Every business needs to prioritize technologies that enable them to understand customers, follow the money, analyze business data, monitor system health and support human capital.
For nearly 20 years, I’ve focused on business technology as both a CIO and CTO in technology and technology-enabled services organizations. In that time, I’ve seen massive changes in the way technology can provide crucial advantages in the market by improving the way a business operates and functions. Today, I sit on the LLR Technology Council, where a group of senior technology specialists from the firm’s portfolio companies is creating a tech playbook to help high-growth businesses make the right choices to support company growth.
I’ve always seen the CIO as the person responsible for creating and maintaining the nervous system of the business. We do this by strategically implementing the systems that collect, interpret and share data throughout the organization while simultaneously transforming it into actionable information. Just as our five senses enable us to process the world around us and respond to it intelligently, these are the five key technology areas that enable the organization to collect information and use it to execute on the business plan.
A customer relationship management system (CRM) is the first and most critical technology to have in place, but many businesses underestimate its purpose, seeing it as a glorified Rolodex. There are many ways in which you touch your customers through marketing and sales outreach, product and service delivery, and support and success functions. The right CRM system is your corporate memory with respect to each customer and their interactions with you. Those touches not only shape the customer experience, but provide vital feedback about the health of your business—how you’re doing, how competitive your products and services are and what your customers think of you.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution: your choice will depend on considerations such as your size, budget and priorities. But you need something in place that is capable of tracking customers at every touchpoint, collecting that information and using it to monitor and improve their experience.
Whether you’re primarily a services-based or software-based organization, being able to track and understand your financial health through an enterprise resource planner (ERP) is critical.
Too often, financials are calculated in a spreadsheet that sits on someone’s desktop, or they’re opportunistically extracted and repurposed from other reports. When financials are collected and analyzed in this piecemeal way, it doesn’t provide a clear view—it’s more of a glimpse through a cracked and dusty window.
An ERP will not only give you more flexibility and visibility, it will help your organization think more strategically about your financials. As you evaluate solutions such as Netsuite and Microsoft Dynamics, you’ll automatically start asking questions about the rules and measurements you want to put in place. Do you want to measure and evaluate success in terms of revenue per customer? Revenue by employee? Or by contribution margin for each customer? How will you develop your budget and know that you are on track (or off track) every morning? The process of putting an ERP in place requires you to make critical decisions that identify and clarify business goals, and it allows you to communicate your financial health to all stakeholders.
Everyone is talking about business intelligence. It’s a hugely trendy and slightly overloaded term, but there’s a reason it’s getting a lot of play.
Business intelligence is about taking data from its context in each group, business unit or workflow and transforming it into actionable information. That means you know where the data comes from, you can trust it, you can trace it back to the root and you can act on it confidently. Qlik and Domo, for example, are just two of many good solutions out there. The key here is to not over-complicate your initial implementation and pick a technology your tech people can manage, regularly improve and expand with small, focused iterations.
A successful implementation will be the one that provides key insights into the daily business activity and maps them to the stated goals of senior leadership.
Keep in mind that true business intelligence is about more than just putting a pie chart on the CEO’s desk every morning at 7 a.m. A successful implementation will be the one that provides key insights into the daily business activity and maps them to the stated goals of senior leadership. Everyone needs to be involved. The support team, the sales team, IT, finance, the back office—everyone in the company needs to understand how their goals are aligned and how their activity feeds data into the system. In this way, not only will your BI provide a real time guide for your business performance management, but it will provide crucial, predictive analytics as you react to market and regulatory pressures faced by all businesses.
The systems we rely on every day are increasingly complex. Think of all the devices and applications—laptop, desktop, cloud, mobile —connected to the system, the number of solutions in your organizational stack and the number of servers and services your organization relies on. Think about how critical each of them is and how a failure of just one impacts overall business performance. Every single component is interconnected and has to behave in a certain way to deliver organizational value.
These critical systems generate a staggering amount of data, and that makes it easy for hackers to hide their penetration attempts in all the static and noise. Systems intelligence—the ability to monitor, understand, aggregate and correlate the data your system generates—is now an essential capability from a security standpoint.
However, systems intelligence isn’t just about preventing catastrophe. It’s about optimizing the value of the systems that you have invested so much time and money into developing. Yes, it’s important to monitor unauthorized use, but what about all the people who are supposed to be there—employees, customers, partners and vendors? How are they using the system? What elements are they interacting with? Are those elements functioning adequately, or could the user experience be improved? And, importantly, are the systems functioning at or near capacity?
There are some incredible tools now that combine SIEM (security information and event management) with the ability to gain insights based on system usage. The very versatile Splunk was one of the first and is still hard to beat, but there are many others starting to gain traction in the market. Many of these newer entries are coming from brilliant folks who have left Google and other forward looking giants, including Scalar and Sumo Logic which compete directly with Splunk, and AlienVault, which is more of a pure SEIM.
I believe that the best CIOs recognize that people are our most critical resource, and that empowering them to make the most of their skills individually and as teams makes all the difference to performance and the bottom line.
There are many technologies competing for space in the productivity and collaboration category—maybe too many. I see a lot of organizations fighting the technology sprawl with something as simple as conferencing, where GoToMeeting, Webex, LogMeIN, Skype and JoinMe may all be actively used in their organization at the same time. The adage that “less is more” holds true and should guide our thinking when it comes to providing the right productivity and collaboration tools for our people. I’m a fan of G Suite (formerly Google for Work) because it brings everything together on a single platform, but the most important thing is to choose technologies that fit the way your employees work.
That means picking the solution that will adapt to the way they REALLY work. Many organizations now have a growing contingent of not just mobile but virtual workers. Telecommuting, outsourcing, mobile and remote work options—they’re all dramatically changing the nature of work and the tools workers need to stay connected and productive. At the same time, the pace of work and the volume of data workers deal with makes finding ways to reduce friction and manage the flow a critical challenge.
The ideas and solutions that your employees generate are incredibly valuable, and if you can’t capture them and make them accessible, it’s a lost opportunity.
This goes beyond document management, version control and video conferencing. Your approach needs to include enterprise social networking that supports knowledge sharing across the organization. The ideas and solutions that your employees generate are incredibly valuable, and if you can’t capture them and make them accessible, it’s a lost opportunity. People want to share their knowledge, so when you have a way to leverage that knowledge at scale, you can gain significant competitive advantage. Yammer (now part of Office 365) and Chatter (built on the Salesforce platform) are great examples of enterprise social networking apps. Remember, this is not “Facebook for employees.” These are applications that provide a real opportunity for crowdsourcing employee knowledge and sharing it for real productivity gains.
Here’s the bottom line.
Just as a healthy body needs to rely on all five senses, a healthy business needs a set of systems in place that are working together, collecting, interpreting and delivering the full range of business “sensory” data to the whole organization. There’s no foolproof formula, but every business, at the very least, needs to prioritize technologies that enable them to understand their customers, follow the money, analyze business data, monitor system health and support their human capital.
I recently joined one of LLR’s newest investments in the revenue cycle management space, Kemberton Healthcare, as CTO. We are right now going through this process of looking at the systems we have in place and making decisions about investing in them or replacing them, in keeping with our evolving five-year business plan. It is an exciting time to say the least, but by fighting system sprawl and prioritizing interoperability, we are on track to gain the operational insights we need to hit our growth targets and the organizational intelligence we need for success.