Are you Strangling Your Business?

Here is why you may not be getting the results you expect

Companies today face technology challenges from all angles. Internally they are all looking for ways to increase efficiency by automating task, while at the same time reducing the overhead associated with supporting the technology that runs their business. Externally they are not only faced with the challenge of keeping up with the competition, but also with their customers who are becoming more technically savvy, and therefore expect more.

This poses a particular challenge to companies who rely on the same groups that support their internal infrastructure to provide products and services to the customer.

Not long ago (and maybe currently,) investment houses began the task of improving the reports they send to customers detailing the performance of a clients portfolio, the type of holdings as well as a breakdown of individual investments. At one time this would be considered added value if information is customized to meet the consumer's needs.

Today, customers expect as much. After all, today's consumers are better educated, and have access to some pretty powerful technology themselves that for one hundred dollars or so allows them to track their own investments quickly and easily. In fact many on-line operations allow non-customers to use these sorts of services for free, just to keep them coming back. Competitors who act quickly can win customers. Likewise, customers can be lost be not acting quickly enough.

One of my clients related to me how frustrated they were with their company's inability to react swiftly to market demands. They had information that was considered extremely valuable by their customers who had been receiving it on CD ROM. More recently they received many requests to post this information on a web site, and the business unit agreed that this was a good idea.

What should have been a simple task of copying information from the CD ROM to a web site became a huge political battle. Information on the disk CD ROM was typically accessed using a third party search engine that was not part of the corporate standard for web services. The proposed solution would require a six month evaluation and trial period before the corporate I.S. group would allow the product to be used. There was a high chance that the product would be disallowed and the information would have to be reorganized around a corporate application, and that solution would also take months. The proposed cost of either solution was in the tens of thousands of dollars.

The actual solution that my client decided on took three days, and cost $25.00 per month. They completely bypassed their internal people and hired an Internet Service Provider to host their site for them, got outstanding service, saved a great deal of money, and answered their clients request in less than a week .

I believe every organization should have a technology special forces unit whose mandate is to act swiftly to deploy the appropriate technologies to get the job done. While this team should be well aware of corporate standards, they should not have to go in front of committees of technical experts whose mandate is to maintain a stable internal environment for the least cost possible. They should be able to justify a business case and then act quickly to deploy a services as quickly as possible. They should use standard tools where possible. They should not have to justify their choices of technology, but rather demonstrate the outcome that their choices provide.

There are two ways to go about creating such a team. One way is to facilitate a culture change within your existing I.S. department. The other is to create a separate group altogether. Each approach presents a challenge, but I believe a separate group can bring immediate results and act more swiftly. A gradual merger of the two groups may be the best way to affect a culture change within the existing group if you can avoid the change going the wrong way.

Everyone should be encouraged to learn more about the business aspect of your business. They should understand not only what the consumer wants but also why it is important to them. For instance, is it simply a nice to have feature or do your competitors already have the capability to produce information in a way that is more meaningful to their clients. Are the I.S. people responsive to your needs, are they giving you what you need to satisfy your customers?

If you are providing a service to the public:

Do your customers have better capabilities using their own home computers than you offer them? For example, if you are an investment house, are your standard reports poor compared to what consumers get with their own financial package such as Quicken

If you are a television broadcaster or producer, are your special effects mundane when seen from the point of view of the Nintendo generation?

If you give lectures and presentations, are overhead viewgraphs dead? would multi-media enhance or take away from your presentations?

If you are part of Corporate Services:

Are you receptive to your clients requests? How long does it take to see the results? Do you know what those results are?

Are you flexible in your results? Who decides what the end result will look like, will the decision be assumed by you or will YOUR customer have final say?

Traditionally I.S. people had the upper hand when sharing technology with end users and making decisions about what could and could not be done. Today new graduates your organization hires grew up on computers. Will they be satisfied with you telling them it can't be done when they know better?

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