Poor Technology ROI? Uncomplicate Your Business

This is the first installment of a regular column about bridging the gap between business leadership and technology. This piece is somewhat biographical because, well… not many people know me (yet). A version of this column is also published in “Business of Furniture” magazine. ~ Justin Loeber

The most rewarding careers are intrinsically motivated. I’m motivated by the idea of improvement – making things bigger/better or finding the smartest way to do something. Professionally, making businesses better keeps me going every day. It’s a good thing too, because I also have an aptitude for technology. And technology is right up there with great products and people as a key driver for success. Simply put: technology makes business better. That’s what I believe.

In the mid 90’s, my father and a family friend got me my first “real” job – in the computer training facility at IBM’s Watson Research center in Yorktown, NY. At the end of every class I had to go around the room and reset every computer to its original state, deleting files and changing settings. It was the same repetitious series of tasks performed on every computer, several times per week. Yawn!

One day, sitting in my office – a desk stuffed into a closet full of books – I noticed a book about a computer programming language that was built into IBM computers in those days. Lightbulb! “If I had a program to reset the computers, then I won’t have to do the boring work anymore!”

That thought launched my career.

I taught myself how to write a program to do my job for me. There was no work left to do, so IBM promoted me into their Global Services consulting business. I was about 23 years old.

The rest of my career, including the last 6 years in various CIO roles, has just been a scaled-up version of that early experience: 1.) understand what’s going on; 2.) find the best way to do it; and 3.) make it happen.

What’s interesting is that only the 3rd step in that process requires any specialized technology skills or know-how. In a business, the first two steps are all about strategy, people and processes – well within the realm of your existing management team. Technology works in a business when it is married with strategy and management. No amount of technology is going to fix a bad business.

In a recent meeting the client team was proposing a, frankly, ridiculous technical solution for an ongoing issue in the business. Generally, technology should be as simple as possible. When things start sounding complicated it’s time to ask yourself “why?” Thankfully at this meeting, the COO spoke up before I had to: “This feels way too complicated.” He’s not a technical person, but you don’t have to be technical to “get it.” Always explore that feeling or intuition. There’s a reason why things get complicated. In this case there was an underlying business process that turned out to be unnecessary. The proposed solution was then simplified, with a significant cost reduction, because the technology synced with management.

I’ll be writing a lot more about the intersection of management and technology because it’s missing from so many businesses. I hope to show a new way to think about technology – a way that puts your business in the driver’s seat.

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