As new technologies race to the forefront, old business models are being upended. Digital powerhouses like Google and Amazon continue to push into new frontiers, while upstarts such as Uber and Airbnb compete with stalwarts in their respective industries.
How can businesses across Northern Ireland survive in this climate of upheaval?
Lee Strahan, Senior ICT Consultant at Precept IT based in Belfast has put forward the following advice:
The solution is to disrupt yourself — before the competition does it to you. Here are three strategies that should help.
Centralize Your Information In The Cloud
To compete effectively, you need to have an accurate, up-to-date picture of your company’s performance across all business units. That may sound simple, but it’s tough to achieve when reports often live across departments in separate databases and spreadsheets.
These data silos, the result of legacy systems, are the chief impediment that keeps businesses from using their information strategically, said Tim Herbert, senior vice president of research and market intelligence at CompTIA, the nonprofit trade association for the IT industry. In a recent CompTIA study, 87 percent of companies said data silos create challenges, and 42 percent said a large amount of their information was siloed.
The best place to store your information is the cloud, where it can be continuously updated and integrated to shed light on business practices.
“Organizations often have CRM [customer relationship management] that’s not fully integrated with the sales pipeline or the financial reporting arm,” said Herbert. The organization can’t get value from data unless its separate pieces can “speak to each other,” he said.
Another big advantage with the cloud is its analytic capabilities. When your data is integrated, you can mine it to discover relationships between customer segments and see where there are bottlenecks. These and other insights provide an advantage over the competition, Herbert said.
Collaborate With IT For Agile Development
Historically, IT has handled storage and infrastructure and business units have generated ideas for new products, with decisions and approvals working their way up the management chain.
What if executives, business units and IT collaborated on product ideas from the get-go? Collaboration, flexibility and the creation of products in “sprints,” rather than in one big waterfall at the end, are the characteristics of so-called Agile software development. Using Agile principles, you build products much faster, making you more competitive. You analyze data to learn exactly what your customers want and give it to them now, tweaking products later to iron out bugs. You’d be like Netflix—nimble, bold and cutting-edge, quickly surpassing dyed-in-the-wool rival Blockbuster.
To succeed today, businesses must make IT an integral part of strategy and development.
“You need to bring together the database and infrastructure skills of IT with the analytical skills of business unit owners. It has to be a marriage of the two to get maximum benefit from the data,” Herbert said.
Companies that practice agile development on a wide scale have accelerated their innovation by up to 80 percent, a McKinsey study found.
Is agility disruptive? You bet. It goes against corporate hierarchy and redefines roles. It messes with budget and planning cycles. It entails risks, but not taking risks can turn you into your own industry’s version of Blockbuster.
Use Tools To Make Information Available
The third prong of a successful digital strategy is getting information into the hands of employees when and where they need it.
Tools can transform your operations. For example, the Schindler Group, a global elevator manufacturer, created an IoT “digital tool case” for its 20,000 field workers, with sensors in elevators sending workers alerts when there’s a problem. A mobile app keeps customers informed about progress on repairs.
There are many solutions like this in the market today, yet many businesses fail to take advantage of them.
Why? There’s a disconnect between what employees need and what managers think they need. In the CompTIA study, only 6 percent of business unit workers believed their company was managing information as well as it could, compared to 42 percent of executives and 31 percent of IT employees.
“Providing ERP [enterprise resource planning] or financial information to employees through digital tools is critical for today’s business,” said Maria Stephens, a senior data research analyst at Moxie, an Atlanta-based marketing company owned by Publicis.
“It speeds up the time to reconcile financials…. It helps with data-driven sales forecasting…. It helps businesses keep up with order volume, customer satisfaction, inventory and more,” Stephens said. “It’s not an option to keep this information in spreadsheets or on local machines—or even worse, on paper.”
How you use data depends on your business type and goals. But no matter what you do, it’s crucial to centralize your information in the cloud, share it with employees and make technology an integral part of product development. Following these strategies will not only keep your business going in turbulent times—it could make also you the disruptor that others scramble to catch up with.