Xuviate has been very privileged to be part of not one, but two separate startup accelerator programs over the past two years.
Business advice from the likes of Andrea Böhmert (Knife Capital), Keith Jones (sw7), Riaan Pietersen (Blue Oceans Consulting), Mike Joubert (The Billybo Group), Richard Dewing (Cibecs), Waldo Steyn (ENS Africa) and Marc Ashton (Moneyweb) has been invaluable to us for successfully navigating our business through the last 18 months.
And that got me thinking.
If Startups benefit this much from getting external advice, how much could established small and medium businesses gain from engaging with strategic, external advisors who can assist with complex business technology questions?
When one stops to think about this, the answer is "actually quite a lot" and it is quite surprising that we don't (yet) see more businesses turning to such advisors.
I believe that this will soon change as CEOs realise their organisations lack some critical DNA that is required to navigate our increasingly digital world.
In this article I will highlight 3 of the major benefits of contracting a Business Technology (BT) Advisor.
But first, let me start by defining the role a bit better.
What is a Business Technology Advisor?
In our blog article BTM is the new IT we first introduced the concept of Business Technology Management (BTM) as an evolution of management practices focused on better leveraging information technology in all areas of a business.
Although BTM is rapidly gaining traction in larger businesses, most mid-sized businesses still rely on traditional, heavily siloed management approaches that depend on a clear separation of duties between IT and the rest of the business.
In such businesses, a so-called Business Technology (BT) Advisor could play a significant role to on the one hand assist with making sound business technology decisions while on the other hand slowly but surely moving the organisation towards a culture where BTM is practiced by all leaders.
A good BT Advisor therefore should come with solid credentials in each of the following areas:
- Have strong technology management skills and be respected as a senior decision-maker by IT and other technology leaders in the business.
- Have extensive business management experience and be respected as a senior decision-maker by regular (i.e. non-IT) business leaders.
- Have a good track-record for successfully bridging the divide between business and IT silos at the highest levels of management.
- Have a clear vision for how technology can add more business value and act as a catalyst for changing the traditional business model to an agile, digital business model over time.
Unfortunately finding such a person is not easy (I'll try to give some pointers later on), but the benefits from having access to such a resource should make it worth all the effort.
Benefit 1 - To Support Strategic and Operational Decision-Making
Almost every decision a business makes today involves IT in some way.
In a 2015 survey of global CEOs, IBM has found that technology ranks as the number-one factor impacting organizations – and has been for a few years running.
Unfortunately many small and medium businesses have not yet elevated their IT leadership role to a truly strategic level.
In these businesses, IT is still regarded as a support function to be informed after the business has all but concluded the decision-making process.
Why this is so, is a complete mystery to me as virtually every organisation can show the scars of technology implementations that have failed to deliver against business expectations.
A properly mandated BT Advisor can play a significant role in avoiding many of these common IT management pitfalls by applying hard-won experience from previous engagements.
In addition, the BT Advisor can take an active role in helping the organisation make sound technology decisions that increase future flexibility and capability instead of launching just one large IT project after another.
Anyone remember an ERP implementation that ties up resources for 3-5 years, costs much more than expected and under-performs on almost any other business measure?
At a more operational level the expertise of a BT Advisor can be just as valuable as internal IT leaders are so caught up in their own environments that they rarely have the opportunity to learn from the experiences of other IT leaders.
Whereas this benefit is highly visible, the next benefit is realised much slower but, over time, promises to have an even greater impact on the organisation.
Benefit 2 - To Challenge How Leaders Think About Technology
We have said this many times before:
Every business leader has to become a technology leader (in their own sphere of influence) and every technology leader has to become a business leader (who understands how technology creates business success).
To achieve this, however, requires a complete mindset upgrade for many senior leaders who still believe that "digital" is not for them and should be handled by somebody else.
Not to be outdone, the IT leaders of many small and mid-sized businesses have also submitted to the prevailing narrative of being the "tech guys" and are doing all in their power to protect the integrity of their "IT domain".
