One of my biggest tasks is to translate what feels like a million inputs flying in from across the company into one cohesive technology roadmap. This technology roadmap must establish the “big picture” vision for Wattics’ stakeholders, and must provide a concrete plan on how innovation will support the company’s business strategy.
Because we operate in a rapidly changing business environment, and more importantly because we offer one cloud-based platform to customers around the world, our roadmap is constantly challenged with day-to-day battles to meet release plans, to investigate new business opportunities and to manage customer requests. We therefore have a procedure in place to decide what we should build next, and ensure everything we do is aligned with our strategy.
Everyday we generate or receive valuable inputs with regard to what we could build next. The list is endless, so we try to log each of them after we have added enough context for when a decision needs to be made. Some of the inputs we receive will be directly flagged as high potential when the value is clear, and others will be tossed out in the backlog for when we are a hundred million company. First, we review each suggestion and allocate them to one of six following categories:
- Business opportunity – Not necessarily a technology breakthrough, but a feature that can open a new market or strengthen our company’s position. These feature requests generally come from our business development team, and seek to address needs of the business opportunity. For example, we would start from a new strategy to get meter manufacturers to offer our solutions to their customers, and we would come up with some new features that would be required to support that strategy. Today our main offer is an energy analytics platform for commercial & industrial customers, but the same technology could also work miracles in other markets. We are faced with new business opportunities everyday – the challenge arises in choosing the right one based on market research and gut feeling, and making sure that we don’t get too distracted from the core offering on the way.
- Technology innovation/IP – This really is about our company’s core value, and how we can disrupt the market with technology that no one else has. Maintaining a culture of innovation pushed from the top is important, first of all to secure business for the future, but more importantly to grow into new and exciting areas. We invest greatly into our R&D team and keep control over what goes into our roadmap, and assign time for prototyping new ideas that can potentially lead to a major breakthrough. We also always make sure to converge our ideas into a product that is commercially viable, letting go of projects that do not deliver to focus on high-value innovation.
- Platform infrastructure – Making sure that our technology backbone is continuously updated and operational is key, as it could jeopardize our business entirely. The Wattics system back-end is not what customers see or buy, but it is the foundation of the technology that will grow the value of the company. Flexibility, security, scalability and reliability are required when dealing with sensitive data transactions online, and to ensure that our customers can access their data at any time from anywhere in the world. We therefore invest time in fostering end-to-end security, minimum down time, seamless data integration, scalable big data management and more. Our team spends one day every development sprint on refactoring tasks, to integrate best-in-class monitoring tools, improving our testing environments and logs, and replacing outdated software and ways to do things. Technical depth is a major risk when adding new components to an already complex back-end platform, so we have established clear guidelines for our developers to follow, including restrictions on the programming languages to use for new components, thorough documentation and testing of the code base before any release, use of specific libraries for specific functionality, etc.
- Customer feature requests – These are tricky because on one hand you want to make your customers happy or at times close a major sale, and on the other hand you want to avoid developing technology that does not fit within the company strategy (or that does not have priority), or developing a custom feature that you will have to maintain and evolve over the next 5 years for one customer only. Customer input is also something very valuable, because it tells us what the market needs, and what our tool lacks of. We therefore pay attention to every input and investigate the ones we believe are relevant for our strategy. We offer our partners a mechanism by which they can submit suggestions regarding what they would like to see in our platform, and we then run the relevant input to our trusted partners to validate such needs. Very often we end up sending the feature to our backlog, but at times this process helps us uncover what’s next for us. The most important is to understand the real need from our partners and we devise the best feature possible for that, as opposed to having our partners specify the solution themselves, which might end up limited in functionality and evolution.
- Quality improvements & product iteration – We see this as key to keeping our customers happy and getting them to engage with our platform. Wattics energy analytics technology is a key differentiator, but it does not satisfy all of our customers’ needs on its own. We must keep building standard features and ensure that our platform is free of bugs, easy to use, tick all the right boxes, and expands to integrate new trends and tools developed elsewhere. We must keep improving our new tools over time because we rarely get it perfectly right the first time feature-wise. We also spend time on technology watch and work on third party partnerships to integrate conventional and innovative technologies with our platform. Currently, we are too small to develop everything ourselves, so we aim to partner with other companies who lead the market in their field and connect our platform to theirs through the likes of Zapier and so on.
I try to refresh our technology roadmap every three to six months. Decision about which feature to prioritise is based on the customer value, strategic value, revenue potential, market reach, cost reduction, and any other strategic advantage we can get, as well as the associated cost of implementing the feature. I also make sure that time is set aside for refactoring and improving existing features of our platform, which almost never takes place unless you make it a priority.
Major decisions must be endorsed by our Board before the technology roadmap is signed off. We then run sprint meetings every two weeks to break down that three to six month workload and agree on a short-term realistic and comprehensible work plan for the team, with specific goals of what we want to ship to production at the end of the Sprint. Most times, a roadmap is challenged and questioned as soon as we get new input, so we always try to document why certain decisions were made and go back to that before considering a change to the roadmap. Like a full bucket, there is a limit to the number of features you get in a roadmap, if you want to add something to it, then something else must go!
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