Digital transformation - a guide to roadmapping

Digital transformation - a guide to roadmapping

Tuesday, August 15, 2017 Posted by Totally Gaming
Chris North from GamCrowd meets up with Robert Phaal from the University of Centre for Technology Management to talk roadmapping

A key element to any company’s efforts at digital transformation will be its roadmap. Ahead of the two-day Digital Transformation Academy taking place in Cambridge on 19-20 September, Chris North from GamCrowd spoke to Robert Phaal, a principal research associate at the Centre for Technology Management at the University of Cambridge, who is an expert in strategic technology management. He will be talking to participants who attend the course about how roadmapping can help any business both understand the task ahead of them and achieve their goals.

GamCrowd: Roadmapping has quite a long history - why do you think it developed? 

Robert Phaal: Motorola was influential in early use of roadmapping and its subsequent take up (with a key publication in 1987) termed ‘technology roadmapping’, the approach was developed to build confidence that technological strategy and investment was aligned with product strategy and commercial aspirations, motivated by an increasing pace, complexity and cost of technology in the electronics sector.

GamCrowd: What are the key questions those involved in a roadmapping exercise need to answer?

RP: This can be broken down into a series of questions that need to be answered: What are the market trends and customer needs now and into the future? What solution/product/service functionality and performance is required or will have value in the future? What technologies, capabilities and other resources are needed to achieve these? What new opportunities might arise from scientific and technological advances? How can we align strategy across functions, organisational units and vertically in the organisation?

GamCrowd: Is a graphical representation an absolute necessity for a roadmapping exercise? What does a good graphic bring to the process?

RP: The structured visualisation of strategy was the unique aspect of the original Motorola - without that there would be little to distinguish their ‘roadmap’ from a ‘business case’ or ‘strategic plan’. The same is true today, with the structural graphical nature of roadmaps providing key cognitive benefits, as humans are proficient visually, able to take in lots of information and see patterns, and visuals support communication, within workshops and more broadly (presentations, in documents etc.), in line with the saying ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ (or more). A structured visual roadmap is easy to read, allowing both details and the big picture to be seen, as a navigational aid, as a 'picture that tells a story’ (e.g. text / narrative alongside roadmap, using the same underlying structure. There is a spectrum of ‘graphicness’, ranging from simple tabular structures to pictorial representations. It is possible to find many ‘roadmaps’ on the internet that are not graphical in nature, although I would question if they should really be called roadmaps.

GamCrowd: How does a business need to support a roadmapping exercise? What needs to be added in terms of communication to the rest of the business?

RP: Senior management commitment is needed (aligned to the budgets represented on roadmaps, and the decisions they support), and buy-in from key stakeholders to participate, with benefits generated in the short term as well as medium & long. Communication is key, to create roadmaps (generating consensus), and then to communicate more widely (roadmaps can help), and to maintain roadmaps (which should be dynamic), and to implement the strategies contained in roadmaps. Roadmaps provide a window on to processes such as strategy and innovation, and roadmapping is a support process to them, so most aspects relevant to innovation & strategy are true for roadmapping too - e.g. communication.

GamCrowd: Can you explain something about the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors? What does this development tell us about the tech industry

RP: Roadmapping was originally developed as a firm-level method, in high tech sectors - electronics, defence and aerospace, and they further afield into other sectors and for different purposes (it’s a very flexible approach). A key step in this evolution was the ITRS, where companies like Motorola and its competitors clubbed together to develop an industry-level roadmap, as a kind of standard, so that the industry was moving in the same general direction, competing to get to the future first. It has been demonstrated that this collaboration has accelerated innovation in the semiconductor industry, which impacts on all other sectors and us all in terms of the rapid evolution of digital technologies. Unlike the Motorola roadmaps, where were very confidential (shared with key suppliers to align technology strategy), the ITRS roadmap is public & free to download - they want to influence the industry. So, the method became much more widely known and spread as a result. The ITRS roadmap is still going, involving all the key players around the world, with major updates every two years, and a minor update in-between, freely available.

GamCrowd: Can you explain what you mean that the process of building a roadmap can be more important than the roadmap itself?

RP: While it is possible and tempting to send a smart person away to develop a roadmap, and the result might be insightful and coherent, it is unlikely to gain traction in the organisation, and one person seldom knows ‘all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle’ (of innovation or strategy), which success depending on gathering together the best knowledge in the organisation and aligning actions. A co-creation process is usually needed, and the discussions and contacts this creates are very important for success - hence the saying. 

GamCrowd: Why are workshops a key ingredient of a roadmapping process?

RP: For the above reasons, although not always - the solution should fit the context, and constraints may apply. For cultural or geographic reasons workshops may not be appropriate. However, they can be very efficient and effective too, as part of a process (not usually sufficient alone).

The Digital Transformation Academy is a two-day course taking place between 19-20 September for C-Suite, Marketing, Technology, and Innovation Leaders designed to explain what the next technology revolution means, and how you can prepare and plan for the opportunities and disruption it will bring. For more information visit:

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