The businesses that lead in today’s economy are increasingly becoming those that can pivot, adapt, and implement change almost as quickly as new threats and opportunities present themselves. In contrast, companies which are stifled, siloed and unable to transition quickly are finding themselves falling further and further behind, and there is a point of critical mass where ultimately they will find themselves unable to compete against their more agile competition. Many businesses find themselves at a critical juncture, and now is the time to begin preparing.
In our highly digital world, the first place to start is by ensuring your company has the technological framework needed to adapt and make changes. Legacy IT systems can’t integrate with many of the new digital platforms and apps, slow bandwidth or Internet speeds can create insurmountable bottlenecks for employees and consumers, and data that's scattered across the organization, and not properly managed, can stop your organization from implementing required changes before you even get started.
Below are the steps you need to begin taking today, to ensure your company is ready to compete throughout the coming year.
Start Your Digital Transformation
Think of technology as a launching pad for your company. Having all of the newest toys isn’t necessarily going to help you if you don’t make smart business decisions, but if you put the right tools in the right hands, you can boost productivity and effectiveness.
The tough part is steering the ship in the right direction - and the bigger your organization is, the wider your turning radius will be. Although your business may be committed to digital transformation, it's often not as easy as many think to get managers and employees onboard.
If you’re going to get everyone to follow your lead and embrace the transformation, you’ll need to start with a solid, and agreed upon, digital transformation roadmap.
There are many different ways to get started with a digital transformation roadmap, but what each approach has in common is that there’s clear communication with your team about what you’re after, and equally clear targets for you to try to hit. If you can keep everyone on the same page, with specific goals, it'll be much easier to execute your vision, and elevate your business to a new place of competitiveness with technology.
To get started, put together an accurate assessment of where your company is now, what competitors and other comparable organizations are doing, and what’s on the horizon. This process begins with your team: have conversations with the people who'll actually be using the tools you’re considering to figure out what’s already working, and where there’s room for improvement.
Sit down face-to-face with people across your organization and have a discussion around the following questions:
What technology do you rely on?
Where are you running into trouble with technology?
What can’t you do that you wish you could?
What technology takes the most time for you to deal with?
What information do you track, and how do you track it?
How do you collaborate with other departments and third-party vendors?
What is your experience interfacing with my department?
What business goals do you have, and how does my team help you achieve them?
Getting answers to these questions will give you a clearer picture of the state of technology in your organization, from the people who depend on it the most, which will help you figure out what your priorities should be.
Customers Matter, Too
Checking in with employees is one thing, but the other factor in any tech equation is how your company looks to the people who interact with you most - your customers.
There are a few ways to understand how you're perceived - your first stop should be your competitors’ websites and other digital assets. Do you have a clear understanding of what tools they’re using and whether or not it boosts their value proposition? It’s worth taking the time to do as much research as you can so that you’re aware of what they do differently than you.
Sometimes it’s a little tough to overcome our natural confirmation bias and see the choices a competitor makes with clear eyes - after all, you probably stand behind most of the decisions you’ve made about your company’s buying journey. That’s why another place to look for technology implementation ideas is similar companies to you which don’t necessarily share your industry but have a similar brand and audience.
Basically, what you’re trying to understand is what expectations your customers have when it comes to technology.
Here are some questions to consider:
What technologies are crucial to the buying journey?
Which social media platforms are these companies most invested in?
How much of the research and buying journey can be accomplished on mobile?
What role does technology play after a purchase is made?
How does customer service work? (This is a huge factor in customer expectations.)
How are they ranking in organic search?
Where are their advertising investments? (A tool like SpyFu can be a big help here.)
What keywords are they invested in?
What is their content strategy like? Articles? Video? Something else?
In Salesforce’s recent “State of the Connected Customer” report, 64% of consumers and 80% of business buyers said they expect a brand to respond to and engage with them in real-time. In other words, the goalposts are shifting for your company and others like it, whether you’re ready or not.
If you have the capability, you should also consider asking customers directly what their expectations are. A short survey with a sweetener (a discount, free shipping, or entry into a raffle) can give you more perspective on how your company is perceived when it comes to technology.
Conduct a Technology Audit
Answering all of these questions is a great way to get started on the next step in the process - a technology audit.
You should have a good idea of what tech needs your business has, and especially where there’s room for improvement.
