our view the notion of ‘Technology as a Service’ can result in a passive, subservient relationship which facilitates customer impulses, without truly delivering what is best for the business. Often there is a lack of ownership/accountability in the technology function for the specific features, performance, costs and risks – consumers are unclear who the buck stops with.

One of the main reasons for the failure of traditional structures is that they are run by hard-core technologists – who see technology as a means in its own right. Too often they “think” they know what the problem and solution is. Without the requisite dialogue, commercial and financial acumen – this often is not the case.

We think managing ‘Technology as a Product’ is a proactive and ownership-oriented approach to organising and delivering best in class technology, that is integrated to the business strategy. Related services are grouped into ‘product families’, each product family has an owner – who is effectively a ‘sub-CIO’, accountable for all aspects of their offering (including financial, commercial and technical elements). It is the Product Manager’s job to be the champion of their technology domain and drive the best possible outcome for the business.

Achieving this takes time, effort and careful execution. Not least, a clear mandate should be established within the operating model such that the Product Manager can assert influence across functional boundaries – and it is key that their authority is understood and supported by senior management. Challenges and external trends such as environmental events (e.g. Covid19, climate change), business imperatives (customers, competition), technology trends (social media, Digital Revolution) and financial pressures will continue to be blockers in the evolving role of Technology, your senior technology leaders will need to provide that leadership and vision to your businesses and convert these challenges into opportunities.

What makes a great Product Manager?

A great Product Manager does not make the product – they define the product roadmap, the vision, they know their market, their users, the technology landscape. They make design an integral part of the product vision and delivery process – and are not afraid to fail fast, learn fast. The best Product Managers build a dedicated, cross-functional product team capable of delivering the roadmap with collaboration, testing and validation central to everything that they do.    

So, Technology Leaders – we advocate focussing on knowing your business, understanding your services, selling business outcomes (not delivery processes) and building teams of technology entrepreneurs, not just engineers (but do try to keep the engineers happy).

We suspect you may need some help. In designing and implementing Product Management operating models for our major clients, Finyx has developed world leading thought leadership to support a smooth transition into Product Management. Examples include:

  • product catalogue templates
  • product strategy roadmap templates
  • over 250 ready-made product management KPIs and targets
  • over 250 infrastructure and app management product definitions
  • role definitions
  • and a range of toolsets to underpin the above

We have hands-on experience, including two of our leadership team having held Global Head of Product Management roles in top 10 global banking institutions. Learn more about how Finyx can help you operationalise this transformation and help your technology teams take their place as valued partners of the business at Next Gen Operating Model – Finyx Consulting.

Tom Morgan
Article by
Tom Morgan
Principal Consultant

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