It might sound strange, but one of our goals in transforming our company was to make our technology department obsolete.We wanted to make technology so easy to use that our users (employees and customers) wouldn't need IT support. As we evolved into a technology-forward company, we wanted to design a client interface that was intuitive to the point that it effectively "disappeared." And that didn't mean letting our IT employees go. To the contrary - we wanted to turn them into drivers of our business instead of maintainers of infrastructure.
We learned a lot along the way, and we keep learning every day. For this week's blog, we wanted to share a bit about our experience to help you do what we're doing - which is to make sure you're asking the right questions as you evaluate and implement cloud-based and other tools in this ever-more-quickly changing environment.
Whether you manage traditional IT functions internally or through service providers, the role of IT is changing. Cloud-based services are everywhere. And while there are huge advantages to moving business processes to the cloud, from a traditional view of IT you could see them as improvements to an existing model. This would be a huge mistake.
There is literally a new ground for how people relate to technology that has rocked the foundation of the industry that provides those services.
The question used to be "How can I improve my utilization of technology?" Now it's "how can I manage my business seamlessly, deliver my service more effectively, more consistently, and with more care?"
It's not fundamentally a technology question anymore, it's a business strategy and growth requirement. The former separation between "business" and "technology" is disappearing. And while larger businesses with big consulting budgets have been asking these questions, small and medium size businesses generally don't have the time or money to make this a priority.
Start with this question: what if you closed your IT department (or IT function if you don't have a formal department) and dispersed it across the company? What would it look like if you took each element that's being run through a traditional "control" dynamic (think about the traditional network admin) and turned it into a business service? Maintenance becomes business services. The IT support ticket queue turns into a data mine and collaborative effort to improve client service.
It won't happen overnight, and you will have false starts, but you have an unprecedented opportunity to have technology support the evolution of your business in some previously unimaginable ways, at a fraction of the cost of what it used to be.
Here are some guidelines for how to start thinking about it.
- Healthy doubt is your ally. Don't let yourself be intimidated by people who "know more" about technology than you do (especially if they are trying to sell you something).
- Create regular meetings with stakeholders just for discussion. And always wait a week (or longer) before making a decision.
- Cost/Benefit models are only part of the analysis (see #4 and #5).
- Intuition is your next best friend. If it doesn't feel right, it probably isn't. Dig until you find the source of the itch — and then re-evaluate.
- Whatever tool you are buying, there is an option out there that fits with your culture. Maybe not perfectly, but don't underestimate the value of finding one that "fits" with your look and feel.
- If you do need to reinvent the wheel (and sometimes you have to), it just means you have to question your assumptions that much more rigorously at every step.
- Planning to reinvent the wheel is always a good place to start — that way you're not encumbered by someone else's preconceived limitations (or your own!). Even if you end up buying something "off the shelf," the process is about keeping your dreams big.
- The market has leveled the playing field on basic technology uses. Period. Your differentiator is in the value of the underlying service, the story you tell with technology and your ability to scale and support it.
- Customer expectations around what technology should be able to do are impossibly high — and going up. Embrace this challenge.
- There is no technology-free department. This is a good thing, but it means you need highly effective communication and expectations management. And no matter what business you're in, you can't afford to hire anyone afraid of technology.
- The more you look for ways to see how technology is woven through your business services, the more opportunities will emerge.
And most importantly, unless you're a tech founder or guru, you are never going to understand or keep up with the technology the way some members of your team do. That's not your job.
Your job - wearing multiple hats - is to hold a standard that ensures that your brand commitment and business vision get translated into the actual customer experience, at every touchpoint.
No technology for technology's sake or because "IT says we need it." Those days are gone.
PS: There have been some great questions along these lines in the EMyth Platform. Here are some of the cloud-based services we're using to power our business: Salesforce, WordPress, Zuora, Vanilla Forums, Zendesk, Olark, Google Apps, Smartsheet, Asana, MailChimp, Engine Yard, and Segment.io.