When companies want us to help them put together a strategic plan there are several areas we examine to see if they are ready. One of the biggest is technology. Today the effective use of technology is a table stake in the game of business growth. There are three areas I am primarily concerned with when evaluating a prospective client's use of technology.
First, and most important is the condition of systems used to measure what is happening in the business. This includes accounting systems and the related pieces used for reporting. A good strategic plan has benchmarks and milestones that can be used to measure progress. But if there is no system to capture the information, and no understandable way to report it we won't know whether the plan is working or not.
You can grade measurement systems on an A to F scale just by understanding the two ends of the spectrum.
A - Give yourself an A if all of the following apply. Multiple users can access the system simultaneously. Reporting is easy to access and is engaging enough to be accessed daily or weekly by team members. Records are kept up to date and periods are closed within one week.
F - You fail if only one person has access, reports must be requisitioned, and the monthly close takes longer than three weeks.
The second area to focus on is the the technology used to collaborate with colleagues. These systems include network environments, mobile access, tools used to collaborate with vendors and partners, and how the organization as a whole keeps up with where it is and where it is going. The reason these systems are critical to strategic planning and execution is because growth usually requires leveraging partners and resources that are not inside your four walls. How can you work with a marketing company to acquire real time customer feedback if they have to wait for you to pull a report every time you want them to contact customers? How can your accountant update key KPI's without real time access to the accounting system?
An A-F scale for collaboration technologies might look something like this:
A - Give yourself an A if you can work collaboratively with users inside or outside your domain and physical presence is not a prerequisite for productivity.
F - You fail if your response is "We have email, what else do we need?"
The last area is the technology used to engage customers. This includes CRM systems, web presence, online portals that allow the automated creation of customer tickets, contact forms, e-commerce platforms and the dead horse of social media. All of these are important to strategy because growth and sustainability requires customers. The more intimate and integrated the relationship between a firm and its customers the more successful it will be in keeping those customers as it makes strategic changes to grow the business.
A - Give yourself an A if you can poll electronic records for a detailed profile of your customers including such things as purchase history, number and substance of interactions with the company, resolution of problems in the past and probable future purchases.
F - You fail if customer information is not kept up to date and readily accessible.
If you grade consistently below a B average there might be some housekeeping that needs to take place before you can put together and execute a strategic plan for growth. If you are deficient in just one area it is likely that any growth plan you put together will focus on that area as a key strategy in achieving your goals.