Bloated technology stacks are becoming quite common in the business world. Companies use a variety of apps and software to manage their operations and improve outcomes. However, a tech stack that is too convoluted will do the opposite.
In today’s economic climate, everyone is trying to do more with less. That means a higher reliance on tools designed to lead to bottom line improvements. The truth is that when companies can’t keep up with the pace of change in technology, they can actually lose their status as market leaders. Speed to value will decline, and systems will eventually become unusable and too expensive to modify. Chaotic technology environments often start by implementing tools to make things smoother and more automated.
Here’s some perspective: research shows that on average, organizations waste nearly one-third of transformation investments on projects that fail to actually meet goals. Furthermore, organizations invest in new technologies to solve a problem (such as optimizing operations or reducing time commitments). When end users don’t adopt a piece of technology, resources are wasted and frustration among staff and stakeholders grows. As an example in just one particular sector, there are more than 8,000 companies in the digital ecosystem selling marketing software, while at the same time, marketing teams only use 58% of the potential of their martech stack. That means that nearly half of the marketing tech stack being paid for doesn’t actually address the right challenges.
If you can relate to a tech stack that is cumbersome and complicated, keep reading. Our experts are providing their best tips for streamlining your technology choices and making the most of the tech tools available.
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What is a Tech Stack?
This term commonly refers to the combination of software products and technologies that are used to create a complete operation. Normally, it includes both front-end and back-end solutions, and also any middleware that is necessary for making everything run smoothly. In an ongoing quest to make processes smoother, improve customer service, and perform any other number of important functions, many organizations find their tech stack ballooning over time.
In a perfect world, all of the elements of your technology platforms would work together seamlessly and result in the outcomes that you hope for. However, the more that you add to your tech stack, the harder that usually becomes. Often there are compatibility issues and other challenges that can lead to bottlenecks or breakdowns. Even if individual tools tend to perform well, that doesn’ mean they will work well with other necessary tools.
The key to an effective tech stack is picking the right tools in the first place, ensuring everything works well together, and pulling the plug on platforms that don’t work or don’t play well with others. Many organizations find that their tech stack has become bloated over time and is actually hindering positive outcomes instead of enabling them. Keep reading to explore some tips for optimizing the tools that make up your tech stack.
Does Your Tech Stack Do What You Need it to Do?
As you are no doubt aware, we are in the midst of a digital revolution. That means that technology is evolving so quickly, it’s easy for companies to feel left behind. No matter how fast they might move, it can be cumbersome and time-intensive to select technology platforms, implement them, and get everyone trained. By the time that is done, there may be upgrades or entirely new platforms to consider!
In almost every department, you’ll find a tech stack that is meant to enable their processes. From HR to marketing to finance, there are a nearly endless variety of technology solutions designed to automate functions and improve workflows. However, often the software solutions don’t actually meet organizational needs. Or, maybe they are great for one department but a disaster for another. There is enormous pressure on IT teams to select, integrate, and deploy tools that benefit end-users. Often, companies find there is a big gap between what a technology can do, and what it should do.
If your technology stack isn’t helping you to reach your goals, it’s time to make some changes. How do you know if a tech overhaul is needed? Here are some common signs that it’s time to take a closer look at your tech stack:
- Software has overlapping features
- A customer experience that is not omnichannel due to siloed data
- Integration issues like lots of bugs or constant questions
- Trouble scaling as your needs grow
- Concerns around data security or privacy
- Low team morale that is impacted by a high number of tools that users aren’t happy with
The Problems With a Convoluted Tech Stack
If any of the issues we just listed seem to be affecting your organization, you might have a tech stack problem. How much does that really matter, though? What are the risks you run by having a tech stack that is too complicated or ineffective?
- Inconsistent data with definitions that aren’t compatible. Some technology tools don’t communicate well with each other. In these cases, you’ll start to see information gaps. You’ll see a poor customer experience or data that doesn’t add up, or one department using certain figures that another department doesn’t agree with. If you’re seeing a lack of visibility into multiple facets of the business, it’s time to take a closer look at your tech stack.
- Goals that are not realistic. When data fails, there can be serious consequences for your goals. That’s because you can’t really improve what you can’t measure. Tools that don’t measure accurately will make it difficult to set actionable goals. Likewise, if the source of a measurement is incorrect, then any strategy based on that data will need to shift. It’s useless to settle on company goals that are based on inaccurate numbers.
