How do you know when a business leads with technology?

Many pixels and toner cartridges have been burned in the discussion of the relationship between business and technology – or more appropriately IT. The terms and tone of these discussions reflect a deeply held belief that the two are somehow separate.  That view is silly but supported by many business and technology leaders.  So, what does it mean to lead a business with technology?

Well, a business that leads with technology is a business that:

  1. Employ technology in support of revenue growth and customer experience rather than using IT for greater cost take out, integration, etc. Growth is technology’s Job 1 in the digital economy and business that lead with technology are not afraid to use it.
  2. Have a clear understanding of their priorities, goals, and strategies. Businesses that lead with technology know what they must have and can tell you the actions or changes required to achieve their goals, particularly goals that are not expressed solely in financial terms.
  3. Define business challenges by articulating the ‘crux’ of the issue to create causality between technology and outcome. They communicate their challenges in statement of “If” we can resolve this, “then” we will achieve this goal.  They know what the next challenge will likely come next.  Others state a problem in terms of numeric goal, like increasing sales by 25% and presume there is causality between the IT they select and that goal.
  4. Uses Technology to create and expand strategic options rather than seeing IT as a way to enable options previously chosen. When you look at technology after the strategy is set you fall into a trap that destroys competitive advantage.  As one leader put it. “Every company works from a similar set of rules, but competitiveness comes from the underlying technologies and the differences it creates.”  Those differences surface when technology creates differences that matter.
  5. See technology as a business consideration rather than sloughing it off to a functional group known as IT. If business involvement is primarily in funding and approving IT projects, then you are not leading the business with tech, you are enabling it with IT.
  6. Have ongoing investments in technology and commitments to its employment in the business. This contrasts with programmatic or project investments that create lumpy or step level individual projects. If you are creating a list of IT projects then drawing a line, then you are not leading the business with technology. “Technology is not a tool that you take out occasionally to fix something. It is part of the core business.” It is not how much you spend, but how consistently you invest in tech.
  7. Invests in technology to achieve their own goals and objectives, often by staying ahead of or at the forefront of trends and forces. Leading the business with technology organizes and manages business investments. If you name projects after the technology behind them – the AI project, you are not leading the business you are following the pack.
  8. Invests in solutions that are tailored to their needs. This includes creating custom solutions.  This contrasts with buying market standard solutions and ‘fitting’ them to your situation.  Leading have the confidence to get the business value out of unique investments rather than controlling the cost and schedule of implementing standard solutions.
  9. Change their technology with the pace of business change rather than expect IT to last for years. As one business leader put it, “Companies traditionally invested in technology that was supposed to last for years. Now we know technology is constantly changing and we must constantly change our technology.”
  10. Have low walls within their organization and between their organization, customers, providers, suppliers etc. Businesses that lead with technology recognize that no firm can afford to own every element of a solution – it is just too expensive, too bureaucratic, and too unwieldily.  So, they foster low walls that allow resources to flow to the challenge or opportunity regardless of their source.  The alternative is to partition the problem and hope it all comes together in the end. An approach that rarely works.

How do you know when a business leads with technology?

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