Special Report - How to Use Technology to Reshape Your Company

By Daniel Burrus

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Today we’re in the midst of several technology paradigm shifts that are spreading faster than anything we’ve seen before ― and that greatly impact organizations and CIOs worldwide.

First, there’s the computing hardware shift. Previously, you could only use a computer by accessing a mainframe using a terminal. Then came desktops. Mainframes did not go away. We simply changed our primary interface device. Next came laptops. Mainframes and desktops still didn’t go away, but the laptop became the interface device of choice.

Now, the power of a laptop is being put in the palm of our hand with smartphones and smartpads. And because they are a phone, multimedia computer, video conferencing platform, still and video camera, locator and navigator, and game and entertainment center that is with us 24/7, they are transforming all areas of life.

The second shift is in software and software distribution. We went from enterprise level software for mainframes to personal and business packages for our desktops and laptops. Now we have the "app" software revolution. Again, the old doesn’t go away, but the main tool we’re using is changing. And because apps allow us to personalize our devices to suit our unique needs, this revolution will grow rapidly.

With apps becoming more popular, it’s now time to explore the third shift, which is the emergence of a new level of apps, what I’ll call enterprise level apps (ELA). These are apps customized for such wide-scale applications as purchasing, logistics, supply chain management, sales, and military security, just to name a few. These apps are designed not only to make people more productive in their work, but also to do some of the work for them.

For example, in the medical field, they’ll be ELAs for disease management, for patient records, and for remote diagnostics. The app will be more like an essential tool to perform a specific function rather than an ancillary item. Combine this with the real-time data revolution that’s also taking place, and you can see how groundbreaking enterprise apps are.

Never before have people been able to get information and data in their hand right as it’s happening. So when something occurs, is produced, or a need arises, that information is immediately visible to anyone authorized to see it in the exact way they want and need it to be. To have that visibility ― and have it with you 24/7 ― is both powerful and amazing. Instead of just having real-time data, companies are redefining themselves and transitioning into real-time enterprises, which means they are using real-time data to make better decisions faster.

Of course, all these shifts present some real-time challenges to CIOs. As the CIO or IT expert in your company, you need to understand the depth of this revolution.

Recognize the change

Historically, CIOs are used to having control over the company’s technology, and they like everything to be behind the bulletproof enterprise IT veil. Many CIOs and IT professionals are not happy with the increased focus on cloud computing, yet that’s precisely what their company’s staff is using when they use their personal computers to search Google or access other applications in the cloud.

This dislike for cloud computing is understandable. It is, after all, outside of the control of the IT network that the CIO and his or her staff have worked so hard to develop and secure. But let’s face it apps, SaaS, social media, smart phones, smart pads, and a host of other cloud options that your employees use, both at home and increasingly at work, are here to stay.

Consider this: In early 2010, there were 150,000 apps just in the Apple store. Then that number increased to 200,000 apps. Now we’re close to 300,000 apps with billions of downloads. So it’s growing fast, with no indication of slowing down.

In my work as a strategic consultant to large organizations, I’m amazed at how many CIOs are not embracing this paradigm shift. As a CIO, you have to ask yourself, “Will there be more in the cloud options, including audio, video, storage, and apps, next year than there is this year?" The answer is a resounding “Yes!” You can’t ignore it. Many of your own people and your own executives are using cloud-based services right now. And if they’re using them, being more productive at home than they are in the workplace, and doing things that are more advanced on their smart phones and smart pads (at least in their minds), then the CIO has a problem.

You can’t have people thinking that the IT department is holding the company back. Instead, you need to be helping them move forward. Granted, it’s human nature to protect and defend the status quo, and there are some security concerns with the emerging technologies. But at the same time, you have to remember the old adage, “It’s easier to ride a horse in the direction that it’s going.” In this case, the horses of technology are going in a new direction at a pace and speed we’ve never seen before. It’s time for CIOs to pay attention to this and do more than just go along for the ride.

Case in point: In January 1993, IBM knew the future of its company and it was the most admired company on the planet. But the horses of technology changed direction. By the end of 1993, IBM was getting close to going out of business. It missed the shift. But IBM is not an isolated case. Many other companies have missed the shift. Think about it: When was the last time you bought something from Polaroid?

