Dont Leave Tech Out Of Strategy

August 15, 2003
| By Katy Rent |
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HOLLAND — Strategic planning is a given in the world of widgets and whatchamacallits, but planners often overlook how technology will support the growth of the business.

It's a step the guys at Worksighted say cannot be left out.

Mat Nguyen, president, and Mike Harris, vice president of information systems, told the Business Journal that planning for technology as a way to leverage business — through a process they call IT road-mapping — is a crucial step in planning.

Harris said the roadmap considers the company's IT value and business performance together while laying out a path of where the company would like to go.

He explained that assessing IT value is a calculation of how much it costs and what it brings the firm, while also asking, "What does it allow me to do now that I couldn't do before?"

Harris said one of the biggest IT pitfalls he sees for companies is measuring the business by leveraging its technology instead of using technology to leverage the business to make it competitive from a business standpoint instead of a technology standpoint.

The latest and greatest technology, he added, isn't always what is right for every business and that is an issue the IT roadmap can help settle.

Nguyen and Harris said that once managers determine the firm's current status, the next step is to determine where they want the company to be in, say, five years.

"You really can't lay out an infrastructure or a plan if you don't know where your business is going to go," Harris said. "And how can you know what you have to maximize with technology if you don't know where you are and want to go?

"A lot of companies separate the two," he said, "and figure out the business and leave out IT and think of it as something cool, but as having nothing to do with the business."

After a plan has been decided upon, Nguyen and Harris said the firm should bring tech people into the strategy and ask how technology can help make it happen.

Nguyen said he sees several businesses conceptually divorcing IT from the business it serves. "In their business plan they have their marketing strategies, their growth strategies, their sales goals — and then this IT thing is separate," he said.

"And it really should be — and is becoming — more intertwined in the business process, and it has to be more of the business plan process," he said. "The obsoleteness will catch up with them when they try to upgrade, and they could end up spending a lot of money to get back up to speed when they don't have to."

So why are so many operations stoppling short of jumping on the technology and information superhighway?

Harris and Nguyen cite three reasons: First, because until recent decades, IT was never so crucial to doing business; second, because many managers simply don't understand how IT works or the value of what it can do; and third, because many managers view IT as just another expense.

"For many it is just an extra tool, an extra thing they don't think of as a necessity for their business, internally to grow and meet goals," said Nguyen. "They don't think of it as making their business better or cutting edge."

Because many businesses don't see that value, he said, technology's complexity turns them off — or they regard it as something to be used by only technology companies or those that want to have a high-tech tag line.

Harris said he often runs into customers who feel technology is important to Dell or Microsoft, but they can't envision how it could help the everyday stainless steel widget maker.

He said his answer is always finding out how IT will increase business along the strategic plan for growth.

"All you need to do is look at your roadmap and see where it is you want to go," he said.

"We don't want a company applying or bringing in technology just because it sounds cool or they think they need it. It has to make sense to the plan and it has to be able to maximize your business and take you further in the marketplace."

Spending money can also be an area where others get caught up when they view IT as just another expense. Nguyen said spending money on technology to add value to a business is not a sunk expense, such as letterhead or a printer cartridge would be. In fact, he said IT adds long-term value to a company by improving its processes, helping it work more efficiently and boosting staff productivity.

To make the addition of technology a value-added, cost-effective solution, Nguyen and Harris said there are a couple other tips to keep in mind.

One is to make sure a qualified IT team is in place.

The second is to make sure the choice is cost-effective.

In the end they said it might end up saving the company money to hire one extra person to focus on IT instead of having one employee take half of his productivity to dedicate to IT.

The third tip in insuring that technology will add value is asset management.

"After the company has a plan in place, whether we have worked on them with it or not, they really have to do their part in keeping up with their software licenses and updating their technology to stay on the right path for growth," said Nguyen.

"Technology supports the entire business and helps it stay competitive."

It's a duty the two believe a business wouldn't shirk if it concerned the plant's production machinery.

"I don't know what it is about technology," Harris said, "but people wouldn't do that with anything else.

"If you had to buy a car, you would know all the information and what would fit into your budget. With technology, they tend to fly by the seat of their pants."

But ultimately it comes down to the first steps taken in planning for the future growth of the company.

"I don't care how big you are or how long it is," said Harris. "If you have (technology), you will be better off for it."

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