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How 300 emails a day helps develop our technology roadmap

Despite being immersed in IT every day, Richard Blanford explains why his technology roadmap is heavily influenced by not burying his head in the sand.
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Back in May I spent several days at the IT Directors’ Forum, talking to senior IT professionals from large and medium-sized organisations about their technology needs.

While the topics I was asked about most often were business continuity (interestingly before the recent British Airways IT meltdown), the forthcoming Global Data Protection Regulation and cyber security, there were also questions about what new technologies we can expect to see coming through.

I’m a techie at heart and so I enjoyed the opportunity to swap ideas on what might move from leading edge to mainstream in the next year or two and help businesses achieve competitive advantage.

Developing Fordway’s technology roadmap is an important part of my role and something that I consider on a daily basis. It’s vital for us to continually update our services, taking into account the latest developments in cloud and infrastructure technology and of course the changing needs of our customers.

The initial information comes from a number of different sources. I read about early-stage technologies and emerging trends on industry websites and forums on a daily basis, and these may give me ideas which I then investigate further, or ask colleagues to research them. I subscribe to a lot of websites and newsletters – it means I get some 200-300 emails every day, but it helps me to keep on top of new developments and catch up and coming products at an early stage.

We’re well-known in the industry, so those within other companies will often bring new products to us if they think they might be relevant to what we offer. We’ve had a couple of examples of that recently which we’re currently trialling with customers, one a new cloud product and the other a new approach to software defined storage. We also talk to customers about their needs, and when they say: “Wouldn’t it be nice if…?” our mental cogs start whirring and we think about how we might solve the problem they’ve identified.

Ideas also come from tenders that we respond to. If one organisation is looking for a new solution to a particular need, the chances are that whatever we develop will also be of interest to other, similar organisations. After developing a cloud-based single sign-on solution to address the issue of different authentication requirements and multiple passwords for a large public sector organisation, we created a generic version which became our Identity and Access Management Service (IDAMS). This is something that we term “sell, design, deliver”: we respond to a tender with a concept, then design and develop it in partnership with the customer. They pay a lower price and we work up the solution together.

Finally, ideas come from the issues that we have to address in developing and running our managed cloud services and our own infrastructure. If something is causing us pain, there’s a high probability that it’s also a problem for other organisations, so if we develop a solution to our own needs we look at whether we can also offer it externally (and, importantly, make money on doing so).

I discuss the initial ideas and concepts with my architecture team and we winnow them down, looking at issues such as how they might fit into our overall offer and whether they make commercial sense. After that we carry out a proper review, where we meet the companies concerned, trial the products and see how they stand up to a real life environment. If everything goes well, they become part of our portfolio.

Some organisations fear becoming an early adopter because they don’t want to take what they perceive as a risk with an unknown vendor, no matter what innovative features their products offer or how competitive their price. As the saying goes, “No-one ever got fired for buying IBM”. However, by not considering up and coming vendors and new technologies they miss out on opportunities to innovate, improve productivity and cut costs.

Of course it’s important to carry out a detailed evaluation before introducing new technology, but our approach, and what we advise our customers, is not to be afraid of being an innovator if it’s the right thing for your business. After all, Google was once a challenger brand.

We have a track record of partnering successfully with up and coming brands, and several of them were subsequently snapped up by leading technology vendors, which suggests that our new technology antennae are accurately tuned to what the market needs. But it’s important not to be complacent and to continue to search out new and exciting products, and then to choose the one which will really make a difference in a realistic timeframe.

This article is part of a wider campaign called Founders Diaries, a section of Real Business that brings together 20 inspiring business builders to share their stories. Bringing together companies from a wide variety of sectors and geographies, each columnist produces a diary entry each month. Visit the Founders Diaries section to find out more.

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About Author

Richard Blanford

Richard Blanford set up Fordway in 1991 and grew it through winning and delivering increasingly larger contracts. In 2011 he led a major investment in infrastructure, staff and training to enable Fordway to offer managed cloud services, which now provide approximately half the company’s total revenues.

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