“ ...The Future of Business"
Sounds sort of ominous and a bit of an overreach for a blog post title, doesn’t it?
Yet the role of technology, and more specifically information technology, in the shifting landscape of business cannot be denied.
Information has become more valuable than assets and infrastructure.
Take Uber for example.
It owns no transportation vehicles, yet its business is getting people from here to there. You can’t deny the utility (or the success) of Uber or Lyft, so you have to look at what they did right.
Uber understood that if it could use information to get people where they wanted to go, it didn’t need assets. The taxi industry had numerous drawbacks that Uber took advantage of, but one of the defining attributes of the Uber service is the interactive map within their app.
Passengers can order their ride, know exactly how long it will take to arrive, and watch their driver getting closer on the map. Not only is that experience rich with information, it’s gamified; you can’t help but glance at the map for a while.
Think about the difference in customer experience from calling a taxi company:
“Hello. Address? Your ride will arrive in approximately 15 minutes.” Click.
You don’t know the where the driver is currently, what the car will look like, the driver’s name, the license plate number, etc.
Uber provides the type of service we’ve come to expect in the Information Age—specific, rich in details, gamified, and real time.
IT will shape the future of business because people no longer want just the product or service, they want to know what you can tell them about it—how long will it take to arrive, what do other people say about it, is this my only solution?
Businesses that seriously consider and plan their data collection, synthesis, and distribution to customers will be the ones that succeed in the future.
The Old Function Of IT
Wait, aren’t we talking about “the future of business” in this post?
Well, yes, but you can’t picture where you’re going unless you understand where you’ve been.
For our non-Millennial readers in management, you may recall the days of IT being treated as a necessary evil; a mysterious (and expensive!) line item on your P&L statement. It was considered a cost center with three basic functions:
- Capture information
- Report information
- Administrative and desktop support
Not exactly the most glamorous job description, is it?
Businesses would invest the bare minimum in IT just to keep things running—tracking orders, logging information, and refilling the toner cartridges in the printers. The CIO was a tactical role without a ton of impact on the direction of the overall business. Compared to the VP of sales, the CIO was basically an afterthought; to be called upon on when there was a technical question, not a business question.
Sure, he or she had a seat at the table, so to speak, but wasn’t really looked upon as a company leader.
Looking at the successful businesses of today, this picture of IT of the not-so-distant past seems ridiculous, almost comical. Technology has evolved, obviously, but more importantly, so has the way we apply it to business planning.
The New Role(s) of IT
That’s right, the IT department is now basking in the glow of being the popular kid on the playground. And we’re not just talking about the Steve Jobs documentaries or modern tech portrayals like the popular HBO show Silicon Valley.
IT is now looked upon as an indispensable tool to plan, execute, and optimize all aspects of business. Consider the following areas of business that IT now leads.
Using data to foster innovation
When customer relationship management (CRM) platforms emerged, there were mixed emotions—the sales team groaned at the idea of more data entry, but managers cheered about the ability to track and report activity.
A few years later, CRM as we knew it is almost unrecognizable. From the old days of logging phone calls and providing follow-up reminders, CRM can now be used to spot trends through predictive analytics and forecasting at an incredibly sophisticated level; not to mention an array of automation capabilities.
And it’s not just being used to record data and analyze trends. CRM is actually affecting the very structure of deals, providing more visibility into margin than ever. IT systems now give service providers a lot more insight into what makes a profitable client by digging into metrics far beyond revenue.
Supporting internal processes with technology
Is IT making things easier at work? Hello!
The amount of things that can be automated now is immense, and frankly, limitless. Basically anything for which you can design a process, and is also digital, can be automated with technology.
Take Zapier, for instance—its business is automating tasks. Integrate, automate, innovate, is a pretty good summary of what it’s capable of doing. Is something like this putting people out of jobs? Perhaps, but, as outline in the previous section, innovation is now a key component of business. There’s just no time or space to ‘do things the way they’ve always been done.’
The ability to integrate services with systems that you already use has huge implications for productivity and efficiency, which of course leaves more time and resources for innovative projects.
Proactive customer support
Automating customer support has a spotty track record of success. Remember phone trees? Perhaps they reduced some work on the business administration side, but from the customer perspective, they generally provided a horrible experience.
Luckily, we have evolved significantly from the days of yelling “Representative!” into the phone. Thorough and thoughtful FAQ pages, live chat, and now chatbots are revolutionizing how customers are able to get support in real time.
As a customer, if you can get an increased level of support from artificial intelligence, do you really care if you’re talking with a ‘real person’ or not?
Oh, how the tables have turned! Specifically, the table full of executives at a planning meeting. From the VP of Sales running the show, getting all the resources, and generally being viewed as the savior of the business, the CIO is now being called upon for strategic insight on the topic of revenue creation.
- Who are really our best customers?
- What are our most efficient channels?
- Is there any way to speed up the customer onboarding process?
The IT department now gets to be the hero by have a direct impact on revenue generation—the common language of every executive conversation.
Putting IT To Work For You
We’ve talked a lot about “the future of business” in this article, but using technology to enhance your business is more accessible than you might think. In fact, taking small steps toward technology innovation and testing them is a far better strategy than deciding on a complete tech overhaul at your organization.
Check out our recent webinar "IT in the Modern Enterprise" where we discuss easy wins in IT and how to avoid common hurdles.