October 5, 2018 3:23:09 PM EDT

Utilizing Technology and Digital Trends to Create Competitive Advantage for Mid-Sized Companies

Technology and Digital Advances Create an Opportunity
Evolving technology and digital dynamics have created a substantial opportunity for mid-sized organizations to level the playing field with larger companies. Taking advantage of this tangible opportunity can create efficiencies, drive cost savings, and help deliver better connectivity with stakeholders, leading to cost savings and business growth. Mid-sized companies are utilizing new technology advantages, as 85% of SMBs plan to invest more in SaaS over the next five years, according to a 2016 Intuit Survey.

The opportunity centers around three main areas:

  • Overhead: Moving platforms to the cloud can eliminate huge hardware, software, and facility investments. 
  • Agility: Platforms as a Service (PaaS) and SaaS products create opportunities for quick implementation and change over if needed. Although cost can still be significant depending on IT budget, licensing is annual, with much smaller up-front implementation costs. Software can be more easily switched out as new technology and features become available.
  • Access and Scalability: Pricing for SaaS solutions is typically user-based and scalable, which gives smaller companies access to the same functionality as larger companies at a much lower price point.

This opportunity to create a competitive advantage is tremendous but requires a penchant for action as early adopters are often rewarded and looked upon as innovators. Given the impetus for action, what is the best way to move forward?

A Methodical Business-Based Approach
Due to potential benefits of modern IT and digital, it would be easy to dive right into implementing initiatives where the most benefit can be achieved. However, to truly create value and avoid missteps, it is critical to first create a comprehensive IT strategy aligned to the business strategy. Using some logical steps, a clear path forward can be developed within a short timeframe.

1. Start with the Overall Company Strategy
A clear understanding of where the company is headed from a business standpoint is the absolute key to getting off to the right start. Building strategy with a consumer / customer-centric view has always been important. However, in the age of digitization, consumer / customer centricity is the number one driver of business success.  

As a starting point, it is important to understand the company’s mission and vision. This is followed by an understanding of all elements of the strategic planning process. This includes goals, objectives (with key measures), strategies, and tactics.
 
Realistically, all of these strategic elements may not be in place, even at larger companies. For a business-minded CIO or head of IT, helping to solidify the company strategy may be an opportunity to show how IT can be a broader player in the company overall.

2. Stakeholder Mapping
With a solid and sustainable infrastructure being the initial requirement of a technology strategy, the focus then moves to the digital relationships that truly drive business results. Every business stakeholder connection creates the possibility to digitize interaction – leading to the potential for better customer satisfaction, higher levels of efficiency, and win-win partnerships.  

Stakeholder_Map_R4-872548-edited-066061-editedStakeholder Mapping for Digital Connectivity.

Stakeholder connections should be mapped and defined for the following dimensions:
-    Relationships
-    Key Integration Points
-    Integration Timing
-    Potential for Automation
-    Financial Impact
-    Digital Potential

3. Create “Current State” Architecture Diagram
Creating an architecture diagram that represents the “as is” environment helps clarify current reality for IT and business leadership and has side benefits for internal use. The diagram should show systems and interfaces, with reference documentation for each including ownership, business purpose, costs, and challenges.

Website - Blog - Strategy - Architecture Diagram.docxArchitecture Diagram.

4. Develop IT Goals and Objectives Based on Business Strategies
How can IT strategy support business strategy? Businesses generally have a cross-section of strategies that must be supported by people, process, and technology. Utilizing this strategy as input, IT must go through its own strategic process, once again starting with goals and objectives that will enable business results.

From a communications standpoint, it is often helpful to create a strategy map to show how each component of the IT strategy supports the business strategy. This step can also have a positive impact for members of the IT team because it will help them understand how they connect to the company’s overall success.

5. Create “Future State” Architecture Diagram
Based on the IT strategy, companies should develop an architecture diagram that represents the future environment. The document should clearly denote what is new and different from the “Current State” diagram. While this representation of the IT infrastructure matches the future vision, many elements of the diagram may remain incompletely detailed, pending future tactical decisions.

6. Define and Prioritize Initiatives
Next, individual initiatives must be defined based on IT strategies and future state. For each initiative, define business value, cost, duration, resourcing, dependencies, constraints, and impact to the IT infrastructure. Based on a variety of factors, leaders can designate the priority of each initiative, and later, the sequencing. Developing the base architecture and connectivity approach is often a precursor to many initiatives that generate greater enthusiasm and bottom line business results. For that reason, it is also important to find “quick wins” to generate excitement and show progress while core infrastructure work is in process.

7. Roadmap
The roadmap shows the final sequencing of initiatives. Modern comprehensive roadmaps depict much more than initiatives on a timeline. Higher value roadmaps also include concepts such as current and future state, connectivity to KPIs, and even PEST (Political, Economic, Social, and Technological factors) impact.

Website - Blog - Strategy - High Level Timeline-331815-edited

High-Level Timeline.

The Real Journey Begins
Planning traditionally ends with the roadmap phase, and following executive alignment, execution begins. However, in today’s more agile environment, the roadmap cannot be just a point in time. It should be consistently used as reference and periodically re-evaluated to ensure that the business strategies driving the IT strategy and roadmap have not changed. Moreover, the roadmap may need to be adjusted based on internal changes such as project outcome and cost variances or as new options becoming available in the market. Best practice is to monitor the roadmap on a quarterly basis with a full refresh annually in line with business planning timelines.

Moving Forward
As mid-sized companies take advantage of technology and digital trends to create a competitive advantage, tried and true strategy and transformation concepts and approaches continue to be applicable. However, successful IT leaders will combine this methodical approach with more agile processes, and a laser focus on the business strategy, specifically on the end customer and other key stakeholders. Creating and delivering a business-aligned strategy can set your company up for the long term.  

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Mike McClaine
Mike McClaine

Mike is Aspirant's president, and a proven strategic leader in creating corporate visions and achieving their full value. He has delivered results across a spectrum of corporate and consulting leadership roles, and understands what organizations truly need to expedite change and deliver value faster. Mike’s unique combination of business experience in Strategy, Marketing, Operations, Supply Chain, Business Transformation, Technology, Capability Building and Culture Change enables him to provide a broadly informed viewpoint when solving enterprise problems or striving to take advantage of market opportunities. He serves as a key leader to bring the vision of Aspirant to life for clients across North America and the globe.