Mastering Organizational Technology Competency: Unleashing Potential for Business Leadership and Market Differentiation
Technology is part of our everyday world. All of us, at multiple points in our day, look to technology to streamline our lives. From registering our kids for youth sports to mobile ordering food, we are in a world where technology affords us convenience. The adage, “there’s an app for that” holds true for much of our lives outside of work. It’s the moment we enter the office or log onto our work machines where a drought in technology and lack of understanding of business systems becomes real.
Innovation within organizations requires us to have access to technology, a knowledge of how changes affect the customer or downstream work efforts, and a solid understanding of how emerging technologies can help. Leaders must embrace change dynamics and realize change frequently occurs as technology evolves.
Resilient organizations are those that foster technology competency across all levels. It allows employees to maximize digital tools, streamline processes, and boosts productivity. Moreover, it fosters innovation, by enabling all employees to to figure out and implement solutions within their sphere of expertise. Embracing technology competency ensures agility, relevance, and readiness to tackle digital age challenges and opportunities
Understanding Emerging Technologies
A strong technology competency empowers organizations to embrace emerging technologies seamlessly. From artificial intelligence and machine learning to blockchain, quantum computing, and the Internet of Things (IoT), these cutting-edge advancements present unprecedented opportunities for businesses to streamline operations, optimize processes, and deliver personalized customer experiences. Technology-competent leaders must proactively identify these emerging trends, understand their practical applications, and discern which innovations align with their specific business objectives. Embracing these technologies not only provides a competitive advantage but also positions companies as pioneers in their respective sectors.
When technology competency permeates all levels of an organization, solutions that leverage emerging technology become tangible realities. The quick buy-in for change, higher likelihood of return on investment for business models, and natural market differentiation all result from a heightened capability to comprehend emerging technologies, distinguish hype from reality, and enable new business models. The saturation of technology competency unlocks the potential for organizations to confidently embrace emerging technologies, propelling them forward in the ever-evolving business landscape
One story that frequently crosses my mind when pondering emerging technologies is an industry 4.0 initiative in manufacturing automation that proved to be a decade ahead of its time. It held immense potential, envisioning a new era of innovation and real-time insights across all manufacturing facilities. However, despite the initial excitement and attention it garnered, the project encountered persistent challenges and political obstacles throughout its duration. These obstacles stemmed primarily from a reluctance to embrace new technologies and to genuinely explore and nurture innovative concepts.
The lesson here being, if we understand and embrace emerging technologies for what they are, we can save ourselves the political headache of having to drive change through resistance. Emerging technologies are new and innovative ways of doing things that should be tested, refined, and incubated and not deployed across a whole system. Embrace emerging technologies for what they are, a chance to test and learn something new.
Recognizing Hype versus Reality: While emerging technologies hold immense promise, it is crucial for business leaders to discern between hype and reality. The technology landscape is often inundated with buzzwords and inflated expectations, which can lead to misguided investments and wasted resources. Effective technology competency involves critically evaluating each innovation, understanding its limitations and potential risks, and aligning its implementation with tangible business goals.
I’ve been involved in a number of dream projects at large innovative businesses — mobile ordering, ML & hyper personalization, MES & IoT in manufacturing, digitization of our circular economy, commodity intelligence, and more. Every one of these moonshots tested the bounds of existing technologies and stretched internal business processes to the breaking point.
In many of these cases the hype of emerging technologies led to initial investment and, in some cases, an eventual realization that we had to pare down the scope of the dream or extend timeframes for a return on investment. The lesson here is NOT to avoid dream projects but rather test emerging technologies to understand gaps and mitigate those risks. Get out there, talk to the experts, and learn how far you can take a new technology. Understand your internal business processes. If you have to disrupt those processes do so carefully and in a controlled manner.
I recall a project where the team enthusiastically pursued a groundbreaking ML personalization effort, only to discover that all content within the organization needed Senior Vice President approval, hindering extensive tailored content for hyper-personalization. Bringing the new technology to bear was arguably easier than changing the process. Sometimes it’s not the technology but the ability for a company to adopt and profit from the technology. The hype, in this case, was the the ability to leverage customer data to generate and deliver highly tailored content in realtime. The reality was much less sexy. Internal processes and norms that could have hindered and diminished the vision.
Enabling New Business Models: One of the most significant impacts of technology competency within business leadership is its ability to enable entirely new business models. Innovative technologies empower leaders to reimagine traditional practices, create disruptive offerings, and explore untapped markets. Embracing emerging technologies allows businesses to break free from conventional constraints and envision novel approaches that can reshape industries and carve out a unique competitive edge.
Starbucks mobile order and pay was one of the first of it’s kind — a new convenient way to order resulting in massive value to the customer. I’ve heard a number of stories of how the Starbucks app came to be. My favorite version of this story is a finance manager speaks up at a high level meeting suggesting mobile ordering as an idea. One leader in that meeting stopped, looked up, and said, “I love it, let’s do it.” Thus was born a multi-billion dollar channel. This is likely NOT how this happened however I love the idea of middle management in a non-tech organization delivering the idea that changed so much. A new way of marketing ensued and endless ways to digitally connect with customers — enabling a new business model.
As leaders navigate the ever-evolving landscape of technology, it is vital to discern between hype and reality, critically evaluating innovations and aligning their implementation with tangible business goals. By embracing technology competency across all levels of an organization and staying ahead of emerging trends, businesses can unleash their full potential, enabling new business models and positioning themselves as pioneers in their respective sectors.