Now we have another gigantic technological shift taking place, and the last people who should miss it are the CIOs and the IT department. The shift is here, it’s easy to see, and it’s as plain as day. Therefore, it’s time to start directing the horse on the journey.

Opportunities abound

Since ELAs are just now emerging, it’s the perfect opportunity for CIOs to be on the forefront of the revolution. ELAs are often internal company apps, and the IT department should be the one involved and in charge of developing them but, you ask, "What do enterprise level apps even look like?"

Here’s an example of how an enterprise level purchasing app could work: Suppose you work at a manufacturing plant and want to purchase an item. The moment you discover the need, you can pull up the company’s purchasing app on your smart phone. You can place your order, see all the pre-approved items that fit your need, and select what you want. When you click on the item, you can get an instant approval or denial. If there’s a denial because your request doesn’t meet pre-defined purchase parameters established by the company’s head of purchasing, you can get a reason and access steps to move forward to make that purchase happen. At the same time, everyone involved in the purchase can have instant access to that request and its status.

Here’s another example: With a security app for a military base or other lock-down area, if an incident occurs on premises, such as a fire, everyone on location can know exactly what happened and where the incident is ― all from their phone the minute it occurs. Depending on your rank or position, you can know where to go and what to do. You can see the location of the fire extinguishers and other emergency tools. If there is an explosion and you need to go to a secure place, you can see where to go and how to get there. You can locate different emergency assets quickly from the palm of your hand.

These are just two small examples. Other kinds of enterprise level apps can include internal and secure versions of popular social media platforms such as Twitter to quickly solve problems, Facebook to connect disconnected engineers, and YouTube to create how-to videos. Companies that have already embraced such initiatives are creating stunning results because they’re using technology to enhance collaboration and communication among employees without exposing the company to threats from outside the network.

In addition to creating enterprise level apps, the CIO should be looking at creating apps they can offer to their customers/clients and the public in general. Such apps may even open a new revenue stream for the company.

The next level

Aside from directing the creation of the various apps, the CIO also needs to be looking at where the app will be used. Currently, people think of apps as being primarily for smart phones. But what about the new smartpad revolution Apple launched with its iPad? Some smartphone apps are compatible with smartpads. But even the companies who make these apps aren’t thinking big enough … both literally and figuratively. Since the smartpads have bigger screens and more processing power, why should they do the same thing as the phone app? Why not take advantage of that extra space and power and come up with a new class of apps that can do things the phone apps can’t? These are key questions CIOs must think about and address if they want their company to be a serious players in the future app market.

But that’s just the beginning.

The next evolution is apps for the smart television ― think iTV. Today’s newer televisions are Internet enabled. (And, by the way, all our devices will be Internet enabled one day.) That means the processor and the television browser are built into the TV set so you don’t have to plug a computer into your television. The TV is the computer.

This will drive the IPTV revolution even faster. Because it’s essentially TV over the Internet versus on cable and satellite, many Millennials use IPTV to solve all of their wired television viewing needs. Knowing this, it’s only logical that your company will also want to produce television level apps. However, now you have even more visual real estate and broader bandwidth connection. Many new TVs are also 3D equipped, meaning that your apps could be 3D, too. As you can see, this is a game changer. Smart CIOs need to stay ahead of this evolution and help redefine their company accordingly.

Using the paradigms

All these revolutions, and especially the app revolution, are enabling companies to redefine who they are, what they offer, and how they offer it … and they’re enabling the CIO to have a big role in the redefining process. In this case, the current technology shifts are actually tools of creation. As a result, you can help your company create new products, new services, and entire new markets ― something most CIOs have played a role in, but now have an opportunity to lead.

Here are some ways to do that:

First, look at your products, services, or industry and see how today’s new technologies can help you redefine things. The classic example is Amazon.com. When they first started the business, they used technology to redefine how people sell books. But they didn’t stop there. They then expanded to other products and redefined how nearly everything was sold. Then they redefined again. Because they have a large IT, logistics, and warehouse system that is not 100% in use at any one time, they now rent out their enterprise IT platform and warehousing space to other companies. So they are not only redefining an industry; they’re also redefining themselves.

