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This article was originally published on January 22, 2021, and has been updated to reflect current trends. 

Decisions about technology investments can be very complex and have far-reaching implications. With an outrageously high number of solutions available, you need to consider several important factors, from business and financial needs and technical considerations to skills, training, implementation and management.

Here are some steps you can take to help you make the best decisions as quickly and succinctly as possible, whether you are developing an overall strategy or selecting an individual solution, so that the business sees the value of your investment sooner.

1. Start with strategy.

When making technology decisions, it is important to consider implications to your overall IT service delivery model, which includes your data center, cloud and security strategies. The product or solution needs to fit in with your overall approach and perspective. As always, you need to think strategically, but execute tactically. 

If you don't have a firm or developed strategic vision, take some time to focus on your objectives and the business outcomes you're shooting for. Although it takes time to develop data center, cloud and security strategies, once you have them, you can make better decisions about investments in specific solutions. With any "go slow to go fast" approach, your focus and thought upfront can save you immense time and spare you from complications moving forward. 

2. Understand the "why." 

This suggestion sounds obvious, yet often IT leaders are given directives from business leadership like, "Move 50 percent of the environment to the cloud." Even when starting with a specific objective, it's important to understand why.  What challenge is the business addressing? What issue are they trying to solve? What benefit are they trying to achieve? 

Of course, there could be multiple goals: to save money, improve availability, improve performance. Of the top five issues you are trying to solve, which are the most important, and why? Some of your priorities may be in conflict. If you understand their importance up front and the reasons why, decisions about technology paths or solutions become much clearer.

3. Make sure you have a clear, holistic view of what you currently have in order to know where you're going.

Take a step back and look at exactly where you are today from a holistic perspective. If you begin with a clear view across your entire environment and ecosystem, you will be able to make better decisions in specific areas. Try to do a comprehensive, detailed data-driven analysis to give yourself the best chance of success.

One of the most successful workshops we offer at WWT is our Data Insights Briefing, in which we gather data and provide a detailed analysis on exactly what our clients have, to identify potential efficiencies and identify gaps or opportunities for improvement. It provides a detailed view of the entire environment through a single pane of glass, that serves as a detailed, data-driven IT atlas of sorts, to be used as a guide for any technology decision clients may make. We see over and over how this approach offers IT leaders the exact information they need to fast track excellent decisions.

4. Honestly gauge your organization's maturity level in terms of knowledge of and experience with technology areas you are considering.

No organization can be an expert on everything, and obviously an industry-wide skills gap hampers most companies' ability to gather and maintain all the skills they need at any given time. Do you have realistic expectations? How do you know you have the right resources? Do you know how to ensure your success and avoid the common pitfalls that other organizations have encountered? How do you measure success? 

If you've never done it before, you may not know what you don't know. It's a good idea at this point to get a third-party opinion to validate your perception. Getting that perspective will help you to ensure you have an honest self-assessment. 

5. If you do not have extensive expertise, engage a partner who does.

The most effective approach to speeding up good technology decisions is to leverage a skilled and valued partner who has done this a thousand times and who knows your business. Leveraging experts' experience and approaches saves you the time it would take you to acquire that knowledge yourself. 

Expert partners who help organizations make these decisions every day and implement and manage them, and that are not incented to push any one approach or solution over another, are ideal as they can shortcut the process by zeroing in on a select number of the best options for you. They can give you invaluable education, pricing guidance, and help selecting and implementing your ultimate choices. They can also help you identify what kind of support you need to get up to speed quickly and make the most of your solution, and give you tips and guidance to make the best decisions beyond cost. 

Make sure your partner listens and understands your needs and objectives. Make sure you are confident that your partner can provide you with the answers you need, including what to expect in the entire process. Make sure they've done it many times before and that they know how to avoid pitfalls.

Once you identify the right partner, engage them as early in the process as you can so it will be as streamlined and speedy as possible, and will drive better insight and direction from the start. You will be able to talk through the ideas and collaboratively make decisions, as opposed to bringing them in at the end. The sooner you engage, the better.

6. Engage with your partner to define the requirements, business objectives and complete a detailed assessment of your current situation.

The more information you can provide to your partner, the more quickly you can identify the best options for you.

7. Identify two to four promising options or solutions to compare and contrast.

Select two to four leading solution providers, based on research or input from a trusted advisor, who claim to effectively address your needs and situation, and ask them to give you use cases, explanation and rationale for their approach and solutions. If you work with a partner, make sure they provide you with multiple options as well as pros and cons with the various players in the market, based on your requirements, so you can quickly identify which solutions would be the most effective for you.

8. If you have major questions, or this decision represents a major transformation, test them.

If this represents a major change, make sure you have a partner who can not only communicate the pros and cons of multiple solutions, but also prove it through real-world testing in the lab. Test and prove out your top selection (or two) in a lab that can replicate your environment without risking downtime. If you don't test it out in an environment that closely replicates your own, you may be hit with the unexpected problems that cost you time and money. You don't know what you don't know until you take these complex solutions and test them at scale, so a test drive can de-risk your decision process.

9. Determine TCO and build financial justification. 

In parallel with testing your solution, begin to build TCO and develop financial justification. That justification needs to include caveats based on multiple variables that you may or may not hit for true financial transparency. For example, you could explain to the business that you will save money if four essential assumptions hold true. By putting it on paper, you can de-risk the business value. Remember the justification should include technical, financial and business perspectives. 

If you are working with a partner, ask them to help you build this based on their similar, proven experiences, and to challenge you with things you may not have considered.

10. Ensure a smooth implementation and integration. 

Now that you've made your decision, make sure you don't fall down in the implementation. Mistakes at this point could cost significant time and money. If you need help with implementation, hire professional services to stay on site and train the team on how to best use technologies to ensure their success and they get the value.

11. Keep an open mind.

As you go through the process, don't close down unexpected possibilities. The best answer may surprise you.

By following this advice, you can significantly shorten your time to make strong technology decisions that will pay off for your business quickly.

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