I’ve been to enough trade shows and conferences to know how excited people get about new technology. Whatever’s freshly minted and has a couple of cool brand names attached to it is going to be standing room only. (The poor guy next door talking about how to decrease store staff turnover, well, chances are he’s speaking to a slightly less packed house.) But in all seriousness, technology gets a lot of buzz, but yet, inside the walls of many organizations it fails to spark true change. So why does this happen and how can technology be operationalized so that it is less party favor and more game changer?
Tech Is The Means Not The End
In the realm of tech, we’re really good at self-promotion. We can’t help ourselves — we were born in a digitally native day and age and have no shame letting the world know how important we are. The problem with good self-promotion is that with all the bright lights and sound bites, we are oftentimes distracted from what needs to happen in a business context. Put differently, we start with the tech and not the desired end result.
So, how do you avoid getting swept up in all that buzz? Start with asking questions about what needs to change and why.
- Who does this technology exist to serve?
- How will we measure its relative success (i.e. what do before and after look like)? Can we connect its utilization back to customer value?
- What’s our strategy for the data we receive from this solution? What’s our timeframe to see the necessary ROI?
All these questions will take you back to ground zero: greater efficiencies, happier and more loyal customers, and ultimately, scalable and sustainable business growth.
Let me also add that even when the technology works its magic, if you’re not changing a broken process and you don’t have the right humans behind it, it isn’t likely to stand the test of time. Pour concrete over a rotten foundation and the cracks will soon start to show.
Shifting from Low-Value to High-Value
Let’s talk more about the people part of successful tech implementation. It’d be real nice if all you had to do was push a button and your newest AI solution just went to work. (“That’s cute,” your IT person says.) Yet as much talk about how technology can replace human efforts exists, it still needs, first, the people to set it up, train, and evangelize its users; and second, upon implementation, people to contextualize, interpret, and apply its output. These are diverse tasks that require equally diverse skill sets to successfully orchestrate. The pushback happens when technology is perceived as either “one more thing I have to do,” or “that thing that’s going to take my job.”
Rather, with the correct utilization, technology can and should remove the manual, time-intensive and less strategic tasks from your team and shift them to higher value-adding tasks inside your organization. Let’s use email marketing and its working parts as an example. There’s a message, the audience and the medium itself. The scope of tasks include writing compelling and creative content, figuring out when, how often, and to whom to send that email, then testing and measuring the results. A lot of this can be automated on the backend — and with a solution that can inform its users as to how to optimally target the audience — it then shifts a job from manual tedium to one in which marketers are able to utilize their analytical and creative skill sets.
One reason technology falls flat inside companies both big and small is that it’s positioned and perceived incorrectly. A changing job scope is not the same as that job going away.
One Champion Isn’t Enough
We’re talking about you, LeBron, and when it comes to technology, one person also isn’t enough. For tech to really work its magic, a team of stakeholders is crucial. Working for a solutions provider, I know firsthand it’s not difficult to find someone on the business team who is excited and engaged about what we have to offer. But relying on one individual and even one team alone has its limits. For technology to really take root and reach its maximum potential, it needs a cross-organizational team of champions to use it, measure the results and spread the gospel throughout the organization. It’s true, that with different needs and use cases throughout the organization, coming to an agreement on one solution that checks all the boxes can be difficult, but getting that cross-organizational buy in out of the gate means more than getting to share costs. It means that you are all in this for the long haul and are going to work together to maximize its value. And we all want to look good in front of our bosses, right?
I’ll take this one step further and say that using the tool isn’t enough — you have to let others know about it. Why? Because we all know that technology doesn’t come cheap, and the moment belts tighten, those solutions which haven’t already established their net worth are going to be the first on the chopping block.
In turn, the same message goes for those of you selling technology. Your future rests on your product’s shoulders and it must build credibility up and down the ranks. Your efforts should be spent ensuring that you’ve educated and armed your users with process-driven workflows and actionable insights.
Bigger Isn’t Necessarily Better
When it comes to choosing the right technologies for your business, it’s with relative ease you can pinpoint what you want today. The more difficult question to answer becomes, “what does tomorrow bring?” And just like life, it’s something that you as a decision-maker have to weigh when it comes to your tech partnerships. You’re constantly thinking about how to future-proof your business, but have you given equal thought as to whether your solution will also be relevant down the line? So before getting in bed with that sexy tech partner, be on the lookout for clues. Are they soliciting feedback on how to improve and upgrade, and are they willing and able to act on your needs? We’d argue that sometimes the biggest, best-known solution may not be the perfect fit for you. Find the solution that has built-in flexibility to test, learn, and grow with you.
The last part of a successful long-term tech partnership, is what you do once you’re in it. It’s like swiping for dates for years, finding yourself in a relationship, and suddenly having that, “now what?” moment. Analogous to that, as you learn and grow into your technology, you’re likely getting a lot of information out of the exchange. If there’s one question I get more than any these days, it’s “what do we do with all this data?” I have two pieces of advice here. First, start small. If you can’t figure out how to make something meaningful out of all of it, take pieces of it and experiment. Once you’ve built a winning business case, you can take on the next piece of the puzzle. Second piece of advice? Make certain that you’re sharing that data throughout the organization and finding its complements — even to those parts of the company where it might not seem immediately relevant. Your e-commerce analytics may very well be interesting to your teams managing in-store inventory. Consider the potential that your data could help inform decisions that you might not have previously considered.
When it comes to successfully implementing technology — substance trumps style every time.