Technology Strategy during a ‘Structural Break’

Rick Bawcum, CEO – CIMATRI

Never let a crisis go to waste.” – Winston Churchill

In challenging times, we question the accepted reality because things have gone wrong and answers are needed quickly.

The effects of COVID-19 have been devastating to say the least. Discerning the significance of this event will be complicated. I think we are looking at a structural break with the past — the moment in time when trends and patterns dramatically and permanently shift.

Structural breaks often mean hard times. Adjustment is neither easy nor quick. Difficult and volatile conditions will wipe out some organizations – yet others will prosper because they recognize the structural shift and develop new patterns of behavior.

We have seen structural breaks in the past. The advent of electricity eliminated candles and coal oil as sources of light while new growth industries emerged on a platform of reliable and cheap energy. The Internet coming of age created new computing models while making the mainframe obsolete.

The first order of business during a structural break is survival, but the second order of business is to benefit from the new patterns. A structural break is the best time to be a strategist, for at the moment of change old sources of competitive advantage weaken and new sources appear.  This is the moment when upstart strategies can change the way we fulfill our mission.

A real strategy is neither a document nor a forecast but rather an overall approach to a specific challenge. The most important element of a strategy is to gain perspective about the forces at work in our environment.

The wrong way forward in a structural break during hard times is to try more of the same. The break and the hard times are sure indicators that an old pattern has been pushed to its limits and may be destroying value. Solutions may well be found outside business-as-usual decision-making processes.

For the association industry, the baffling complexity of our products and management systems is one source of negative returns. Our efforts to serve our members and the absence of a one-size-fits-all technology platform has led the industry to cobble together disparate systems and implement swivel chair integrations that kill productivity.

Members are consumers, and consumers are permanently breaking with the old ways of engagement. COVID-19 did not cause the break, but it does amplify the underlying risks that are present if we fail to act strategically.

Now is the time to review technology strategy as a function of the overall business model. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do we have a technology roadmap that provides a platform for growth?
  • What is our business continuity plan for the next disruption or structural break?
  • How can we simplify our business processes and systems to flatten the complexity curve?
  • Do we have the skills to be both strategic and operational?
  • How can we equip our changing workforce to be productive?
  • Are our vendors working to provide seamless integrations between our best-of-breed solutions?

The classic questions from an environmental scan regarding technology are even more important during a structural break:

  • What developments in technology may impact our business in the future?
  • Are there new technologies that can make our organization more efficient?

It is hard to fix systems when times are good, and demand is growing. In fact, the sheer volume and velocity of services often leads associations to ‘absorb’ the overhead of complex systems and technology. As with COVID-19, we find ourselves working to ‘flatten the curve’ of complex technologies hoping for a future cure-all.

The traditional moves during hard times are reduction of fixed costs, limiting scope and decreasing product variety. But in hard times accompanied by structural breaks, we must re-think the way that we develop technology strategy.

We are entering a period of neck-snapping change. Old patterns will disappear, new growth platforms will emerge, and technology, much like electricity can serve as the growth platform for the next evolution of the association industry.