Technology As Competitive DifferentiatorBy Faisal Hoque | Posted 2008-07-22 Print
We may all be in full batten down the hatches mode today, given the gathering economic storm clouds, but will we let the urgent drive out the important?
In the best-managed companies, business management and technology management have been converged–with decisions for both joint decisions, made by the same executives.Convergence requires a certain mindset among decision makers at every level of the firm. Executives, managers and employees need a working knowledge of both business and technology, and they need the insight that technology is no longer an afterthought but rather the competitive differentiator.
We wouldn’t think of telling a new hire or a business student, “You don’t need to understand accounting; someone else will do it for you.” But that’s often how we thought of technology in the past, in business
At the University of Pennsylvania, some 200 students are enrolled in the Jerome Fisher Program in Management & Technology, a joint venture between the School of Engineering and Applied Science and the Wharton Schoolof business. The venture is dedicated to meeting the “growing need for people who can bridge the management and technical disciplines.”
In endowing the program, Jerome Fisher, founder and chairman of the Nine West Group, said: “Understanding the relationship between business and technology is increasingly vital to building and maintaining competitive advantage in the global marketplace.”
As important as training or recruiting the right people, of course, is what they’re given to work with. The top leadership, and this includes the board, must create a convergence environment. As with any game-changing endeavor, it begins and resides at the top. It is never handed off for someone else to deal with. It is shared, however, at every level.
This requires decision-making bodies, beginning with a business-technology council at the C-suite level and continuing to project teams. This also requires a governance scheme that grants these bodies the authority and information they need to make wise decisions. It also requires personal incentives and decision-making processes that further convergence.
Andrew McAfee, an associate professor at Harvard Business School, and Eric Brynjolfsson, professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, recently wrote in the Harvard Business Review that the companies that are most successful in using technology spend considerably more time and money on vetting new hires and training them.
The enormous power of technology is creating greater pressure on line executives to discover innovative ways to use it, according to McAfee and Brynjolfsson. This is something that can’t be delegated. It’s not about installing new IT systems; it’s about discovering new business processes and models.
Management, McAfee and Brynjolfsson conclude, will become a “less comfortable profession─more unforgiving of mistakes, faster to weed out low performers. Even those executives who are prepared will not necessarily survive the inevitable turbulence.”
Those who do survive will reap the rewards, McAfee and Brynjolfsson maintain, until an even higher performer comes along with a better idea for using technology to foster innovation.
Faisal Hoque is chairman and CEO of BTM Corporation. BTM innovates business models and enhances financial performance by converging business and technology with its unique products and intellectual property. © 2008 Faisal Hoque
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