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STRATEGY

Integration: Where Technology Meets the People

Businesses are increasingly turning to technology to help increase profits while lowering costs. It’s a road fraught with problems, but they aren't insurmountable.
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Technology won't solve all of your business problems.

Over the last seven years, I've been working with businesses -- either as an employee, consultant, or manager -- to help strategically plan how to use technology to both increase revenues and drive down costs. Yet, it's the message that technology isn't a magic cure all that I spend a majority of my time reiterating.

A website won't immediately bring in new revenues. New server technology won't immediately increase the internal performance of your departments. Software applications won't necessarily make it easier for groups to work together.

While technology won't solve all of your problems, it does provide a unique opportunity for modern businesses to shed some of their fixed costs and increase their customer base by moving some portion of their business into the digital realm.

To fully realize the benefits of an integrated business -- one that harnesses the power of both offline and online capabilities -- companies must increasingly move to integrate their operations. For this to be successful, executives must define exactly what their product lines will be, explore all the avenues they can exploit with those products, and create a workforce that is nimble enough to work across multiple platforms.

The last three companies I've worked with have gone through this transition and there were two common issues: There was a large personnel turnover and there were numerous stops and starts while implementing the integration.

While there is rarely anything that can be done for the employees who were let go -- re-organizations often require new hires with new skill sets -- the headaches can be avoided. Most technology implementation mistakes happen long before any new hardware or software is purchased. There is no full-proof methodology for doing this, but these three simple steps can help every business before making substantial changes.

1. Identify your products and your mission statements.

This sounds simple enough, but it's actually quite time consuming to identify and then write a mission statement for each product, one that identifies both what the product is, how it will be used across multiple platforms, and how customers will find the product.

This is a helpful exercise because it forces people from different departments to communicate with each other, often bringing to light issues and problems that must be addressed. You'd be surprised to find out how often the marketing managers' viewpoints are completely opposed to those of the product managers, and how each was pursuing a solution to their own perceived problems without ever communicating with the other.

2. Identify your revenue streams.

Next, it's time to look at the revenues and potential revenues, which will help to create a hierarchy of importance. This helps managers in two ways: they can see if the product is essential to the overall mission of the company, and they can determine where additional resources should be allocated. Decisions may need to be made as to which services are more essential to the company mission, while also bringing in -- or potentially bringing in -- the most cash flow.

3. Identify your personnel and needs.

Now, managers are able to take the working product documents and create a process document that details what work needs to be done, who will be responsible for that work, and what additional resources are needed.

This will be the most labor-intensive section since it requires that each department not only analyze its workforce, but also work with other departments to create an integrated working document that describes where each person fits into the product's life cycle.

The process of identifying products, revenue streams, and personnel can take several weeks, sometimes months, but once this is completed, it's much easier to see where new technologies may be helpful. It doesn't take long for managers to begin to understand the direction of the company, and where there are problems -- and that is when executives can make informed decisions about their resources.

Brad King is an assistant professor of media informatics at Northern Kentucky University and he blogs about technology and culture at MIT's Technology Review.

Last updated: Sep 1, 2006




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