Shift your business mindset for today’s innovation landscape

Shift your business mindset

Some key trends have emerged over the past year or so that are beginning to dismantle traditional technology business models. They’re moving organisations away from focusing predominantly on product differentiation, to caring more about outcomes and how products (and services) can really be put to work — in context — to deliver value for the business. Essentially, we’re seeing a shift from “what it is” (even beyond “what it does”) to “what it allows me to achieve.”

These shifts in focus are altering the ways in which enterprises consume technology — how they assess their needs against available offerings, how they make buying decisions and what they look for in long-term relationships with their technology partners. We’re looking at a re-designed playing field for what would have once been considered “technology projects.” The reality is that in today’s business environment, there shouldn’t be any technology projects anymore — rather, we should only be thinking in terms of business projects.

In fact, rather than saying (rather glibly) that “every company is (or needs to become) a software company” as has been oft-quoted for a decade now, shouldn’t we instead be adopting more of a post-technology mantra?

Yes, these days, the tech part of nigh on every business’ operations is central to how it does-what-it-does and is-what-it-is, and many can’t survive and grow without it. But it is still a means to an end (or at least it should be) with that “end” being whatever business outcomes are declared central to the organisation’s interests.

Beyond the rarefied realm of pure R&D and academic pursuits, technology projects have always had objectives that are somewhat tied to the needs of the business in order to attract and retain senior sponsorship and funding.

However, it’s sometimes been sufficient to keep these ties loose (at least to begin with), often because, before concepts have been proven, it’s not always been easy to draw a straight line between tech change and business impact. This is especially true if those tech requirements weren’t constructed by working backwards from the desired outcome in the first place.

Derive more value and count what counts

The innovation landscape is littered with attempts to attach ROI metrics (net benefit, net social benefit, shadow pricing, etc.) to speculative technology change projects. But what all these sometime-square-peg-in-round-hole exercises often fail to recognise is that we’re essentially onto something of a loser if we continue to keep the notions of technology strategy, outcomes, measurement and value calculation as some sort of separate component alongside the overall, overarching business grand plan.

Just as business has embraced technology as both an efficiency tool and as mission-driving, revenue-earning essential planks of operations, those responsible for planning, buying and measuring the effectiveness of the tech need to shift their perspectives, too. This helps ensure their primary focus is business-first, and their “means to an end” view is secondary (in terms of tech and the processes it supports).

So we need to be able to prove the business value in relevant terms; and this value needs to be widely felt (or at least significantly felt by project sponsors) to rise above the noise.

To do that, we need to understand what business success should look and feel like, so you can recognise when you’ve arrived there — or at least determine how close you are to the end goals.

Distil that down into practical metrics so you count what counts (not some faux proxy, or vague feelings of warm fuzziness). And then (importantly), ensure you measure your “as-is” state as a baseline before you apply any change.

Tip: Note what known extraneous factors may have an impact from outside the project’s sphere of influence — e.g. predictable sales cycles, the rhythm of academic years, planned political events, etc. — so you can adjust your observations accordingly and not suffer from avoidable halo or horn effects in review.

Tech-savvy businesses have a business-savvy tech mindset

So, how should you then plan, design and develop your way into your new “to-be” state?

For that, there are a number of helpful principles and methodologies to follow. For a start, keep the business end-goal in mind and plan backwards from your intended outcome when you start assembling technology work packages that have been designed to deliver specific benefits.

Be mindful of where each tech piece fits, what value it delivers — where, when and to whom — so you can measure what matters.

Design your intervention from the outside-in, too, so you bake customer-centricity into any tech-enabled experience.

Involve real end-users early and often, to capture their perspectives.

And finally, become a learning organisation so you listen to and act upon what customers have to say about the “journey” they experience, the outcomes they get and how they feel about the treatment of their data, etc.

How global business requirements interplay with technology influences, impacts and drivers

Many moving parts get the job done

Today’s business projects require the smooth orchestration of many component parts, all working towards the same overall end-goals to achieve the desired business outcome. Each needs to pay its way as part of the whole system, not just as some individual tech-perfect outlier. Benefits need to be realised, felt and quantified in business terms beyond the epicentre, too. Otherwise, the buy-in won’t spread and be sustained, and it won’t pull change along with it; rather, you’ll have to push it — often uphill.

