Monday, May 7, 2012

Technology and Strategy

More and more people in strategic planning meetings are convinced that the use and application of new technology will save the day. And as I sit through these meetings, I have become discouraged because, having done this work for quite a few decades and with many different companies, I have come to understand that technology solves some problems but also creates new ones.
Here are some of the current problem that surface during strategic planning sessions: time management, productivity and efficiency issues, data management, customer relationship management, customer service, performance management, and better data based decision making. The most common solution currently being proposed to the above problems is to increase our use and reliance on technology.
However as I listen to this answer and think about an increased use of technology I believe we need to remember two key points. First, “In cyber space, there is no distance between two points,” noted Paul Saffo, a Director at the Institute for the Future in Menlo Park, CA. With the increased use of technology, we create the speed of “now” which in turns creates the expectation of “now” which in turn creates the impatience with “now.” 
Furthermore, as technology creates a company without boundaries, we as leaders have to rethink our definition of what is a company, i.e. to think of the company as extending across to other companies and deriving strengths and capabilities from others, rather than trying to own it all ourself. Technology will let you do that, but it appears that few are truly willing to embrace such a diversified platform and paradigm.
Second, today’s technology does not just support the execution of strategy, it can help determine the shape of the strategy because of the new opportunities it creates. Furthermore, it may cause companies to move too fast and not to have the infrastructure to support that which they have created. 
Add to this mix, my comments a couple of weeks ago about the big picture and in particular the impact of the Millennial generation, and all of sudden we have a huge challenge before us. As we are learning, Millennials will want to use their technology on the company platform. Furthermore, some view work-balance as their right, face time is an alien concept, and they abhor clocks and fixed schedules. For this generation, work is not a place you go; work is a thing you do. This is the generation that detests nothing as much as drudgery and boredom. For more on Millennials, I suggest you read the following: Alsop, Ron. The Trophy Kids Grow Up: How the millennial generation is shaking up the workplace, Jossey-Bass, 2008.
In short, more technology means more problems. It will gives staff and customers an unprecedented expectation of “more” and “now”. And with this increased use of technology, we are creating a new level of impatience. Many will expect change at the speed of software and demand immediate satisfaction and customization.
While these potential strategic and operational problems can not be solved immediately, leaders need to understand this before they commit to new technology being the strategic silver bullet to solve all problems. Furthermore, we as leaders need to build more adaptable and flexible information technology departments that can better lead, develop and support organizational change. As always, the capacity to plan must be matched by the capacity to execute and support. 
New technology, both hardware and software, is amazing.  We just have to recognize that it will also create new and more unique problems, too. 
Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257

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