As business leaders it has become our job to think about how to foster digital and technological advances in our industries. Technology is taking its place as a primary driver of market differentiation and profitability, not just in the high-tech industries, but across all sectors. As Bill Gates said: “Information technology and business are becoming inextricably interwoven. I don’t think anybody can talk meaningfully about one without talking about the other.”
These tectonic shifts should be impacting your strategies and operational priorities – if they aren’t already. The companies who wait for the next wave of technology to wash over them, instead of taking a proactive stance toward shaping their next generation of products and services, will be left behind. At the same time, it’s important to ensure any investments in technology are aligned with your business goals. A good leader becomes knowledgeable about the positive and negative aspects of any technology and tolerant of the ambiguities that go along with a constantly changing playing field. It’s important not to be ruled by fear – either of the new or of being left behind.
We asked a few of our members how they have utilized technology in different ways, starting with smarter machines. B.C.’s Modern Engineering has been building machined parts for over 70 years. A few years ago CEO Udo Jahn took a leap of faith and invested in the latest CNC (computer numerical controlled) software and flexible manufacturing systems. As a result his company has become the technology leader in their area. As Udo points out, however, “it’s not a silver bullet. You have to continuously make strategic investments and productivity improvements, regardless of the state of the economy. It takes guts.”
Some TEC member companies are moving away from selling things and time-based services and towards selling results. SynergyAspen is an environmental consulting company that invented a better way to present geospatial information than manually processing analytical data. Their proprietary integrated GIS mapping and project management system – SynGIS – sets a new benchmark for the presentation of geospatial information from multiple existing sources. This innovation, which is essentially applying existing technology in a new way, has resulted in new efficiencies and differentiated them in the marketplace.
One of our members utilized technology to deal with a human resources/staffing issue and leveraged it into a new product in their business line. Arcom Technical Services, a telecommunications and electrical infrastructure installation and upgrade specialist, wanted to leverage technology to increase human resource efficiencies. However, when Arcom saw how well the virtual receptionist solution Visitorlink worked, it partnered with that company to provide their solution in western Canada. By doing so, it diversified its own offering and took advantage of the emergence of unified communications. This goes to show that being open to leveraging technology in new ways can lead to opportunities you didn’t know existed.
Here are just a few of the typical business opportunities that IT provides:
- Enabling new business or operating models
- Improving management decisions as algorithms that capture data from social or other digital channels (such as the Internet of Things)
- Enhancing relationships among suppliers, stakeholders, customers and employees
The other side of the coin is that there are also potential business challenges that any business with a technology or digital connection may have. They include:
- Price pressures
- New competitors from previously unrelated industries
- Total disruption (overtaking technology)
- Global supply and demand
The upshot is that harnessing technology is going to be an ongoing leadership challenge, but it’s an integral part of your business strategy. If you don’t embrace it, you may just risk becoming the next Blockbuster.