- High implementation costs. The cost of wasted technology might shock you. In the U.S., companies waste an average of $247 per desktop on unused or rarely used software. The total cost is nearly $30 billion per year. The more that an effective tool is used, the higher your ROI will be. On the other hand, if adoption is low or you keep having to implement new tools, you’re eating up valuable time and resources. Overly long implementation processes also tend to mean high costs over time. If you have been questioning the costs of onboarding with certain tools, it may be because people don’t have time to implement or train on them properly.
- Poor adoption and reduced morale. 6 out of 10 IT leaders in one study stated that end users are not adopting technology quickly enough. A tool is only as good as the adoption it has. In order to do its job, you need people in your company to implement the technology and make it part of their process. Users who don’t leverage the tool are essentially wasting resources and also will not be aligned with the rest of the company. Furthermore, the users themselves will likely be frustrated. If you hear common complaints of users not being able to get their job done as directed, that means there is a disconnect between what leadership wants and what the tool supports. Typically, when user adoption is low, there is a reason. It’s always worth exploring these reasons and understanding where the bottlenecks are.
- Lack of alignment in the company. Ideally, all tools work together for the greater good of the company. In reality, that’s easier said than done and many departments work with their own tools that do not connect or support other functions. Information and communication silos are very common, and a poorly designed tech stack can lead to having individuals doing what’s easiest for them without regard to larger objectives. Eventually, people will do their work in the way that’s fastest for them - even if that means misusing tools that others also rely on.
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Tips for Planning a More Efficient Tech Stack
The truly difficult part of planning a streamlined tech stack is that much of the work must happen before implementing tools. Ideally, a lot of the groundwork is laid before you even talk to vendors. You need a proactive plan for understanding your true needs, seeing where there are data gaps, maintaining healthy databases, and encouraging adoption. Without all of these elements in place, even the best technology tools out there are unlikely to deliver on their promises. Start with these steps to make sure you’re not overcomplicating your technology choices.
- Identify your technology issues. No matter how much software you implement, it won’t do you any good if you haven’t taken an inventory of your true needs and limitations. Begin by taking stock of all of the technology currently in use in your organization. From there you can narrow down the tools that are necessary and where there are gaps. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you end up duplicating processes across one or more tools?
- What do you do with the data that your tools generate?
- Do you use each software tool to its full capacity? Are there areas where you could make concessions and cut down costs?
- Are you experiencing the benefits promised when you implemented the tools?
- Match every tool with a goal. It’s very tempting to look at technology platforms as shiny objects that can solve all of your problems. Unfortunately, more tools can end up contributing to challenges rather than fixing them. The last thing you want to do is to install a tool that has overlapping features with current software. To successfully streamline your tech stack, you need to look closely at your goals and objectives. For example, do you need to attract more leads? Provide faster customer service? Reduce accounting headaches? Make a comprehensive list of the goals that you are trying to achieve and you will have a better foundation for choosing which tools can help the most.
- Ensure data health and hygiene. For many companies, data is their biggest asset. No doubt you’ve heard the phrase “garbage in, garbage out”. It’s essential to keep your data clean and up to date. Do you have processes in place for doing so? If not, it’s time to sit down and figure out an intentional and proactive approach to your data. Never implement tools that deal with data before first figuring out exactly how you’ll use the data and maintain its integrity. This is particularly true when choosing platforms that are designed to manage customer data. Here are some questions you can ask potential vendors to ensure the tool will make your data life easier, not more complicated:
- How exactly is our customer data gathered and managed?
- How are data anomalies reported? What does the process look like?
- How is data from other internal platforms handled?
- Which of your core systems can be integrated with this one?
- Does the tool follow the necessary data privacy and security regulations?
- Which data certifications are required and do the tools have them?
- Check on adoption. Ideally, an implementation and adoption strategy is in place before installing tools. This is something the right vendor should be ready to help you with. If you get the feeling that you will be completely on your own, then it’s time to look at other vendors. A suitable vendor should be ready to roll up their sleeves and get involved with your workforce to make sure everything is working as it should and people feel comfortable and confident. If you are already dedicated users of a tech stack, you’ll want to do an audit to gauge adoption and performance. Talk to your team about their real use of the tool. You may also want to shadow and see how they move through processes with the software. Listen to complaints or comments about performance. If end users feel that the tools are prohibitive, they just might be. Hold working sessions where there is further training and encouragement of adoption. At the end of the day, if your team isn’t using the tools, then you’re wasting resources (and their time). It’s also a good best practice to onboard one tool at a time. Rolling out an entirely new stack and expecting strong adoption isn’t realistic.
