I no longer talk about IT infrastructure in conversations about competitive advantage. I'm much more comfortable using the term enabling technologies. Why? Because competitive advantage is not about using the infrastructure. That includes the cloud. It enables, but can it give you advantage in the way that social and mobile can?
An area that has been particularly interesting for us recently is collaboration technologies. With a new office in Shanghai and a parent headquarters in Japan, the question of how we use collaboration-based technology as a tool to make our workforce, executives and company more efficient has been at the forefront of our planning.
For example, we have been investing with one company over the years in videoconferencing and networking infrastructure, much of it hardware-based. With a host of new software-based video collaboration solutions on the market, this raised the question for us of whether we should continue down this path. Did we still have an enabling technology, or had it become a legacy one? The good news is this vendor's future direction looks pretty solid. But that doesn't solve the hidden question behind every enabling technology. Which is...
If you build it, will they know how to use it?
Technology rolled out without user training is setting you up for failure and it continues to be one of the most common mistakes that I see. In late 2014, we shouldn't be hearing of technologies that go under-used or not used at all because it's either:
- Not available in the moment, where and when people need it or
- No one has bothered to bring users up to speed on how to use it seamlessly in their work.
This is an easy fix with a huge payback for IT!
These continuing gaps between theory and practice are one reason why I believe that a role must exist within IT that is focused as a priority on enabling technologies. This role would be to evangelize ‘what’s possible’ with the technology we currently have in-house, likely gaining user adoption — enabling technologies which bring value to the business. If we can figure out how to make our employees more efficient and make the technology invisible, it really will boost their productivity. It is enabling technologies like these that I believe will help to drive, for our company at least, an important transition to being a truly global company.
Brian Beams joined Pharmavite LLC (the makers of Naturemade vitamins & SOYJOY fruit/soy bars) in June 2010 and is responsible for determining the strategic direction of the company’s IT solutions, infrastructure and technology operations, as well as the company’s customer and consumer-facing technologies. Brian began his career with 14 years as a technology consultant with Andersen Consulting’s (aka Accenture) worldwide technical services group, rising to the level of Associate Partner while based in Chicago, IL.