Unless you have been living on an island cut off from humanity, you have witnessed technology entering every aspect of our lives at an accelerated pace. You have seen competitors incorporate new technology to drive their costs down, increase customer satisfaction, and offer new services.
And if the importance of technology in your business wasn’t clear and urgent enough, COVID-19 created an extinction event for technology-disabled businesses. The business graveyard first filled with over a hundred thousand frontline businesses. Now it is daily taking down the slowest adopters and we never expect businesses to return to a pre-COVID-19 level of technology disability. The race is on.
Have you come to terms that the increasing reliance on technology is here to stay, and you are ready to evaluate your current state of technology enablement or disablement?
If yes, here are a quick 10 questions to help you get your bearings and figure out if your business is technology-enabled or technology disabled:
1) Do you lack a technology plan? Or if you do have one, is it just to “fix problems” and upgrade old hardware
Your technology plan needs to take into consideration the needs of every department within the company. To understand those needs, your technology executive or IT firm cannot just ask “what do you need?” as you will not know how technology can help. Each of your departments needs to be interviewed so it’s understood where the department needs to go and what obstacles are in the way.
Here is a step-by-step plan for authoring a strategic technology plan.
2) Does your technology cause more problems than provide new and better ways to get work done?
An unhealthy technology environment is when each of your staff experiences one or more problems a month. It’s healthy when they experience just a couple of problems a year.
Until your technology foundation is not an obstacle to your staff getting work done, there will be no room to deploy new and better ways to run your business. Who would trust an IT department to help strategically, when they can’t even create a worry-free IT environment?
Once it is sound, put together a strategic technology plan referenced in the first question, and then a cross-departmental technology committee to move the plan forward.
3) Does it feel like groundhog day with the same technology problems happening over and over?
Again, you need to get your technology in order so it doesn’t negatively impact your biggest cost, your payroll. The only way to do that is to have a technology auditor role that regularly looks for misalignments and fixes problems before they happen.
4) Do you lose sleep fearing that tomorrow you might not recover from disasters or hackers?
Remember when you were in grade school and had to do fire drills? What was the purpose?
Twofold, to make sure everyone understands how to get to a safe location, and to time how long it takes.
It’s no different with your technology. You need to perform regular fire drills with simulated disasters and hacker attacks. Just ask your IT department to perform one unannounced, and then yourself validate all the systems are functioning with recent data and time how long it took to recover.
5) Are you missing a technology executive that is part of leadership team discussions, and quarterly and annual planning?
Does it make sense that technology enablement is critical to your business survival, yet the technology executive seat on your leadership team is empty? This person can’t also be the CFO, Controller, COO, or Office Manager.A technology executive’s position is challenging enough trying to keep up with literally hundreds of thousands of potential technology solutions and infinite ways to apply them to solve your company’s challenges. You require a fractional technology executive / CIO that has dedicated their career to technology enablement. And this executive needs to be part of your quarterly and annual planning conversations.
6) Is your technology department not aware of the solutions in the market that have demonstrably solved the challenges you are dealing with?
As I mentioned in question 5, there are hundreds of thousands of technology solutions in the market and infinite ways to apply them.
Your technology department needs to be headed by a technology executive that has continuously refreshed awareness of the solutions applicable to your business and the right way to apply them to get the results that you need.
Since it is not possible to be aware of so many solutions and be remotely competent at applying them predictably, your technology officer must continue to work in some fashion with businesses similar to yours.
7) Do you hesitate to make technology changes because you expect they will cause work disruption?
If you fear making changes due to the negative impact of past technology changes, you are going to get stuck. There are two things you need to move forward.
First, the person or team doing the change needs to follow a template of the change based on past experience. Minimally, though considerably slower, the person or team needs to simulate the change without impacting production to gain experience.
Second, you need to follow a Change Control Process. The link is a sample one, that you would need to customize to your business.
8) Have you deployed new technology that your staff doesn’t use?
Unilateral technology changes have a tendency to gather dust. You need three ingredients to get the technology adopted quickly. Start with an annual strategic technology plan formed with the leadership team. This plan is then overseen by a cross-departmental technology committee. And finally, when implementing new technology you need to follow a proven adoption plan.
9) Does your technology department lack documentation, and you have to rely on certain IT staff’s tribal knowledge?
“We need Bob to fix it, he did it last time.” If you ever hear that, you know you have a problem. There are two subsets of documentation required. Troubleshooting documentation that documents how to fix any problem that comes up and proactive environment state documentation including common how-to procedures.
To test how well your environment is documented, observe when “Bob” is on vacation if he needs to be called upon.
10) Do you lack a way to measure the business success and quality of your technology?
You probably have many ways to measure your operation, sales, marketing, finance, etc. Yet when it comes to managing technology it’s either a mystery or you are overwhelmed with meaningless metrics and reports.
You need just 3 metrics. First, the internal staff satisfaction metric is based on regular staff feedback – the goal is 95%+. Second, how often does the average staff member need help from the IT department – the goal is once every 3-4 months. Third, since technology is a tool to help your most critical business goal there needs to be tracking of your business-critical success metric to see the impact from your technology department.
The more yesses to the above questions, the closer you are to the small business graveyard. Start by turning the 1st question into a yes with a technology alignment plan.