Could the latest software tool or smartphone app help grow your business? Maybe, but the pace of change is overwhelming. Today’s cloud might become tomorrow’s floppy disk.
Outsourcing advice around tech solutions can yield enormous advantages, by bringing in someone with broader perspective, experience, and skill sets. But beware — technology isn’t always the answer. If you’re considering a technology advisor to help navigate the terrain, think about your organization’s culture first and the impact on your strategy.
Maybe you’re spending more on technology than you expected but don’t know where it’s going or how it’s adding value. Or perhaps your competition is excelling by using innovative technologies and you are falling behind.
Whatever the case, you’ve landed at the decision to hire outside help. It’s time to look for a partnership.
Look for an advisor who takes a holistic approach.
The first thing any technology advisor should do is listen and learn your business. Decisions should never be driven by how fast technology can be implemented or how new and shiny the latest technology appears. Instead, decisions should be based on a holistic approach that melds seamlessly into your company’s strategy and culture. Technology is changing faster than ever and the latest and greatest is only going to have a shorter shelf life. Common sense, meanwhile, lasts forever.
Think about the proverbial repair man. We all know how that works. You get a three-hour window, and he shows up at the end of the time slot. Then he has two hours of work to do before you can get back to your life. If his company had invested in an app that allows for easy ETA updates, how much could that improve customer satisfaction?
Your advisor must understand your business, no matter how esoteric, with the same level of insight and empathy, as if he or she is the one sitting around watching the clock.
Technology’s impact on your business can be measured by how well it fuses with your strategy and culture.
Know which questions to ask.
No advisor can come in knowing all, especially with respect to your employees. Your first question should be around how your advisor will win over your staff culturally. They must talk to your employees about how any solution –high tech, low tech, or no tech– can help, while being sensitive to fears. Resistance to change ruins organizations when culture is an afterthought.
A slightly different way of asking that: What is your plan for communication, training, and engagement? I had a client try to move hundreds of employees from one video conferencing technology to another for its workforce collaboration. The decision makers assumed the switch would happen smoothly without much planning, training, or, most importantly, impact on employees. It didn’t.
I tell clients that with any change you make, imagine your mom or dad on the receiving end. Could they figure it out without calling you? If the answer is “no,” then it’s time to pause and figure out how to make the change friendlier to your staff.
Will there be downtime? Will the staff be upset? Will the customer be upset? Will I lose people? Weigh any change and its ROI against the potential disruption.
Finally, does this change make sense over the long term? No one can divine the future of your business or the evolution of technology, but a good advisor can make some educated projections about both in order to look at the long term value of your planned investments.
Prepare to answer some questions yourself.
What are your concerns and goals? Put tech aside for a moment. Think of the big picture, not only about what you see as technology related:
• What are you spending too much time on?
• Do you know where your current tech dollars are going and why?
• What do your customers need and want?
• How can you differentiate your business?
• Are you trying to grow your business?
• Are you looking to reduce operational costs?
• Do you believe there are efficiencies that you could incorporate?
In short, what are you trying to achieve? That’s the first question I asked the CEO of a medium-sized organization that I worked with a few months ago. He said he wants to be innovative. But as I interviewed his direct reports, it quickly became clear that alignment within the organization was sorely lacking. Everyone was in their own silo and didn’t know what other departments were doing or how they did it.
No innovation, tech-based or otherwise, will mean anything until you fix fundamental problems like that. Innovation isn’t a goal, neither is new technology; they are both a means to an end.
Beware red flags.
If the first proposal from an advisor is that you need to buy some new software or renew a subscription without any discussion of your goals first, it’s time to fire your advisor. If a proposed technology or process implementation doesn’t align with your year-to-year or even quarter-to-quarter strategy, look elsewhere. And if a tech solution isn’t linked to a clear business value, that’s a problem.
Not all solutions are technology based. Many of them are process oriented. Remember, technology isn’t always the answer.
Also, many advisors are looking for an annuity from you and try to make themselves irreplaceable. Find a new partner. A good advisor will get you set up for sustainability. The days of hiring someone to lean on for years are over.
Sometimes, it’s best to get back to basics.
I worked with a law firm recently that had put in a new file server for documents at the advice of another consultant. By spending time with the partners and other staff, I came to understand that documents are the lifeblood of a law firm.
Sure, a file server allows you to search documents, but in this case, only by title. That didn’t address the firm’s document strategy needs — probably because no one had assessed them.
Turns out, the law firm already had the functionality it needed. We moved them away from the file server and now they are able to search any document, with complete indexing that includes all text, not just titles. They can perform any search quickly online, from anywhere in the world, at a lower cost than they were paying for the file server.
Some advisors think they have to add technology to add value, but that’s not always the case. The best way to avoid such missteps is to only take advice from professionals who look at the entire landscape of your business, not just the clouds.