Another now classic example is Apple. Back in early 2000, before they launched the iPod and iPhone, most people thought Apple was quickly going out of business. That’s when the company redefined themselves around music. Later they redefined again with the iPhone, which lead a telecommunications revolution. Now they’re doing it again with the iPad by creating a new class of personal computer. Like Amazon.com, Apple has redefined themselves as well as their industry.

So when it comes to your company and your industry, ask yourself some key questions, such as:

Next, look at how technology is affecting your customers in your industry right now. Examine the overall customer experience as well as who is buying your offerings. For example, when ultra-light aviation came about, the first ultra-light aircraft were basically hang-gliders with engines. The FAA decided not to get involved with it, which meant people didn’t need a pilot’s license to fly an ultra-light. As a result, the first manufacturers targeted that demographic ― people who wanted to fly but who didn’t have the time or money to get a pilot’s license. One company thought they could get a better customer, so they asked, “Why not redefine the market?”

Rather than target those who didn’t have a license (and who had less disposable income), this company decided to target commercial jet pilots and flight instructors. After all, these people loved to fly and they had money; however, because of their jobs, flying had become more automated and less fun. Then the company went one step further and redefined the ultra-light itself by adding a stick and rudder and instrument controls. They made the ultra light more like an airplane rather than a hang-glider, which better appealed to their new target market. The company went on to being highly successful, all because they redefined who their customer was and then made product changes accordingly.

So when it comes to your customers, ask yourself some key questions, such as:

Finally, look at the specific ways in which you compete in the marketplace as well as what makes your company unique. Then decide how technology can redefine the way you compete. For example, At one time, the Polaroid was the king of instant photography. But then technology and digital photography changed their industry, and the way they competed (instant photography) changed but Polaroid didn’t change with it. Instead, they made the mistake many businesses do: they used technology to get more efficient and lower their costs but failed to create new products and markets.

Similarly, Kodak was failing for over a decade. Finally, they looked at how they competed in the past as well as what it would take to compete in the future. That’s when they embraced digital photography. And while they still have some traditional film labs across the country, it’s their digital products division that’s most profitable today.

The moral: The longer you wait to redefine how you compete, the harder it is to survive. However, when you pinpoint a way to use technology to compete better, you create new revenue streams. So when it comes to competing in a technology-driven age, ask yourself some key questions, such as:

Yes, the technology revolutions we’re currently experiencing are redefining how companies make money, how professionals work, and how consumers buy. They’re also redefining the strategic role CIOs play in the company, enabling CIOs to have a bigger hand in external product/service creation, industry standards, and the company’s long-term vision. No longer can CIOs keep their focus on data protection and company networks (although those will always be key job functions). Today’s CIOs must also look at how the company as a whole can use technology to redefine itself in the marketplace.

From mobile finance and banking to geo-social networking tools, every vertical from real estate to manufacturing is going to be redefined in a short period of time. No CIO can afford to move slowly, otherwise, he or she may miss the opportunity entirely.

Embrace the future, today

You also have to realize that using technology such as apps, smart phones, and smart pads to redefine your company does not mean you throw security out the window. You simply need to rethink security. With the cost of hardware continuing to decrease and with bandwidth and processing power continuing to increase, it’s easy to predict that cloud computing, apps, smart phones, and smart pads will gain even more popularity. As a CIO, that can mean one of two things for you: 1) it can be a major headache, or 2) it can be a major opportunity. The difference is in how you look at the shifts and how you embrace the future.

Ultimately, staying ahead and forging new ground during a technology-driven transformation is indeed possible. It’s all about looking at where the market is going rather than where it is today. It’s about looking at where your customer is evolving, not where they used to be. When you change your mindset, ask some key questions, and then take action on what the answers reveal, you can use today’s technology paradigm shifts to redefine your company, improve operations, create new revenue streams, and experience higher profits than ever before.

Daniel Burrus is considered one of the world’s leading technology forecasters and business strategists, and is the founder and CEO of Burrus Research, a research and consulting firm that monitors global advancements in technology driven trends to help clients better understand how technological, social and business forces are converging to create enormous, untapped opportunities. He is the author of six books, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal best seller Flash Foresight: How To See the Invisible and Do the Impossible as well as the highly acclaimed Technotrends.

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