Technology trends are incredibly difficult to predict, anticipate and plan for, but understanding where the tech landscape is heading is vital for the future success of many organizations. Data plays a key role in collecting information to make informed decisions about where to invest in new skills. What will your customers be looking to buy next year? How about five or 10 years down the road?

Collecting and analyzing as much data as possible from every department in your organization makes it easier to answer those two questions, and thus prepare for future success.

Ten years ago, it was quite a bit more difficult to predict and prepare for technology shifts because of limited data analytic capabilities. SaaS is a great example. When Salesforce first entered the tech scene in 1999 with a mission to “kill software,” many vendors and tech consultancies had built their integration strategies and sales models on large, on-premise vendors, such as Siebel, and were reluctant to invest in an unproven cloud-based ecosystem.

Fast forward to 2005 and these key players were laps behind in the software-as-a-service business model. Smaller, more agile companies, such as Tquila, were able to identify and adapt to the Salesforce and broader SaaS CRM trend, while competitors were still struggling to adjust.

It’s not easy, but effectively anticipating this demand for emerging solutions and services is extremely important when determining the type of technology skills you should invest in. By leveraging analytics to make data-driven decisions, business executives can avoid devoting resources to the wrong areas – the tech skills that seem to be in demand, but are actually just flash in the pan buzzwords that will soon fall out of favor.

Follow these best practices on using data to predict technology trends to ensure you’re successfully getting out ahead of the competition:

Tune to the market

Source as much data as possible from prospective clients. Look up the sales funnel to better understand the pipeline and ensure your team has the right technical skills to succeed. The key is to make it easy and straightforward for staff to share information about potential resource demand very early in the sales cycle.

Make a record of all skill needs you’re presented with throughout this process, even if they are currently outside of your company’s specialties. Then you can spot the trends early and make the investment decision to ‘skill up’ at the right time. On the flipside, if you notice a decline in demand for a specific technology discipline you can more efficiently allocate resources to focus on emerging technology trends.

Learn from your losses

While it is important to track data for potential new business wins, it is equally as important to learn as much as you conceivably can from the business that you lose. This means collecting data not only on lost business opportunities, but also business deals that you have not qualified for.

Over time you will develop a more holistic view of your potential clients’ needs and how your capabilities match up. Determine what lessons can be gleaned from the prospects that opted for your competition – I’d be willing to bet that these competing companies promised emerging services or tech capabilities that you’ll need to account for moving forward.

Listen to your customers

Using data analytics to identify emerging technology trends is critical to keep your current customers happy. Listen to your current customers to find out what new pain points they’re dealing with – what types of solutions are they looking at and what would make their lives easier? Keep an open dialogue with those in charge of your customer relationships and leverage their feedback to determine what technology skills will allow these partnerships to truly thrive into the future.

Everyone at your organization should approach situations from a data-driven mindset. Encourage employees to record information about customers, even if it is not directly related to capabilities that your company currently offers. Trend analysis of this data can help ensure your company continues to grow as your customers’ needs evolve.

Identify skills gaps

By thoroughly tracking employees’ skill levels and trainings, you can better assess where any talent gaps are well in advance. This involves compiling information from resumes, employment applications, project management records, department records, workforce forecasts, business development plans, performance appraisals and succession plans.

Once this massive amount of data has been organized and mined, organizations can use this information to better understand which employees are trained in which skills and how this correlates to projects in the pipeline. Defining future demand early on is highly valuable because it gives resource planners more time to implement training programs that can develop talent.

Hiring and promoting from within is typically the best option, when possible. It ensures that the people tasked with mastering these highly-coveted skills are the right cultural fit, improves employee engagement and morale and will save time and resources.

For example, it may be more beneficial to cross train a technical architect on a new emerging technology, rather than recruit a less experienced person with the desired skillset. If in-house talent isn’t possible, defining your needs early will ensure you don’t rush to hire and will have plenty of time to bring on the best talent before other companies do.

Formalize the process

I’d recommend instituting a formal recurring, C-level meeting devoted to performing a structured review of emerging technology skills. Using all of the data sourced from prospective, current and lost clients and employees can make the C-suite meeting much more effective.

Think of this review like a Boston matrix – which skills are your cash cows, which are stars, which are dogs and which are your problem childs? This will ensure that your cash cows don’t become problem childs while simultaneously allowing you to spot the next star so that you can turn it into a cash cow. This can be done relatively informally when a business or service line is new and just getting started, but as the organization gets bigger it is much harder to stay on top of. Instituting a formal process early on and analyzing data regularly will help establish a sustained culture of innovation even as your organization quickly scales.

Leveraging data analytics to identify and act on emerging technology trends can make all the difference in terms of your organization’s performance and viability for years to come. Drawing these insights will help your organization make more data-driven decisions. Don’t rely on luck – institute the right steps to collect and analyze data in order to properly forecast the roles and skills that will keep you competitive. Someone else will if you don’t!

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