Respecting Legacies: Factor Existing Systems Into Your MarTech Roadmap

forkliftThe networking industry has long used a phrase for changes that IT and business leaders want to avoid at all costs: “forklift upgrade.” The concept effectively conveys the heavy lifting and disruption of a brute-force replacement of current systems.

That imagery comes to mind regularly when I interact with marketing leaders who are considering new technology investments. Many fear a software equivalent of the forklift upgrade — ripping out existing systems and processes at a steep cost in time, money and cultural impact. Their fears are justified; wholesale replacement of applications and work processes can be just as disruptive as major hardware upgrades, and potentially more risky.

Having lived through painful software transitions on the road to marketing automation, I advocate a measured approach to developing your martech roadmap that includes a dispassionate evaluation of current business processes and the systems used to facilitate them. Specifically, how these processes and systems support current and future revenue, and at what cost. (This is an important complementary step when creating a marketing tech blueprint).

Let’s delve into those factors one by one, with the goal of helping you make informed decisions about the future of current systems as you evaluate marketing software upgrades.

Supported business processes: In many cases, marketing leaders will find current systems (think analytics tools for B2C promotions or registration systems that support lead generation) are so deeply embedded in core processes that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to decouple the process from the system(s) it touches. What’s needed is a thoughtful analysis of whether the new system being considered will allow you to support each critical process in a similar way, assuming it’s desirable to do so. If the new system can’t do that, either the process is flawed and needs to be blown up, or the “upgrade” may be too painful at the current time.

Revenue implications: Likely the biggest mistake that marketing leaders fear when considering new software is underestimating a current system’s role in supporting revenue. One common example would be a system that retargets those who abandon shopping carts. Marketers must understand and document in revenue terms the value of every system whose future is under scrutiny. Failure to know such figures, and have a clear plan to protect the revenue they support, can be disastrous for companies and careers.

Total cost of current and potential new systems: As any seasoned business or IT leader knows, software subscription or license fees are just one line item in the overall cost of a cloud or on-premises system. There are a variety of other costs to factor into the total equation: internal and external IT resources to maintain said system; support fees to the software supplier; future support plans of the vendor that created it; data migration and more. Without a thorough vetting of all costs, it’s impossible to make an informed decision about a new system and the future of current systems.

Deeply ingrained in each of these three considerations is the culture in your company. System upgrades often raise challenging cultural issues. It’s critical to know at the outset that some employees will be “married” to the current system because they were instrumental in selecting, deploying or customizing it.

If you decide to declare end of life on a particular system as you usher in the new, be sure to do so with the respect that a valued contributor deserves, which often also requires effective change leadership. Otherwise, your employees will struggle to embrace what’s new.