C-level technology investment priorities

McKinsey have just published the results of their global technology investment survey.

It’s a comprehensive piece of work that throws the spotlight on how senior IT decision makers are responding to some growing technology trends, despite the global economy still being in a fairly fragile state.

While some of the findings are to be expected – but nevertheless interesting to see confirmed in the survey – what is intriguing is the emphasis being placed on the development of customer/audience-centric strategies and personalised content experiences.

For me this very much plays to the opportunity I believe businesses have to more closely align their social and digital with content creation across the organisation to create a more coherent identity for the brand and better experiences for customers.

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Technology disruption and democracy

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I’ve gone on for a while about the democratising effect of digital technology – mainly in the way it gives  people access to information and encourages organisations to behave in a more transparent way.

The McKinsey Global Institute Study: “Disruptive Technologies: Advances that will transform life, business and the global economy” published in May offers a different take:

A new wave of unprecedented innovation and entrepreneurship could be in the offing as a result of falling costs and rapid dissemination of technologies. Many of the technologies discussed in this report  will be readily available  and may require little or no capital investment. 3D printing, for example, could help “democratize” the design, production,  and distribution of products and services. Cloud-based services and mobile Internet devices could help level the playing field, putting IT capabilities and other resources within reach of small enterprises, including developing nations. Finally, the opportunities and innovation unleashed by a new wave of entrepreneurship could provide new sources of employment.

The challenge to businesses and us as individuals is to make sure we have the right skills to fully embrace the technology.

The McKinsey report gives a great perspective on the changes we can expect and is definitely worth a read.

 

Digital Experimentation

About 15 years ago I read Nicholas Negroponte’s excellent book, Being Digital. Of all the stories he told to paint a picture of how digital technology would change our lives in the future, the one I remember the most is about the fridge that would automatically order fresh products when supplies were running low.

What struck me at the time was that of all the many wonderful and potentially life-changing applications of digital technology we might think of, the thing we always come back to is how it can help us feed our faces.

I was reminded of this when speaking to a client today about an experience they are having, implementing an internal collaboration platform. In grumbling tones, the client made passing mention of the fact that most people are using the new platform to talk about what they are having for lunch that day. Certainly not the reason the company has invested several hundred thousand dollars in enterprise collaboration software!

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the client seemed intent on finding a way to curb this lunchtime chat and force employees into more “productive” lines of dialogue.

It occurred to me though that this conversation is entirely healthy and should even be encouraged. It’s a sign of people experimenting with a new technology, testing its purpose and capabilities and where and how it can be applied. We do this by returning to our most basic human needs and exploring how it helps us satisfy them.

The same applies to social media. In the early days of Twitter, my feed was full of updates from the people I followed about their breakfast, lunch and dinner plans. As we’ve discovered a purpose for the platform and established some tacit principles for its good use as a community, those posts have gradually declined; or at least they have done in my feed!

The same principle applies in a business environment. To establish a truly social business culture and reap all the benefits that has to offer, the organisation must be prepared to tolerate experimentation by its employees. In other words, by providing a space in which people can play and experiment safely, true creativity and innovation can emerge.

After all, some of the best ideas come up over lunch.

Turning employees into advocates

Making the content that a brand publishes online socially sharable is a powerful way to increase its visibility.

While this functionality is usually offered with customers and others outside the company in mind, there’s one even more vital audience that most are failing to harness: their employees.

Employees offer an enormous pool of potential advocates for the brand. They visit their company websites for a range of purposes and can increase the brand’s visibility by sharing content through their own networks.

For corporate or business-to-business brands, social sharing with clients on a personal basis can become a useful tool in growing and maintaining business relationships, especially in the context of business functions where relationship management will be important.

By encouraging employees to connect with company social platforms and by making individual items of content sharable on websites, employees can share the content most relevant to their networks, vastly enhancing its visibility and that of the brand.

This approach to content distribution offers four advantages:

  • Amplification: Employees can amplify brand content with relative ease and effort.
  • Credibility: Enhances opportunity for employees to use content to strength client relationships in relationship managed functions.
  • Visibility: Offers the opportunity for an exponential increase in the brand’s visibility, beyond official brand channels.
  • Security: By taking a proactive approach to employee participation online, particularly in social media, brands can strengthen their reputational safety and security. By encouraging employees to share specific items of published content, the company implicitly sets parameters around activities deemed appropriate and begins to instil an understanding and confidence into the workforce of the online behaviour considered acceptable.

This approach does come with some caveats: the company must first grant employees access to social platforms in the workplace and have in place a clear online behaviour policy and accompanying training.

With those foundations in place, however, there are some clear benefits to be gained. Edelman’s Trust Barometer research shows that messages from one’s peers are more likely to be trusted than those from a senior company source:

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Q. If you heard information about a company from each person listed, how credible would the information be? (Source: Edelman Trust Barometer, 2013 http://www.edelman.com/trust)

A mobilised army of employees can bring tremendous scale and resource to a company’s communications efforts; much more than even the most creative branded channels can achieve and, most importantly, sustain.