- Monitor results. Following the implementation timeframe, keep a close eye on the onboarding process. From there, determine just how performance will be measured. Then, make a point to pull these measurements on whatever timeframe makes sense. For example, if you hope a new CRM system will help you to collect more leads, try pulling your lead database each month. Is the trend line positive? You can also look for metrics like reduced hours on a task or improved ROI. What really matters to you will depend on your organization and your team, so give some thought to this beforehand and then make a note of which days you’ll be pulling KPIs and see what that means for overall impact.
- Don’t delay pulling the plug. One of the worst phrases you can tell yourself when it comes to a tech stack is “Maybe it will get better.” After you measure performance (and you have given the tool proper time for implementation and adoption) you should be seeing upward trends - not the reverse. If you feel confident that your team is properly trained and has the right tools in place, then after an initial warming up period, there should be some positive traction. If you aren’t seeing this - or you’re getting lots of complaints - loop in the vendor immediately. You may need more training or to have your version of the platform adjusted. If, after a few months, you really aren’t seeing the results you had hoped, it’s time for a difficult conversation. The last thing you want to do is just eat the cost of a tool that isn't supporting your bottom line. Remember, these tools are there to make things easier in some way. If that’s not happening, it no longer needs to be in place. Don’t wait hoping adoption will get better with no actionable plan in place for how that will happen. Make the necessary changes as soon as you have a real grasp of performance.
- Optimize. Another step that can only happen after you’ve given the tool a real shot is enhancing your tech stack for the future. Once you cut down the costs and time associated with software solutions, you can apply those resources elsewhere as an investment in the business. Over time, this should lead to a boost in productivity, customer satisfaction, and your bottom line.
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Common Mistakes in the Average Tech Stack
Implementing an optimal tech stack is a marathon, not a sprint. You’re going to run into some challenges along the way, but that doesn’t mean you haven’t made the right technology choices. As you plot your perfect tech stack, consider the following common mistakes. Keep these in mind and make a point to try and avoid them for a simpler, more streamlined tech stack.
- Hoping one technology is a complete solution. A single technology is (almost) never the answer. Even the most updated software won’t do its job if it isn’t used correctly, or in conjunction with your current processes.
- Using bad data. We mentioned this above, but it’s worth mentioning again. Feeding unclean data into any of your systems will exacerbate problems and leave users frustrated. Information must be stored correctly, deduplicated and cleansed frequently, and integrated properly with other systems.
- Lack of definitions (or consensus on definitions). Are all of your data and reporting functions standardized across the organization? You need to work with all of the relevant stakeholders to determine how data is managed and fed into systems. Everyone should be interpreting the same data, without questions that have variable answers.
- Doing everything alone. Technology must work as part of a larger plan, so you can’t make tech stack decisions in a vacuum. What is great for your particular team might be completely ineffective for another group in the organization. It’s important to consider everyone who will touch the system in some way before making decisions.
- Thinking that more is better than less. Simpler is almost always better, and as tools become more robust, often technologies can be reduced. Before investing in a new tool, look closely at the tools that you already have. Are there any who can perform the functions that you need without investing in and learning an entirely new platform?
- Analysis paralysis or fear of making decisions. Many IT staff will tell you that company leaders do not recognize (or refuse to accept) when it’s time to upgrade. Too often, a technology stays when it shouldn’t because people are scared to let it go, and they don’t have the time to track down and implement a replacement. Too often, people feel that sticking with the status quo is better than making changes, but this isn’t true. Delaying the necessary technology decisions only hinders your company’s progress.
- Treating automation as an “extra”. Automation is shaping up as a key area for several functions. Many revenue strategies are built on making go-to-market tactics more efficient through automation, and companies who don’t will soon be left behind. When automation is done correctly, you can quickly see returns in the influence in decision making, sales processes, and customer qualification.
- Leveraging a single source of data. Entrusting all of your data to a single platform will jeopardize the security and viability of all of your information. While you don’t want to distribute data across systems, you do want to make sure the right connections are in place so that data is flowing between teams and everything is in sync.
- Lack of internal expertise and adoption. This is likely the most common tech stack mistake. It’s essential to have people on your team who truly understand the tech stack and can help others. Ideally you have a champion who can encourage the rest of your staff to adopt the platforms and use them correctly. New staff should be immediately and effectively trained on all technology systems that they are expected to use. If you’re seeing a lack of adoption, it’s important to figure out why right away. Don’t simply hope things will improve - they are unlikely to.
There is no such thing as an “ideal” tech stack - but there is a set of platforms that will be perfect for your organization. Implementing the correct tools and encouraging adoption is key to streamlining your tech stack and making the most of today’s technology. For more tips and trends in the tech space, make sure to follow the Shift blog. That’s where Shift experts share the latest and greatest in work, productivity, technology, and more.