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Technology and Development

Untangle the complexity of your digital transformation with roadmapping: confidence and clarity for the journey ahead

11 December 2023 Last updated: 17 April 2024
Dr Rob Phaal, Dr Imoh Ilevbare

Digitalisation is one of the biggest issues faced by companies worldwide and across all industries. There are two key areas to consider in this regard:

  1. We are living through a changing market environment and are witnessing rapidly developing customer needs. For example, much information is now freely available through the internet and through mobile devices.

  2. New and disruptive technologies propose extraordinary value opportunities for businesses.

The most common motivations for digital transformation include:

  • Defending your business against competitors

  • Maintaining/increasing your customer base without increasing costs

  • Increasing value creation and capture (through changing external and technology contexts)

  • Re-evaluating your business model and working out how to reconfigure it to ‘win’ in an envisaged future ecosystem and landscape.

However, the planning and implementation of digital transformation can be challenging and daunting.

How to implement digital transformation in five steps

Based on decades of research and deployment of those academic outcomes within industry, the Institute for Manufacturing at the University of Cambridge (IfM) has developed a framework and toolkit to assist companies on this journey.

Figure 1: IfM’s Five steps for digital transformation

The framework, called ‘Five steps for digital transformation’ is illustrated in Figure 1. The Five Steps are areas for consideration during a strategic planning process. Each step includes a series of activities and potential iterations that should be completed before moving on to the next step.

The five steps are:

  1. Explore

    the potential of digital technologies in helping your business to improve and develop an understanding of what a digital future might look like for you.

  2. Understand

    what new value streams there are. They could take the form of, for instance, new business models or new capabilities that can be created through the early adoption of digital technologies.

  3. Define

    your organisation’s vision of the digital future. You can do this by achieving consensus amongst your key stakeholders about where you are going.

  4. Identify pathways

    consisting of selected solutions, projects, and technologies by mapping where you are now and where you want to be, under consideration of the key aspects of your strategy including external drivers, internal drivers, and capabilities to arrive at a blueprint for your digital transformation.

  5. Implement the prioritised projects, determine how you will develop your digital expertise (in-house versus outsourcing) and how you will protect your intellectual property.

So – how can roadmapping help me untangle the complexity of a digital transformation?

The framework integrates a range of existing methodologies and tools based on the IfM’s research into different aspects of digital transformation. Our ‘fast-start’ roadmapping approach supports it.

Roadmapping is a framework that is typically used at an early stage of the innovation process. It helps us to understand the influencing forces on business innovation strategy and to develop one that is future-proof. It brings different stakeholders together and facilitates knowledge-sharing via a dialogue and through achieving buy-in.

The S-Plan

In the context of the Five Steps for Digital Transformation, there are two types of roadmapping that are useful. Roadmapping in the form of the IfM’s strategic- and portfolio-level roadmapping approach (the S-Plan) can be used as a platform to help companies to identify the key types of information they need to obtain in order to define their digital transformation strategy. Companies do this by answering the following overarching questions:

  • What does a good digital future look like for our company?

  • Why is transformation necessary? What trends and drivers require change for the company to remain competitive?

  • Which customer needs can be met through digital capabilities?

  • What are the priority innovations we need to develop to add value to our customers or to improve our operations?

  • How do we want to implement these innovations? Which digital capabilities and technologies are important in that context?

The T-Plan

Roadmapping in the alternative form of the IfM’s product-technology roadmapping (the T-Plan) is highly effective at leading on and supporting the planning and development of digital products and services. T-Plan roadmap development requires a group of experts across different organisational departments that could include business strategy, commercial, product development, and technical teams such as engineering and R&D. This means that the product produced encompasses a wide variety of different and equally valuable perspectives.

The Product-technology roadmapping T-Plan process encompasses four steps, with four corresponding workshops. The first covers customer expectations, requirements and business drivers. It is followed by the a workshop which is the formulation of product/service functionalities and performance characteristics.

The third step focuses on the specification of the technologies and capabilities (including digital technologies) needed for the development of the key functionalities. Finally, the fourth step maps onto the roadmap the evolution of the functionalities and the technologies. It also includes the key links between the three areas of the T-Plan roadmap.

This final step supports the creation of a narrative of what technology needs to be developed and by when to enable the go-to-market of a new or updated product/service, in time for the business to stay ahead of its competition.

The benefits of the T-Plan that have been reported by organisations have emphasised the rapid start-up of the planning process, the linking of technology resources and business drivers, and the identification of important gaps in market, product, and technology intelligence within the organisation.

Nonetheless, the most reported benefit is in the communication and consensus that roadmapping engenders amongst an organisation’s stakeholders. This is a critical benefit that cannot be overemphasised. It is especially useful when embarking on a complex and multi-layered endeavour such as digital transformation.

Institute for Manufacturing is a global leader in roadmapping. It has deployed the method for technology, innovation, strategy and policy in hundreds of organisations across the world.

The University of Cambridge Online(Opens in a new window) course ‘Product-Technology Roadmapping’ helps you master and apply the principles of roadmapping, with teaching and support from the experts behind the plan working in both academia and industry. Discover more: in a new window)

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Director of Research Strategic Technology and Innovation Management, Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge
Principal Specialist in strategic technology and innovation management (STIM) at IfM Engage, University of Cambridge