Business Strategies and Technology Solutions
The alignment of business strategies with technology solutions - often dubbed "Business-IT Alignment" - is a key contributor to an organization's competence. In layman's terms, this amounts to leveraging technology solutions to meet business objectives such as increasing revenues or improve market share.
Technology and the Modern Business
The confluence of IT and business has been a key driver of business competence over the last three decades. In its early state, this confluence was limited to using technology to automate repetitive tasks, store and retrieve data, and improve inter and intra-organizational communication. Think of the IBM mainframes that were common in IT departments in the 70s and 80s.
In the years since, as technology became cheaper and more accessible, businesses were able to leverage technology solutions to further improve competence. Technology soon found its way out of the IT departments and became encoded in the every facet of the organization's structure. Think of how the mainframes gave way to personal desktop computers, which gave way to laptops, tablets, smartphones, etc. Today, it is nearly impossible to find a business - small, medium or Fortune 500 - where the employees don't have smartphones or laptops to assist with their work.
This rapid technology adoption was followed by an increase in technology's role within an organization. From simple data retrieval and storage, technology was now being used to analyse customer data and assist in decision making. It opened up entirely new communication channels within an organization and enabled businesses to market themselves much more effectively. Perhaps most importantly, these advances made technology solutions cheaper to implement and even easier to adopt, thus leading to the present scenario where a 10 person small business can have access to the same tools and expertise as a Fortune 500 company. Given the ever expanding role of technology within a modern business, it is only natural for organizations to strive for business-IT alignment to meet its financial goals.
Integrating Technology into a Business
The process of integrating technology into most large businesses is extremely complex and time consuming (hence the need for "integration consultants"). Most large businesses have countless legacy technology systems already in place, complex organizational structures, and a hierarchal chain-of-command that hampers rapid decision-making (a key to working effectively with technology).
Luckily, most small businesses do not suffer from the same issues. Because of their small size and relatively simple organizational structure, small businesses can integrate advanced technology solutions into their business relatively seamlessly. For instance, adopting in a new cloud-based CRM in a large organization might require overhauling all existing legacy systems, transferring vast amounts of data, retraining employees, and getting the 'okay' from multiple managers. In small business, however, there are usually no existing legacy systems or data, and the decision making power resides with only a couple of managers. Hence, it is possible for small businesses to get up and running with a new technology solution within hours or days, not weeks and months.
It is also important to mention the growth of cloud-based As-a-Service (Software, Infrastructure, Platform, etc.) solutions that make integration nearly painless, especially if you don't have a ton of data that needs to be ported to the new system. Small businesses can benefit a lot from these cloud based SaaS/IaaS/PaaS solutions since it saves them the hassle of integration and offers cheap plans that enable rapid adoption, training and deployment.
Aligning Technology Solutions with Business Strategies and Goals
Simply adopting technology solutions into your organization's architecture isn't enough; you must also adopt the right kind of technology and build up an IT-structure that helps you in reaching your business goals.
What technologies and technology structures you decide to take up will depend a lot on your organization's culture, current level of tech competence, core area of competence and business goals. An organization that doesn't see a lot of customer service queries, for instance, would find little ROI in investing in a SaaS customer helpdesk. Similarly, an organization that generates most of its sales through its in-person sales force would stand to gain little from a complex Heroku (Platform-as-a-Service) installation.
Therefore, before taking up any technology solution, consider asking yourself the following questions:
- Does this technology integrate with my existing technology stack?
- How long will the implementation process take? Would I need outside help to speed up the implementation process? If yes, how much will it cost?
- Will my employees require special training to use and understand this technology product? If yes, how many resources (time, money) will the training consume and what will be its net ROI?
- Does this technology help me compete better in my core area of expertise?
- Is there enough demand - now or in the near-future - to justify the expense on this technology?
- Does this technology fit-in with my organization's culture?
By answering these questions, you will not only be able to integrate technology solutions into your business much better, but will also get some rare insight into your own business and its inner workings.