Many pixels and toner cartridges have been burned in the discussion of the relationship between business and technology — or, more specifically, business and IT. The terms and tone of these discussions reflect a deeply held belief that the two are somehow separate. That view is silly, but it is also supported by many business and technology leaders. It begs the question: What does it mean to lead a business with technology?
A business that leads with technology is a business that …
1. Employs technology in support of revenue growth and customer experience rather than using IT for greater cost take-out, integration, etc. Growth is technology’s No. 1 job in the digital economy, and businesses that lead with technology know it.
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2. Has a clear understanding of priorities, goals and strategies. Businesses that lead with technology know not only their must-haves but also the actions or changes required to achieve their goals. This is particularly true when it comes to goals that are not expressed solely in financial terms.
3. Defines business challenges by articulating the crux of the issue to create causality between technology and outcome. These businesses communicate their challenges in if-then statements, which is to say, “If we can resolve X, then we will achieve Y goal.” Or they speak in metrics, like increasing sales by 25%, and presume there is causality between the IT they select and reaching that goal. They can anticipate the next likely challenge.
4. Uses technology to create and expand strategic options rather than seeing IT as a way to enable already-made decisions. When you look at technology after the strategy is set, you fall into a trap that destroys competitive advantage. As one business leader and Gartner client put it, “Every company works from a similar set of rules, but competitiveness comes from the underlying technologies and the differences they create.” Those distinctions surface when technology impacts points of differentiation.
5. Sees technology as a business consideration rather than sloughing it off to a functional group known as IT. If business involvement is primarily in funding and approving IT projects, then you are not leading the business with tech; you are enabling it with IT.
6. Has ongoing investments in technology and commitments to its employment in the business. This contrasts with programmatic or project investments that create lumpy or step-level individual projects. “Technology is not a tool you take out occasionally to fix something,” one business leader and Gartner client told us. “It is part of the core business.” It is not how much you spend, but how consistently you invest in tech.
7. Invests in technology to achieve its goals and objectives, often by staying ahead or at the forefront of trends and forces. Leading a business with technology helps organize and manage business investments. If you name projects after the technology behind them (e.g., “the AI project”), you are not leading the business; you are following the pack.
8. Invests in solutions tailored to its needs. This includes creating custom solutions, and contrasts with buying market-standard solutions and retrofitting them to your situation. Leading a business with technology means having the confidence to extract business value from unique investments rather than controlling the cost and schedule of implementing standard solutions.
9. Changes its technology with the pace of business change, rather than expecting IT solutions to endure. As one business leader and Gartner client explained, “Companies traditionally invested in technology that was supposed to last for years. Now we know technology is constantly changing, and we must constantly change our technology.”
10. Has low walls within and between their organization, customers, providers, suppliers, etc. Businesses that lead with technology recognize that no firm can afford to own every element of a solution. It’s just too expensive, too bureaucratic and too unwieldy. Instead, they foster low walls that allow resources to flow to a challenge or opportunity regardless of its source. The alternative is to partition the problem and hope it all comes together in the end. That approach rarely works.
Mark P. McDonald, Ph.D., is a Vice President and a Gartner Fellow within the Gartner for General Managers team. He is responsible for the research focused on the application of technology to business, its products and services.
A version of this story was originally published on the Gartner Blog Network.