The Business Transition Dilemma
MBA Candidate Carlson School of Management – Global Business Strategy & Insights
Sr. Marketing Manager, University of Minnesota
Facsimile to scanner to picture-to-send smartphones. Memorandum to email to Slack. Telephone call to AIM to Google Hangouts. Filing cabinets to endless local servers to cloud computing. The ever digitizing and quickening world we live in has been defined by startup businesses and the technology they have brought to society. Now that technology is bleeding into the business world quicker than before, the paradigm shifts are far more often and more regular than they use to be. Technological reform is at the convergence of public use and business use. The new generations use it fluidly across all aspects of their lives—professional and personal. It is an integrated new reality of virtual and mixed reality—the future is now.
The future is constantly bringing about new software, technologies and methods to more efficiently and intuitively complete office tasks. That said, how bright can such a future be? It certainly remains open to interpretation. For the sake of office efficiencies, consistencies, and standards, more technology can mean modernization and remaining current—especially among the Millennials, the now most dominant generation in the workforce. However, it can also translate to uncertain doom and gloom from the inside out. It is key for upper management to employ the proper tools, systems, and people to maintain proper company balance and focus.
In order to maintain such balance, it is important to note the difference in need for technology for improvement and simple adoption of technology for the sake of remaining current. “The determinant of success is not the adoption of a single technology. It’s about the interconnected use of a set of practices for applying those technologies… There’s no single technology that separates companies that have made more versus less progress. It’s about the companies that can adopt a relevant set of practices,” states James Kaplan, principal at McKinsey New York. This being stated, such technological tools needed in offices are often overstated or over-complicated. Often, it becomes a matter of we need to upgrade to this new software because other competitors (or simply others in the industry) have employed it or simply it is lauded as the latest and greatest. Such myopic viewpoints are recipe for a company’s shortcomings.
To properly prepare an office for the rise in Millennial (and eventual Gen Z) employment—those who are digital natives accustom to 3-5+ screens in their lives—it becomes a strategic question of whether company infrastructure and existing systems can withhold such upgrades. Does it require an overhaul in company process? Will such technological kaizen net the company a positive gain in terms of productivity and efficiency (six sigma and lean methodology and/or overall output and ROI)? Such considerations are vital as negative pursuits of such structural change will cause ripples through the company that has potential to topple the backbone of any strong organization. If the right systems of efficiency, operations, and overall office function is not in place, no amount of high tech products, software, or gadgets will be able to mask the inability to properly process business problems and output solutions by way of strategic, intelligent, and efficient action.
Finally, if there is strong desire around technological upgrade within your company, organization, or office, another large looming question remains—who will run it? Does that person or department have enough familiarity and know-how to succeed? While studies are showing that next-gen social and collaborative tools are ultimately going to create more dramatic organizational change, converting company work into more efficient communication, this does not happen overnight. “Successful business technologists need more than pure technical skill: they must know how to solve strategic and operational problems in an integrated way, across multiple technology domains,” claims Kaplan, partner at McKinsey New York. Quite right, the people leading the charge for technological updates can certainly make blind requests or even supported requests for specific technologies, but it then falls to the tech team for implementation and maintenance. It is here in which the truth becomes known. The IT department and heavy lifters of the system networks throughout an organization should certainly have one of the final says as they best understand the (quite literal) interconnections of the office and the way in which everything functions from the technological standpoint. While the younger generations bring many relevant applications and software ideas for better office communication, project management, and business operation, they ultimately are not all experts who are widely informed on office dynamics or technological interplay. Quite frankly, not many executives are either, depending on the company, and thus why the importance lies heavily on the strategic technologists and IT professionals that represent each organization.
“There’s no silver bullet, but success requires being able to identify technologies, understand their implications, and deploy them in an effective, structured way in your organization,” states Kaplan. This calls for not necessarily a vast knowledge of options, but a combination of knowing the right timing, the right people, and the realistic operations of an organization. One must be knowledgeable and strategic in their internal structure and overall infrastructure as well as in their hiring of those that are strategic and are aware of where proper improvements can be made. You do not have to claim to be the smartest and most knowledgeable person in the room—especially regarding technology and its evolution and development at breakneck pace—but you can act strategically and intelligently by remaining open to suggestion from those more in tune and close to it. It is impossible to know all technical areas, whether that is social media, big data, cybersecurity, cloud computing, mobile development, or anything thereof. Thus, in strategically surrounding yourself with the experts—those that can confidently claim knowledge on the digital front as to be strategic and wise in the decision-making process—leaders and executives will be more equipped to handle the challenges of the future rife with new technological domains.
It is ultimately a strategic decision of each executive to make as to whether certain technology and continual upgrade is wise and worth the price for continued business. As Stephen Biddle, author of the book Military Power: Explaining Victory and Defeat in Modern Battle, points out, “more sophisticated technology is not necessarily the determinant of success, which is to say that in France, in 1940, the French army’s tanks were probably as good as the German tanks, and perhaps even better. Their planes were perhaps roughly comparable. However, the Germans adopted something called the modern system, which was an interconnecting set of practices for applying technologies like tanks, radio, and airplanes that made them very successful in that battle in which the Allies and the Americans later adopted and allowed them to be successful in subsequent battles.” This historical account illustrates the strategy behind implementation of future systems and decisions of use of future technology—it is not always proven that the gun is mightier than the sword. And so, each company must ask themselves where they want to fight their battles.
Kaplan, James. “Becoming a better business technologist.” McKinsey. May 2016. Retrieved from http://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/business-technology/our-insights/becoming-a-better-business-technologist?cid=podcast-eml-alt-mip-mck-oth-1605
Biddle, Stephen. Military Power: Explaining Victory and Defeat in Modern Battle. Manas Publications, 2005. Digital
Bughin Jacques; Chui, Michael; Harrysson, Martin. “How social tools can reshape the organization.” McKinsey Global Institute. May 2016. Retrieved from http://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/mckinsey-digital/our-insights/how-social-tools-can-reshape-the-organization?cid=other-eml-alt-mgi-mgi-oth-1605
 Kaplan, James. (May 2016). Becoming a better business technologist. Retrieved from http://www.mckinsey.com
 Bughin Jacques; Chui, Michael; Harrysson, Martin. “How social tools can reshape the organization.” McKinsey Global Institute. May 2016. Retrieved from http://www.mckinsey.com