Are your employees swimming in hacked-together spreadsheet content calendars? Consider investing in content marketing automation. Is invoicing and accounting taking up too much time? Consider a more streamlined solution like FreshBooks or Wave. There are cloud solutions for HR, too. During your audit, your top priority should be looking for technology that can streamline workflows and save your employees time.
You also need to take a look at your technology infrastructure and see if there’s room for improvement. Snazzy cloud functionality won’t mean much if it’s not backed by a solid connection that gives your business plenty of bandwidth to get the job done, and a WiFi network that lets people use it. Mobile apps won’t work effectively if there are too many limits on data. Even your phone system could be due for an overhaul to better take advantage of call forwarding, VoIP, visual voicemail, and other innovations.
Finally, be aware of any incidences of “shadow IT” cropping up in your organization. Generally, this happens when individual departments try to fill in the gaps by using a tool that IT isn’t aware of to do a job. You can end up with all departments on the Google suite except for one lone team using Office 365, for example.
While a certain degree of initiative is good, it’s hard for IT to protect against a security vector they don’t know about — there’s a reason there’s a vetting process, after all. At the same time, shadow IT can also contribute to siloing in your organization, as all these departments use slightly different platforms to accomplish the same thing. Identifying where teams need to be better aligned, and creating a solution that works for everyone (including IT), is key to streamlining business operations.
Do a SWOT Analysis to Get a Picture of Security
Any time you’re reconsidering technology for your business, you should also take a close look at your security.
The best way to get started is with a SWOT analysis - Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. It’s a great way to get a clear picture of what’s going on in your organization, for better or for worse, so you can identify holes in your workflows.
1. Identify Your Strengths
Really simply: What are your strengths? What are your biggest assets? What have your biggest accomplishments been over the last year? What is your competitive advantage?
Ask yourself how technology plays a role in making you do what you do well, and how you might be able to use it to leverage those advantages even further.
Maybe your company is great with data: everything is plugged into the CRM and you’re able to track interactions across channels and the entire life of the buying journey. Once you’ve identified this as a strength, you might consider that maybe it’s time to leverage that data with AI-generated insights or other new ways to look at the information you already have to target customers more effectively.
2. Identify Your Weaknesses
Even the best organizations have areas where they could do a little better.
Again, you need to be thinking both in terms of an inside and outside perspective - what would your employees say you could do better? Your customers? What have your competitors identified as areas where they can gain an advantage?
While these are questions we should always be thinking about, the key here is to really put yourself in an adversarial mindset for this part of the SWOT analysis. This is about identifying your blind spots and being honest about them.
If you’re coming up with the same things you normally focus on, you’re not going to be able to find much that’s actionable.
3. Take Advantage of Opportunities
Weighing both your strengths and weaknesses is key to being able to identify opportunities. What are you already doing well that you can do even better? Where can you press an advantage? What are you not accomplishing as well as you want to, where technology could help you seriously shore up a weakness?
The tech landscape is always shifting, so it’s important to remember that things can change in an instant. Suddenly your weakness can become a strength, or a new piece of technology does the same thing as a business process you'd spent a lot of energy streamlining.
4. Prepare for Threats
Finally, the key to long-term success is being abreast of threats that are popping up on the horizon.
Obstacles to your business’s growth are key to keep your eye on so you can develop a plan to combat them. It’s all about having a plan before something happens, rather than after the fact.
The key here is to be thinking about the worst case scenario. What are you going to do if you have a data breach? It might be a good idea to plan and run a crisis simulation before your company finds out the hard way whether or not it’s prepared. If you experience a catastrophic data loss, does your organization have the resilience to keep operating while recovering everything important?
What You Can Do Right Now
Planning is all about being proactive, not reactive, so spend some time looking closely and honestly at where you are right now and you’ll be able to come with a digital roadmap that sets you up for success.
Commit to a clear digital roadmap with targets that keep everyone on the same page.
Sit down with employees to get a clear picture of what technology and processes are working and what are not.
Study competitors to identify what they’re doing well, and what customers expect from you as a result.
Consider asking customers directly what they like and what they need more of.
Conduct a thorough technology audit to take stock of everything going on in your organization.
Perform a SWOT analysis to be proactive about tech improvements.
This post was first published on the Cox Blue blog.