Using technology as a competitive advantage

By - February 26, 2016

There are various ways to look at technology within an organization, however, many mid-sized organizations tend to see it as a necessary evil. Like chairs the employees sit on and the heating/cooling system that keeps the office at a comfortable temperature, IT infrastructure is just another tool needed for business.  While you might have a harder time convincing the executive board that a new HVAC system will offer the organization a competitive advantage, it shouldn’t be that difficult when evaluating a technology solution.

So how can you position technology as a competitive advantage, especially when you consider so much of the infrastructure being used is doing so much apparently non-competitive work? Routers and switches pass traffic headed into and out of the organization.  Virtual servers provide a platform on which applications support the processing of data that gets stored on the enterprise-grade SAN.  Isn’t the real competitive advantage gained by leveraging the data captured by the systems in a way that allows the organization to benefit?  The short answer is “yes” but it’s much more involved than that.

The high-value software that provides the competitive advantage by using complex business-intelligence processes is highly dependent on the data that is captured by the ERP, billing, and CRM software. That software, in turn, relies on virtual servers that operate on hypervisors that control the CPU hardware systems that powers them.  Those systems are interconnected by the switches, routers, and firewalls serving users, systems, and the storage that houses the operating systems from which the business-intelligence software draws all of the valuable data.

How can the foundational systems like networking, storage, compute, and operating systems offer any type of competitive advantage? Well, consider this.  An innovative man in the grocery business took a basic item that shoppers used to gather their supplies and slapped wheels on them to allow the customers to buy more goods from his store.  The wheels “enabled” his customers.  This then allowed his customers to directly impact his business in a positive way.  He didn’t change his product mix or alter the way he did business, he simply changed a tool that the customers used to interact with the environment to positively impact the experience and thus increase his business.

When we consider IT systems, we apply a similar principle – by providing the “wheels” in the form of enabling technologies. There are many variations to how this might look depending on what the focus of the organization may be: building a customer-centric organization, expanding a virtual workforce, or increasing the agility of the organization to provide new products or services.

A company looking to build a customer-centric organization may choose to implement a mobile strategy to connect more socially with their customers. This requires infrastructure (which doesn’t have to be hardware in a data center, but could be a cloud-based platform) that is interconnected with a robust CRM system to support the tracking and management necessary to offer the customized interactions with the customer.

Expanding a virtual workforce, or enabling your organization to take advantage of hiring talent that doesn’t live within a few miles of your offices, may provide an infusion of new ideas and intellectual property that perhaps would be otherwise unavailable. Providing secure remote access for these virtual workers, or partners, or even customers requires the infrastructure to enable this type of communications.

Increasing agility to enter new markets or develop new products and services may require out-of-the-box thinking related to how technology is used within and outside of the organization. By extending the network to trading partners or opening access to specific applications to high-volume customers, your organization could add value that other competitor’s haven’t considered because they view technology as a cost-center rather than an enabler for innovative services.

IT infrastructure services can be seen as a foundational enabler and competitive advantage for business success. The key is to link the business benefits to the technologies that will allow that benefit to occur.  If you’d like help making the link between a strategic business direction and the technology that will enable your organization to reach that goal, contact us and talk with one of our technology specialists.

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