From the customer's point of view, the customer journey isn't a funnel; it's a cycle.

The reason there are so many moving parts now is because of the extreme interconnectedness of all the services that need to come together in order to deliver the end-to-end customer experience.

And of course, the customer expects their overall experience of the business to be seamless too (regardless of what exactly they’re doing, engaging with whichever department(s) and systems as necessary, via whatever channel they choose). They shouldn’t need to know or care what goes on under the hood; they just don’t want any balls dropped along the way.

High-quality customer experience comes from repeated, reliable, engaging and satisfyingly successful customer interactions throughout the business — across all the repeating lifecycle stages:

  • Awareness
  • Evaluation
  • Buying decision
  • Serviced experience
  • Loyalty from aftersales

Those interactions need to provide customer intimacy, but with trust and transparency. All of this requires real customer centricity — so their journey across myriad organisational departments (and their tech and process fiefdoms) is seamless, comfortable and beneficial no matter how many times they go ‘round the loop (by choice, or because of some forced engagement event that’s prompted an aftersales relationship).

What to look for in a technology partner

It’s no longer sufficient simply to dwell on a common checklist of features when making technology buying decisions. Many of these have become commodified anyway. There’s a more useful focus now on how such features can be put to work (and done so in context, not just for some generic, vanilla notion of “everycorp”). Customers still seek distinctiveness, after all; it’s where and how they add their own value whilst still leveraging common tools.

Technology buyers need a partner who can provide key parts of the tech-related puzzle they can’t build for themselves from scratch (both product and process know-how):

  1. A partner that helps make the right technology work for their business
  2. A long-term partner that also understands this “business mindset” approach to technology investments the way they do
  3. A partner that can work with them all the way forwards to those business end-goals (not just throw a “solution” over the wall, hope it sticks, and then move on swiftly to the next victim)
  4. A holistic, platform-orientated partner that can add value in a variety of ways and places (and across a long-term relationship)

The best partners are experts in their core capabilities and how to use them (in conjunction with other components) in order to get the job done, sure. But they also “play well with others” and pass on the benefit of their own strong partnerships that provide backup expertise in niche areas (in tech or industry specialisms). Great partners aren’t afraid to say, “We don’t know, but we know who does,” and then take the lead in making sure expertise finds its way to the sharp end.

Great partners aren’t afraid to say, 'We don’t know, but we know who does,' and then take the lead in making sure expertise finds its way to the sharp end.

What’s at stake (and what to do about it)?

Making the strategic shift is really all about getting into the right mindset when you approach a business problem or potential opportunity; leaders need to look beyond the technology components (even if they are typically what amounts to the extent of your primary responsibility) and look to see how the whole thing fits together. It’s about taking account of other key elements that influence and impact the overall initiative, how the processes and the people involved in them, all dance with each other to get the job done.

Your technology partner should be interested and experienced in more than just the technology side of things, too. You’ll get the most from a partner that shares this shifted-mindset view of how to go about getting best value from tech investments and has experience in doing just that — through engagements in scenarios you recognise (in business areas you know and understand yourself).

But, you also want a partner that’s able to synthesise and transfer the learning they have from other sectors too.

In doing all of this, you should gain a greater understanding of how all the pieces (not just your own parts) work in combination across the organisation, in order to successfully deliver that end-to-end high-quality service you’re after. Not only will this help you deploy and get the best value from your technology investments this time around, but it can also be a catalyst for future improvements.

The hard work you’ll have done now — this mindset change — can shift the way you think about technology’s role in your business in future scenarios as well. It sets you up to benefit faster and more fully from future tech investments down the line.

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Craig Wentworth is the Co-founder and Research Director at Independent Thought, where he focuses on how emergent and traditional technologies converge to address the problems and opportunities facing organisations today. He examines how this helps tech suppliers better anticipate and respond to their customers’ needs, as well as how tech buyers get the best value from their investments.
He has 30 years of experience in technology and change across the commercial and not-for-profit sectors, in a broad range of roles (including analyst research, consultancy, technology strategy, innovation and service delivery).
Craig Wentworth

Craig Wentworth

Craig Wentworth is the Co-founder and Research Director at Independent Thought, where he focuses on how emergent and traditional technologies converge to address the problems and opportunities facing organisations today.... read more about: Craig Wentworth