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Survey Shows More Than Half of CEOs Are Spending More on Technology in 2019. Here’s How to Spend Wisely

According to a recent survey of 1,267 CEOs, technology is the number-one area of investment for small and midsize businesses. The survey, conducted by my team at Vistage, also showed that 61 percent of CEOs planned to increase their technology spending in 2019.

Their top reasons were:

If CEOs recognize that technology can deliver a competitive advantage, why aren’t more of them getting this result? It could be because they haven’t developed a digital-first technology strategy. Indeed, 49 percent of survey respondents said they don’t have one. For the 51 percent that do, it could be because they’re unsure of how to leverage that technology to truly transform their businesses.

Wherever you stand, here are three steps from our latest research on how to kickstart your company’s digital transformation.

Step 1: Re-imagine analog processes.

Digital transformation doesn’t just happen when you buy technology. It happens when you stop using analogue, human-optimized workflows and start designing new workflows around what technology can do. This is about having a digital-first mindset.

Try to work on this redesign in small work groups, where processes can be built as much around people as around workflow. With this shift, you’ll become more efficient and generate data that improves your analysis and decision-making.

Re-imagine interactions with your customers to create better customer experiences and reinforce your brand strengths. Automate mundane tasks or repetitive processes to improve the accuracy of your operations while freeing up employees to create, connect and collaborate with each other.

Step 2: Revisit who manages technology.

The process of selecting, integrating and implementing technology is challenging. Nearly half of CEOs (47 percent) rely on external or third-party IT contractors or consultants to support the multitude of decisions that they face. All of your applications and systems — from CRM (customer relationship management) to ERP (enterprise resource planning) to billing — must be seamlessly integrated so they can provide a single view of your people, customers, operations and finances.

But many businesses struggle to adapt how they have done things to how they will do things. Transitioning to any technology with the intent of automating manual processes is like “paving the goat path,” so to speak; it creates illogical paths instead of thoughtful plans.

Unforeseen challenges, driven by unrealistic deployment dates and underestimated integration complexities, will make the best of projects lag and add cost. The absence of dedicated IT staff in many small and midsize businesses further complicates integration, often resulting in sub-optimal implementations, high levels of user frustration and negative customer experiences.

Step 3: Implement a change-management strategy.

People instinctively resist change, especially when it might threaten or expose how they work. Your employees may struggle to adapt to changes within workflow systems and the introduction to new data, both of which require new ways of thinking.

The best way to avoid this problem is by having a strong change-management strategy, guided by these eight tenets:

  1. Seek alignment among senior executives. This will help coordinate communications about changes so that employees can understand and embrace the new system.
  2. Set clear standards and expectations. Defining expectations at the outset ensures that everyone feels informed and accountable from day one.
  3. Outline milestones and metrics. Create a roadmap with clearly defined dates, utilization assessments and business metrics.
  4. Develop a buy-in strategy. This will encourage cultural leaders and key stakeholders to become ambassadors for the broader organization.
  5. Establish a marketing-communications strategy. Each phase of the project should have an overarching message of strategic value.
  6. Train your employees. Provide professional development for every employee to advance their skills and competencies. Share best practices as new learnings emerge.
  7. Reach for quick wins. Establish a sense of momentum by achieving quick wins, making them visible and sharing progress continually towards the final goal.
  8. Recognize key employees. Recognizing employees throughout the journey will reinforce desired behaviors and help unlock broader buy-in beyond management.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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