Should I adapt processes to technology or vice versa?

Sure, technology makes innovation and digital transformation possible. But is having the latest, shiny new tool what really counts? As CEOs and CTOs, should we adapt business processes to technology or vice versa?

In the association space, people often talk about the fancy technology they have to manage membership, analyze data, and improve the day-to-day. But does it really matter if you have a multimillion-dollar AMS/CRM system if it’s not helping you deliver value to the customer?

Most focused, “best of breed” applications that associations use today do a relatively good job of doing whatever it is they’re designed to do. Oftentimes what’s missing is the connection to the larger strategy, organizational goals, and processes.

To produce great end products and services that provide value to your members, you must start with the strategy and let IT follow - not the other way around.

Let’s break down your options and consider some high-level strategy when it comes to solving IT issues and facilitating digital transformation.

Option 1: Change Your Technology to Fit Your Business Process

When associations and business owners feel frustrated with the performance of their software systems, they often want to immediately customize it or change out the system completely. But this can cost top dollar and still might not solve the underlying issues.

For example, we had a client that was using a new software tool to give their staff access to data to make decisions. But they were experiencing so many issues because of the way the tool was being used. There was no real data governance for how all the data was collected, distributed, and reported on.

As a result, people lost faith in the software tool and the organization wanted to change out this “cool” new tool they had just started using.

The reality was the organization had the data, but they were continuing to take shortcuts in terms of data governance processes. Staff within the organization were making up processes, not for the sake of making them up, but because it was easier than establishing the right process.

They quickly realized that they needed to go back to the fundamentals and make some real structural changes in terms of cleaning up the data and the way it was being accessed.

Getting into a discussion about what was working well, and what wasn’t, in terms of their processes and how the application was being used made it clear that it’s not simply about plugging in the latest analytics application.

Option 2: Change Your Business Process to Fit Your Technology

Addressing the symptoms of bad IT software will not fix the long-term issues.

You have to identify the root cause of IT issues. Oftentimes, the source of IT issues is a poorly designed business process that doesn’t align with your broader organizational strategy and goals.

Introducing new software won’t effectively address this root cause issue, and can result in higher costs and more technical debt. Instead, you must consider your organizational goals and the value you want to create.

It's the integration of the application with your business processes that matters which is why strategic IT planning puts business goals first.

Think about the long-term and then assess your underlying business processes related to your IT stack and broader goals as an association.

What do you want your organization to look like and how do you get there? What steps do you need to take? How can you best achieve this vision while accounting for cost- and time-efficiency?

For example, we had a client that wanted chatbot technology on their website. Instead of telling them, “Here are your software options, and here is the technology we recommend,” we asked, "Do you know what your strategy is? What is the purpose? What are your goals? If the goal is to increase customer service, let's think through all the ways you can do that first."

Instead of skipping ahead to the cool, fun, shiny new technology, you first need to ask yourself the right questions. Doing so will allow you to determine the best solution (whether it’s a process change or technology change) depending on your goal.

Asking the Right Questions

You must assess the utility of your systems in context of the value you’re trying to provide and the business questions that your staff and stakeholders want to have asked and answered through information technology.

From a CEO perspective, you've got to be able to have a conversation with your IT leadership about the core problems that you're trying to solve. Then you can ask the right related questions to get the most out of your technology. Questions like:

  • What are the bottlenecks hindering us from answering this business question or achieving this goal?
  • What are the key pieces of information that we need in order to make an informed decision about whether to keep or walk away from a product or service?
  • How are we getting this key piece of information?
  • How can we best translate the value that we're trying to create to different audiences via information technology?
  • How can we make employees more effective and efficient?
  • How can we better train our IT staff?
  • How can we enable customers and members to serve themselves?

It's not always about substituting one application for another. Every time you do that, there are human and structural components that have to be addressed.

Without seeing the big picture, you’re just patching up the holes in your software or hardware that will continue to become an issue.

Digital Transformation Isn’t About Technology

Digital transformation should be guided by your broader organizational strategy.

Digital transformation isn’t about technology. It’s about organizational change. It’s about culture change at the organizational and process level.

In order to transform digitally and move your organization forward, you as a leader have to go back to the fundamentals.

  • Define your organizational needs and strategy before you invest in anything or adapt your technology.
  • Think strategically about what your organizational goals should be, rather than “Here's the problem. Here's the IT solution.”
  • Adapt your IT strategy and business processes to your larger business strategy.
  • Consider what stakeholders envision to be the future of your organization and let that drive technology decisions.
  • Change the mindset of your IT team before you decide what digital tools to use and how to use them. What role do you want IT to play in moving the organizaiton forward?
  • Situate yourself so that you can really focus on your people and processes first.
  • Consider the intersections between your IT and your different end users and customer types (including your members, internal staff, and contractors).
  • Continue to look ahead and make necessary changes.

Takeaways

It’s high-level strategic thinking that will solve your IT problems, so consider your association’s goals and overall vision before doing anything else.

It’s not until you align your IT goals with your organizational goals that you’ll be able to achieve the vision of your organization and effectively align your people, processes, and technology behind that vision.

Start by having a conversation with stakeholders and list your goals for the next five years. Next, explain how IT will help meet each of those goals.

If you want to ensure you have the right people, processes, and technology in place, get in touch with us. We’ll help guide you through how to leverage IT to reach your goals.

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