Jason Ross, Workiro’s CIO, asks whether business technology has liberated us or made data monkeys of us all. How can your toolkit, and the approach you use as a group, help to solve some of the problems you encounter with the tech that’s meant to help you.
In 2020, there is virtually no distinction between technology and business. Tech tools drive every function of business, from sales and marketing to product development and customer relationship management.
Technology has brought speed, agility and efficiencies. It has improved internal and external communications, augmented our business intelligence and helped solve problems by bringing customers and wider audiences together around products and services – just as technology, at the same time, has blown traditional customer journeys apart.
All of us understand how tech is powering business – but, if that’s simple, why does it often feel so complicated?
Well, it is complicated. Just try Googling the problem – it won’t help! I have struggled for countless hours trying to get best practice approaches from the industry. All I am greeted with are websites selling tools, and often I have no idea what they are trying to sell me. This blog post is the first from me in which I’ll share our approach to solving the problems we face in 2020 from an operations and information angle.
To lay the foundation, let’s track back a couple of decades and retrace our steps.
It’s hard to imagine now, but in 1995, if you had told someone they would soon be using computers and electronic mail to communicate with customers, partners and suppliers, rather than sending letters and forms, they would have seen it as futuristic.
Head through the dotcom boom to 2005, however, and that early wave of digital tech had become the new normal. How, though, would it reach the next level? If you told someone that the answer would be to take all those workplace tools that were heating up the servers in the corner of the office and put them in the cloud, it’s unlikely they would have known what you meant.
What if, at that time, you also told them the following:
Within a few years you will happily work in transit on your phone or from home; video calling will be standard; device interconnectivity will mean you never have to type data into a system twice.
Nice idea, they might have said, but surely it’s still some way off?
In truth, some of those predictions have taken time. By 2015, many had been achieved, but the advances were not uniform. This remains a common pinch point for chief operating officers and chief information officers – and the finance director who signs off the cash for any new tech kit.
In theory, all businesses are tech businesses now. We advertise to customers on social platforms via automated targeting. Customers book sales demos online or engage via instant messaging services and chatbots. No-one second guesses a time for a meeting because we already know everyone’s availability. Meeting requests create a video link and get added to team calendars. A tap of an icon brings up your CRM and new data is logged automatically. Documents and files are accessible on any device.
You create a sales quote on your phone, which is signed online, and your pipeline is managed automatically wherever you are in the world. Information updates are passed to other teams to execute their own services or support. Invoices are generated, as are follow-ups if they don’t get paid, and all of this can be brought into a single customer view on a dashboard that’s available to everyone who needs to know.
Breathe. You get my point.
In 2020, all this is not only possible, but frequently second nature. But is it seamless? And is it for everyone? Speaking to customers, partners and peers, the response seems to be no, not yet.
The problem for businesses is how to get to that point where your tech solutions really do work without friction [ish]. Bringing in tech to speed you up often slows things down, initially at least. And, of course, it can be costly in terms of finance and time.
Often, there are three options for a business seeking to upgrade its ‘ops (operations) stack’ –that is, the tools you use to operationalise how your business turns leads into conversions. You can walk away, pretend it’s not really happening, buy your business only a couple of the available tools and leave it at that. Or you can opt for a one-stop shop by bringing in a big supplier, telling them everything you need, and then waiting for a long time before you see the results.
Alternatively, you can go for a best-of-breed approach. What this allows you to do is tackle the problem in a shorter amount of time by biting off small chunks of the overall upgrade in provision, bit by bit. Perhaps you’ll initially tackle your customer support systems, then sales, for example. Best of breed doesn’t mean paying for the top supplier in the market; it means finding the right solution for you and the problems your business faces at that time. This is the approach we have taken at GetBusy, and it is very much a long-term strategy for the continual improvement of our operations.
This, however, creates an extra challenge – integration. If you can’t integrate your tools, then you’ll be back to doing data entry across multiple, standalone pieces of the ops stack. Integration means aligning your tech with your business processes – so, if a business process in sales requires someone in services to finish the job, the tools they use need to work together. You don’t want to have to send an email to tell another team to complete a task. Integration is the glue between best-of-breed products.
At Workiro, we have a toolbox for these integrations, but before we start talking about how they can be used, I always recommend that a business map out what its functions are, and how its ops stack interacts with those. We will follow-up with a blog on this, as it’s important to get a big picture of what you want to achieve before you go to work on it.
It’s important that we share best practice about how this works, so that those in charge of operations and systems, such as myself, can cut through the noise to find what will work best. What works for us at Workiro won’t work for everyone.
Taking this approach makes a huge difference to a business. When your tools integrate properly, it tells your staff that you care about how well they can do their jobs, about the skills and expertise you employed them for, and about their time.
The changes we’ve been able to make over the past five years have totally changed the way we do business, and our tech tools should liberate us to do our jobs, not make data monkeys of us all. That was the message back in 1995, and it’s ever more important now.