You Say You Want a Revolution: IT Challenges Today
When I am asked about the challenges facing IT leaders, I often say managing technology is an evolutionary process designed to achieve revolutionary results. We want to maintain an efficient, secure environment that builds on our existing infrastructure, and if we get it right our people can do amazing things that were scarcely imaginable just a few years ago.
There’s no better example of this than the growth in our use of collaboration tools. Velcro Companies has manufacturing facilities in seven countries, and sales, customer service, and product development offices around the globe. Our competitive edge lies in our ability to stay close to customers, understand their needs, and work across borders and functions to develop amazing new products.
Collaboration is vital to that process, and technology plays a key role.
As a recent example, a new cloud hosted global video system has made possible even greater levels of collaboration. We held our annual global strategy meeting this year entirely by video. Instead of months of planning, scheduling and complex travel arrangements-and days of jet lag for some attendees—we held the meeting via videoconference. It was planned in just two weeks, and we had great participation from colleagues all over the globe. Improvements in technology have greatly enhanced the experience of video meetings. Grainy pictures and audio delays are a thing of the past. By leveraging an enterprise cloud solution meant there were no significant Capex investments or delays to procure equipment. We were able to simply subscribe to a solution for the appropriate level of meeting hosts.
Our competitive edge lies in our ability to stay close to customers, understand their needs, and work across borders and functions to develop amazing new products
Using internal message services like Yammer, for example, will help us gather feedback on new product designs much faster than in the past and enables teams to share their experiences. Good ideas and insights used to be confined to the immediate development team, but now they’re available to everyone.
The other revolution we are seeing is the accessibility of new technology. My team spends a lot of time helping our businesses adapt to new products, and there are more introduced every week. Indeed, one of our challenges is to keep pace with the availability of technology. Today, anyone can get a technology solution simply by doing an internet search. Obviously, we want to be in the conversation long before that happens, but it is a reminder that we have to be responsive and build relationships so we are seen as a trusted advisor and business partner within the organization.
Of course, being a trusted advisor means understanding the business, not just the technology. Bill Gates once said that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency and automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency. It’s a lesson we’ve taken to heart, making sure that we focus on our business structure and processes and not just a new gadget.
To that end, we have realigned roles and positions. Our technology specialists, for example, are now deeply connected to our businesses as part of a unified team. They are in the strategic dialogue right from the start, rather than a separate resource that comes in at the end of the conversation. Decision-making is faster and technology projects are sized, tested and delivered more efficiently.
This alignment has helped drive our global consumer business, one of our major growth engines. We not only develop products for business customers across many industries—from automotive and medical to building materials and apparel—but for consumers as well. The VELCRO® brand is one of the most recognized in the world, an asset that has helped this business grow significantly.
Of course, offering a great experience for consumers means being mobile. Today, mobile devices are quickly becoming the primary way that consumers interact with us. As a result, we have become mobile-centric in our decision making when it comes to how we present our brand and products and in the type of technology we deploy.
All of this requires an intense focus on security, too. Ultimately, we want to integrate the technology to create one, seamless, secure experience. As managers, we don’t want to impose roadblocks but we cannot sacrifice security, either. It is a constant balancing act, so agility is an important skill for IT managers.
Being able to see around corners is a great skill in any role, but it really helps in the world of technology. I try to keep an eye on emerging technologies, particularly those that are transforming the manufacturing process. We give a lot of attention to front-office functions, but interesting things are starting to happen on the factory floor. We are testing several artificial intelligence (“AI”) applications that could help us improve error detection and avoid production outages. It’s still early, but there are exciting possibilities ahead. We can expect technology to produce more revolutionary results for our business.