Technology, on one hand, can be a wild jungle – easy to get lost in the vast array of options, and easy to get entangled in the vines, or network cables. On the other hand, technology can be a well-manicured garden oasis, drawing customers in and retaining your best talent.
The real question is how do you avoid the former and obtain the latter?
Admit you have a problem
Let’s face it, whether in life or technology, none of us have all the answers. The myriad of choices of hardware and software alone can be overwhelming. Now add in the rapid, changing pace of technology, buzzwords/acronyms (cCloud, IoT, AI, BI, virtual everything, zero day security event, collaboration, ERP), while supporting your existing systems and it’s easy to overlook the return technology should be bringing to your business.
Now that we know we need help, what should we look for in a person or outside organization to help?
They need to have a balance between business and technology. Someone such as a CIO, or vCIO (virtual CIO) that draws upon experience and a team to research solutions, know how they integrate with each other, understands cost benefit analysis and isn’t dismayed by any of the aforementioned buzzwords, is only half the battle.
The best CIO’s/vCIO’s understand business, the challenges, the opportunities, the areas for efficiency improvement, attracting customers, excellent customer service, ROI, scalability, competitive advantage and key differentiators. When the technical is matched with the business understanding, your IT goes from a cost center to a revenue generator.
Listen, learn, and plan
Form a diverse team that involves your frontline people, middle management and c-level executives. Don’t make the mistake of letting IT tell you what tools you will be using to run the business, and don’t leave IT out of the business conversations. It’s through the convergence of the groups that solutions that add value to the business are formed.
We know we need a solid infrastructure (internet, wireless, switches, security, devices, etc.) to build upon, that’s the cost center, but what we build on that platform will determine if it remains a cost center or becomes a revenue generator. Create a plan that maps out the business problems coupled with technology solutions that provide the highest return.
A plan without action is just an exercise in futility. You’ve come this far, with an approach few have taken, to align you for measurable success. Now it’s time to execute. Start with pilot projects.
Thinking about making it easier for your customers to connect with you? Try a customer support chat tool with a small group of your customer service reps.
Want to expand to new geographic regions? Have a couple people work from home for a few days, and see if your systems allow access to the tools they need easily, from anywhere.
Set measurable goals, with deadlines and assign the person who is accountable. Don’t let the plan now wander aimlessly in the dessert, keep it on track!
When you find systems that are working well, and impacting your customers in a positive way, then you fire your cannonballs.
Review, Train, Support
Set up a check-in system with the people using your software and technology tools and your IT providers. Has the business changed? Are you still finding value in this system? Are you utilizing your technology tools effectively? These are the types of questions you should be asking – at least on an annual or semi-annual basis.
Even the best technology won’t have much effectiveness if two key ingredients are missing:
1. Your team hasn’t had professional development or training around how to effectively use the tools they’ve been given.
2. When there are inevitable glitches in the system, your staff doesn’t have faith the issues will be resolved quickly and effectively by your IT support.
A shift in mindset, the right technology leader/partner, an organization willing to listen, learn and act, as it relates to technology, will be poised to reap the benefits. Those organizations will leverage IT as an investment that stands to provide a healthy return over a cost center eroding the bottom line.
–James Bates is the co-founder of Datapath, based in Modesto.