Clearer visibility of product roadmaps improves IT planning

Today's organisations are operating at a time when IT budgets are tight and careful planning is essential. At the same time there is an ever-increasing demand on IT to support the business. While many IT departments would like to be more strategic when it comes to planning, many are often restricted because they lack visibility of upcoming product roadmaps from key suppliers.

Today's organisations are operating at a time when IT budgets are tight and careful planning is essential. At the same time there is an ever-increasing demand on IT to support the business. While many IT departments would like to be more strategic when it comes to planning, many are often restricted because they lack visibility of upcoming product roadmaps from key suppliers.

Research by Vanson Bourne found that the majority of IT directors (82%) think a lack of supplier product roadmap visibility can have a detrimental effect on IT planning and strategy. The challenge facing buyers and suppliers is how to improve communication between both parties so that IT departments are released from their shackles and can plan efficiently, while suppliers can remain profitable and reduce time to market for new products.

When every single pound of the IT budget needs to count, a clear strategy is essential. Vanson Bourne's research found this sentiment echoed, with 83% of IT directors saying they would like better visibility of supplier product roadmaps to make more informed decisions about future updates to hardware and software. Without a roadmap, business costs are raised because the organisation can't plan ahead as effectively as it would like. Crucially, 82% of those surveyed said they would consider changing suppliers if they were able to give better visibility and input into their roadmaps, raising the stakes for suppliers that aren't quick enough to share them.

Frustrated customers

As a result of this supplier dependence, companies can be left frustrated and take innovation into their own hands by spending valuable IT budget on costly customisation or by having to make investments with a separate supplier which does offer the functionality required. Any new software then has to be integrated into the existing systems which is time consuming and expensive. Furthermore, if the original provider releases the required functionality just six months later, it will turn out to have been a very costly and unnecessary exercise.

Unfortunately, without ready access to product roadmaps, these scenarios can happen frequently. The majority (68%) of IT directors have wasted time and money because they didn't have better visibility of product roadmaps. This has left many companies feeling like they are constantly on the back foot.

In addition to adding to overall IT costs, when two suppliers merge or one is acquired, it can cause great uncertainty and anxiety. It can take many months for a new product roadmap to be decided on and then communicated to users.

This was further echoed by the research, which found that 85% of IT directors are frustrated by suppliers being slow to communicate their roadmap information to them. This frustration can have a negative impact on the supplier in terms or reputation, brand loyalty and market share.

However, there are ways for organisations to take a proactive approach and start to get closer to their suppliers. As an example, SAP global user groups are now working closer than ever before with SAP to help shape the company's future product roadmaps. This is making it easier for customers to get involved and influence SAP at a much earlier stage in the product development process.

Overwhelmingly, the majority of IT directors (79%) said they would like to speak with suppliers much earlier in the product development process so that they get the products that they need.

Visibility of future plans

Getting this visibility at an earlier stage means the company's future plans can be more accurate, innovative and cost effective, which saves time and money. There is also the benefit of being able to influence suppliers and give feedback on products.

Engaging with, collaborating with and getting feedback from customers through user groups can be advantageous to suppliers too, because it creates a way for them to proactively engage with users during the product development process. This streamlines the process because feedback is received along the way, reducing the number of changes required once the product comes to market and in turn improving the user experience and saving the supplier time and money too.

While clearly things need to change as far as access to supplier product roadmaps are concerned, the situation is easily remedied. Just as we don't expect our personal relationships to grow without adequate communication, neither should we expect the relationship between supplier and customer to bloom without it. In today's tough times success needs to be a partnership, with suppliers getting involved and users having their voices heard. Only through this two-way relationship can both parties succeed, creating profits for suppliers and allowing organisations to operate lean while constantly innovating because they are armed with the information they need to make critical decisions.

Alan Bowling is chairman of the UK & Ireland SAP User Group.
This was last published in November 2010

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