Lots of companies that we meet with today know they need to be doing more with technology. They hear about “the cloud” or are concerned with falling behind because they don’t know where to start. They talk with other technology providers, but it always seems to focus on the technology — why the latest switches will be better or why the need for a new firewall or more bandwidth. They believe they need to move to the cloud or do more with CRM, but they are not always clear for why they need these things or what they will get out of them. “Because it is the latest technology or the newest version application” is never why you should implement new technology.
Rather than asking what technology you need to implement today, you need to be asking what business results you need. Before trying to solve a problem with technology, you need to know what the problem really is and what the solution will look like — what the impact will be on your business. What do you need your technology to improve? What capabilities do you need to implement? Ultimately, it really comes down to the business results outlined below that should define your technology strategy.
How is technology impacting your productivity today? Are systems optimized to perform as the business requires? Are they always available or is downtime from system outages or PC failures disrupting business productivity? How are they positioned to scale and perform as your business changes? Before anything else, you need to tackle the foundation of your technology infrastructure (servers, network, PCs). All the automation and apps in the world won’t do you any good if they are unavailable because your network is down or workstations don’t perform. You may have service level agreements (SLAs) with your providers and your internal IT, but that does not address the real issue, which is: why is there a problem in the first place? Don’t get me wrong, you still need great support and will have issues that need to be addressed, but a greater focus on proactive solutions will have a big impact. It will not only increase productivity, but it reduces support costs. Proactive work can be planned and scheduled and more efficiently managed, but even more importantly, it can be done in most cases without a business disruption. The reactive support is unplanned and usually happens at the most inopportune time. Technology that eliminates ongoing problems, inconsistencies and downtime is often the first step in increasing business productivity. More productivity at this level also leads to more scaling, allowing your team to do more with less, and this should be the end goal of any new business initiative.
Your clients’ experiences come from any interaction that they have with your business — emails, a visit to your website, downloading your app, placing a support call, or a meeting with your team. What is the performance and capability of your technology telling your customers about your overall capability as a company? Do customers struggle to navigate your systems? Do they often encounter errors? Do they hear negative messages from your employees such as, “Our system can’t do that,” or, “I can’t help with that while our program is down”? These types of interactions have a direct tie to customers’ impression of your business and capabilities. Your customers need to see you as an organization that recognizes the importance of technology, with reliable systems that allows employees to deliver products and services quickly and efficiently. Look at your current technology and consider the type of message it’s sending to your clients, as well as the business impact those impressions may have. Technology that elevates your customers’ experiences will see positive returns in terms of client retention, repeat business, and the most valued client compliment — a new client referral.
Just like your customers, your employees receive a message when they encounter tech struggles with their day-to-day duties. Is technology setting your people up for failure instead of success? Do they often encounter issues or have to devise workarounds to accomplish common tasks? If so, this directly affects the culture of your organization, lowering morale and making you a less competitive employer. The employee experience can be a difficult area to tackle with technology because technology is often used very differently throughout the organization. Particularly at the executive level, it’s easy to lose sight of what day-to-day life is like for employees, and this lack of visibility can prevent chronic issues from being solved. It can also lead to high turnover: a new employee whose first impression of the workplace includes frequent technology roadblocks and inconsistent processes is more likely to leave. Those who remain are often the ones who complain about issues but don’t offer anything to correct them. So, in short, make sure that your technology and capabilities are sending a message to your employees that is consistent with your expectations, rather than contradicting your goals and making employees’ jobs more difficult. When employees feel that their goals and the tools they’ve been given to achieve them are in conflict, they don’t feel as valued and their job becomes a drag.
Risk mitigation is the area with the most potential for catastrophe, business-wise. This encompasses industry-specific compliance (such as HIPAA or PCI), as well as cyber security. What systems directly affect your ability to comply with requirements and remain secure? What risks does your organization face due to your competitive position and your industry? (For example, if you’re in a very competitive industry, you’ll probably be more open to targeted cyber attacks or even corporate espionage.) Identify the risks that you’re facing today, and then you can determine the best approach to mitigate them.
This area also applies to you too, if you’re a small business. Many small organizations think they have nothing of value to hackers, or their value to cyber criminals is negligible when compared to the bigger fish in their industry. This line of thinking is dangerous — any company can be vulnerable to ransomware and viruses that can cripple operations and damage their revenue and reputation. There is also a risk of human error in every organization; the wrong file deleted or a coding error can impact operations at any level. In fact, human error can account for as much as 80 percent of IT issues! Risk mitigation to recover from these types of missteps (like backups and disaster recovery plans) are crucial for any business, large or small.
BONUS – Innovation: Once you’re in a good place with the first four areas, you’ll have a solid foundation where you can think about the tools and innovations you can implement to enhance your products and services and establish a competitive advantage. Determine what you want to add to your service offerings, or perhaps new industries you want to cross into, and choose technology that gives you the capabilities to get there. This is what the tech giants like Google and Apple are so good at doing: they’ve gotten the essential results from their technology, and are now expanding into health care, transportation, AI and more. Use technology to get your essentials in order, then you can determine what other doors you want it to open for your business.
The next time you are having a technology discussion with your IT provider or internal team, make sure the discussion is connected to the business results you need. In fact, start the conversation with the required business results and then discuss the options and how they connect to business impact. Ask the right questions about how technology can help increase productivity or reduce business risk. Ask how a new system may impact your client experience. Shift the focus around technology so that it starts with the required business result!