To challenge the status quo, outside input is sorely needed
- to create awareness for the amazing potential of digital but also the related huge threats of digital disruption,
- to reframe management beliefs about the role of technology in modern organisations and finally,
- to assist with introducing a structure that encourages experimentation and cross-function collaboration on digital initiatives.
Changing beliefs is not for the faint of heart and requires commitment, time and effort.
Unfortunately there are no short-cuts and any delays could be very costly (as we have written about in Delaying Digital Transformation is Super Risky).
The good news is that every BT Advisor worth his salt will embrace Agile principles and focus on delivering some "quick-win projects" that clearly articulate the "promise of digital", thereby greatly accelerating the desired leadership transformation.
Benefit 3 - To Create Urgency for Becoming an Agile Business
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that every business at some stage will have to embrace a digital business model to survive and thrive.
Unfortunately our recent survey on digital transformation (DX) in SMEs confirms what we at Xuviate have known for a long time: most small and medium businesses (especially in South Africa), have yet to wake up to their new reality and decide on an appropriate response.
And even when they do, the fact that they are neither Startups (who have a digital DNA) nor large organisations (who have sufficient resources) presents some very challenging constraints (as we write about in SMEs Potentially Biggest Losers of Digital Disruption).
A good BT Advisor will sound the "wake up call" that will get a business out of its self-induced denial of everything digital and marshal its resources to take the first tentative steps towards becoming an Agile Business, as defined in the new Xuviate DX Maturity Model for Mid-Sized Businesses.
What should be welcome news is that these first few steps of focused digital experimentation and loosening the shackles of the silo can usually be taken with a modicum of effort and by using existing resources (people and funds).
Good initial successes create momentum for further advances in digital maturity as leadership, talent, culture and funds start to realign behind the new imperative.
How to Find a Business Technology Advisor?
Once the benefits of engaging with a BT Advisor are clearly understood, the immediate next question we always get is: "How do we find such a person?"
If you are in South Africa and Mathias and I still have capacity, you can obviously just ask us.
For anybody else the reality is unfortunatey a lot more bleak, as there are few individuals that have the ability to straddle business and IT domains while still focusing on the needs of small and mid-sized businesses. The lure of becoming a well-paid enterprise consultant on digital transformation is just too big...
One obvious option would be to turn to the large business technology advisories such as EY, Deloitte and KPMG, but the chances of them having an offering that is tailored to the requirements and budgets of an SME are slim at best.
Another, slightly better option would be to turn to your regular IT service provider and start a conversation.
But be careful as there are some real risks!
While some of the more mature service providers might have sound technology consulting options, the likelihood of them having strategic business technology and digital transformation know-how is highly doubtful and needs to be carefully evaluated.
And we should know as this was exactly the reason why we decided to leave a successful MSP business to focus exclusively on Xuviate.
In the end, your best option would probably be to do a deep dive into your own professional network (LinkedIn is a good start) and ask around until you find a few suitable individuals who could grow into the role.
And this is where the real work starts, as you now need to decide how important vendor neutrality is, whether you need somebody who can perform at a Director level, how much you are prepared to pay, how much consulting time you need or any number of specific requirements you may have to make an intimate business relationship such as this work for you.
Consider yourself lucky if you already have such a relationship in place!
Small and Medium Businesses could benefit greatly from engaging with an external Business Technology (BT) Advisor.
The best BT Advisors possess a rare blend of business and technology management skills, know how to change mindsets and extensively use experiments and quick-wins to move an organisation forward on its transformation to a truly agile business.
Unfortunately finding individuals with SME-specific BT advisory skills is still quite difficult and you may need to dig deep into your bag of tricks.
Even so, the search is well worth the effort and I would strongly advise you find such a person and start to capitalise on all the opportunities better business technology alignment can bring.
If you are looking for a BT Advisor and have a business in South Africa, Mathias or I might be able to help.
If not, still get in touch as we might know somebody in your area who can help.
Image credit: Shutterstock.