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MAG Member Corner: Building a Technology Strategy to Support your Business (MAG Quarterly- Volume Eight, Issue One)

Rosell_Rob (1)
By Rob Rosell, Senior Engineering Manager, Target Corporation

March 5, 2020

There are three components that I like to think about when building a solid payment technology strategy: business drivers, technology choices, and team. The strategy should focus on the ideas that enable business priorities and customer needs. It needs to consider technology costs, tech-stack choices, vendor integrations, and security & privacy. Lastly, team is a critical part of the strategy.

What is most important to your business and your customer? Is it cost of payment acceptance? Is it building customer loyalty? Is it stability and the speed of payment authorization? Likely it is a combination of these factors and more. Do your solutions deliver tangible value to your customers and are there any other priorities at odds with that? At Target, speed and ease of paying are paramount and the incorporation of the Target Circle loyalty program and Target Wallet into a streamlined payment flow is driving customer loyalty and satisfaction.

Technology choices must be considered carefully, and they should align with goals established by your business/customer priorities. Consider some of these questions in no particular order:

  • Should you build in house or outsource? There are many tradeoffs between the two; such as turnkey installation vs flexibility to innovate quickly; or relinquishing control vs owning all the responsibility and risk.
  • Does the technology have widespread support and adoption? If there is widespread support, not only will you be able to find talent, but you'll also find other resources like user support groups, online forums, etc.
  • Can the technology be sufficiently secured? How will you handle encryption? What kind of tokenization will you use? Beyond the obvious compliance requirements, your solution needs to meet the specific security and privacy requirements for your organization and business. The architecture of some technologies can make this more or less challenging. 

These aren’t one-time decisions either. Managing risk and maintaining compliance will be an on-going operational effort.

  • Have you accounted for the pace of change? Technology is changing rapidly. Whether you have outsourced or have built in-house you must plan for technology lifecycle events, the retirement of technical debt, re-design, and innovations.
  • Can the technology handle your volume and speed requirements? If you don't consider these requirements, then your stack may underperform or fail under load.
  • Does the technology meet your stability needs? Infrastructure fails. Whether it's because of a hardware failure or something else, outages will occur. How does your choice of technology perform when failures occur and does that meet your business need?
  • Does the technology support a metrics and observability pipeline? The best implementations can take automated steps for either self-recovery or alerting support staff when operations deviate from normal parameters.
  • Does the technology support modularizing components and exposing API's between them? Compartmentalize functionality as much as possible. The goal is to facilitate maintainability and enable rapid development of features and innovative ideas.
  • What is the cost of the technology, both in terms of up-front implementation costs, and ongoing operational costs? Be sure to consider any workforce costs in this calculation.
  • How available is talent for the technology? This is important because if availability is limited then you will either not find the resources you need, pay a premium for the talent you find, or hire inexperienced talent who struggle to implement and support the technology.

Finally, the underpinning of a good technology strategy is the team who supports it. On my team, I look to build a breadth of experience and knowledge. I want somebody who is a subject matter expert, because they have the knowledge and history needed to support our specific technology implementation. I also want somebody who is new to the domain, because they bring fresh ideas and perspective about both the domain and technology. Next, I work to build a breadth of technical depth across the team. I want experienced people who will make sound technical decisions, and mentor others on the team. I want people with less experience because this enables a talent pipeline, an environment where people can join, grow, and then leave (or stay!) Movement and career growth are part of the plan. At Target we encourage growth for our engineers by deliberately setting time aside for personal learning. We call this “50 Days of Learning.” That’s 50 Days per year dedicated to learning for each engineer! Every engineer is expected to use this time to explore whatever they choose. This pays back in dividends! Many unexpected innovations have come out of this unstructured time, and they are better engineers for it.

With a solid base of talent, sound decisions about your technology stack, and a thorough understanding of your business goals and priorities and how they benefit your customer, you are well on your way to establishing a successful technology strategy.