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Industry Insight

IT at the speed of business

IT can and should be used as a competitive tool and business differentiator.

In the last decade or so, it has been identified that mankind has the technology and knowledge to do far more than there are uses for technology. As a result, users end up creating gimmicks and things to prove technology, but it’s not often that an idea comes around and is implemented using technology that revolutionises the way the world does things.

Reap the rewards

If ideas are not harvested, great concepts can be lost.

Some examples of these are the Internet, mobile phones, iPods, and medical instruments. These are all things that people can’t live without in modern society, and of course, all of them are constantly evolving and improving, each getting better in their own way. However, the question is: do people make enough use of the technology available to them?

Every year, analysts predict what they believe the next disruptive technology is going to be. Everyone waits with bated breath to see what does emerge, and often, fashion and image drive many of these trends. Apple is a perfect example of this, as the world awaits each of its new products with anticipation and charged credit cards. So, in technology industries, the race is always on to create new and improved items that will appeal to consumers and create a sustainable industry for them.

But, for companies where technology is not what they do – how do they get a competitive edge through the use of technology? That is essentially what I want to explore in this series of Industry Insights: how do companies use IT as a way to increase their bottom line, or drive competitive advantage?

First prize

Winning means getting the company’s idea out to market before its competition does, but so often, the development to production takes so long that by the time a company is ready with it, it’s too late, someone has beaten the company to it.

Generally, IT is seen as a supportive platform, something companies must have in order to conduct business, but some use it as their actual business – one such example is outsourcing companies. Other examples are application providers – disguised as services – such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and many thousands more. These are also good examples of using IT to provide something that consumers want and create a market for it.

But, what about simple, old-fashioned companies such as airlines, retailers or financial institutions? These are companies that must use everything available to them to make them better than their competitors, and perhaps IT is an area that is often not exploited enough.

Adapt or die

Let’s assume a company comes up with a good idea for using online technology to make its product more accessible or attractive to its market, or even penetrate new markets. While the concept may be sound, the cost and time to execution might scupper the whole plan. Businesses today must be agile, nimble and quick if they want to beat the competition, but IT must adjust and respond quickly enough to make the project a success so the company can realise the envisaged and desired results.

This is what I call transformation. Companies need to transform to be competitive in this fast-paced modern society. IT too must transform to keep up; it needs to be agile and capable of doing IT “at the speed of business”.

Today’s CIOs are becoming more and more involved in the business, so much so that many are now seeing their future careers as COOs or even CEOs, because they have become so intimately involved in all aspects of the operation. They recognise the value IT can bring to business innovation, and at a high level, this means gathering ideas, deciding on their merits, building the solution and deploying it – all with limited budgets, time and resources. While it can be challenging to find solutions for these issues – there are ways of doing it. As this Industry Insight series unfolds, I will detail the steps involved in the life cycle of a concept – from embryonic stage through to deployment.

Ideas can come from any area in a business (not only marketing), yet if they are not harvested – great concepts can be lost! Technologies must be used to manage the gathering of ideas into a system that can be shared with relevant stakeholders. These ideas can then be distilled and fleshed out into full-blown business cases, including the returns expected, resource effort required, priority, etc.

With all this in one central system, it is far easier to look at all the projects proposed and prioritise the investment required, based on the ROI. Having an integrated tool that also extends to project, portfolio and resource management will ensure the projects are managed consistently and effectively with the original business outcomes in mind. Reporting and dashboards are also critical for executive visibility, lest the “out of mind, out of site” syndrome threatens to derail the initiatives. This keeps the business priorities firmly entrenched and in view.

My second Industry Insight in this series will present a detailed discussion on the development portion of the life cycle – an area that today requires significant investment and is often the cause of delays and frustration for all involved.

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