How to Build Your Innovative SMB Technology Team
Published by Linda Rolf on 1/16/2018 and updated 9/9/2021
There was a time not so long ago that technology and the IT teams that kept it all together were excluded from strategic planning discussions. Decisions that would ultimately rely on their successful technology execution were often made in the absence of any technical expertise and context.
Technology teams were handed specific results they were expected to deliver. There was no "why" to connect the "what". That missing link often led to poorly selected tools and technologies --- the "how" --- because of incomplete information and the rush to meet unrealistic deadlines.
The disappointing outcomes were predictable.
. . .
One Client's Aha Moment
Picture a typical management team huddled behind closed doors.
"Where are we on the project? Does the development team have its assignments?" It was decided that the client's development team was behind on a key task.
The group immediately leapt into problem-solving mode. "What is Dennis working on? What help do we think Karen needs to meet the due date?" This futile speculation swirled around the room until one out of patience manager leaned forward and quietly said "Why don't we just bring Dennis and Karen in here and ask them?"
And then an interesting thing happened.
Karen and Dennis had never been invited into the inner sanctum to share input. When they recovered from their initial shock, they quickly provided an accurate status, clarified points the development team was missing, and reassured everyone that the project would move ahead as expected.
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Why We Need to Think About Technology Differently
Today, forward-thinking companies of all sizes recognize the value of the right technology expertise actively participating in strategic discussions. Where technology was once viewed as an isolated "thing", it has now evolved to be a valued business asset that directly contributes to company growth.
Technology has earned a seat at the table.
There are two significant business shifts that have changed the way every company thinks about technology.
First, our relationship with our customers and clients. Marketing automation technologies, the demand for real-time customer engagement, and continuous customer experience analytics are here to stay. There is a deep reliance on sound technology to deliver the insights a successful company needs to remain relevant.
Second, companies are no longer walled gardens. We are always connected, listening, gathering data, and being quietly tracked. It's hardly surprising to any company leader that the risks for an attempted or active breach have never been greater.
The IT teams we have relied on in the past to maintain a high-performing network now need new skillsets. These cybersecurity teammates bring an entirely new vocabulary, knowledge, and essential contribution to the company.
Regardless of your organization's size, both strategic and hands-on technical expertise is essential for your company's growth. These roles and attributes are equally relevant in both the large C-suite team organization and the resource-stretched two-person company.
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What Is the New Technology Leadership Mindset?
Here's the important point to remember. Every company needs technology leadership expertise.
1. Strategic Contributor and Innovation Leader
Your technologist is included in every meeting with every business unit from the beginning. She has a proven track record of technology-led business successes acquired over a number of years, preferably in different organizations. Listen, ask relevant strategic questions and gather information with an open mind
His role in each meeting is to:
Develop an understanding of how each initiative aligns with the overall company goals
Clearly understand each business unit's objective
Capture high-level technology requirements that align with the specific business unit's goals
Every company is under tremendous pressure to compete. The pace can feel overwhelming. A well-planned roadmap is the key to moving forward, and technology is the foundational tool that supports every step forward.
As companies mature, the long timer's mindset can naturally creep in. What worked successfully in the past becomes the benchmark by which every initiative is measured. The experienced CIO will connect the dots between proven products and services and the market changes that influence what happens next.
2. Strategic Thinker First, Then a Technologist
Technology people are usually quick to leap to "how" and all of the associated implementation obstacles they will need to overcome. After all, they're problem solvers who relish the next big challenge.
It's not time to bring in the technical doers yet. They will quickly derail the discussion and frustrate everyone in the room. Momentum gone.
The technology strategist is someone who can maintain her holistic focus on the company's long-term goals. Because she is an active participant in every planning session, she can spot solution overlaps, connections, and potential opportunities across the entire organization.
It's not unusual for someone in a business unit to bring a technical solution to the group. Regardless of the reasoning behind it, this solution-first approach is often detrimental. Because "we already know how to do it", the all-important discovery discussions never happen.
Your CIO can shape a collaborative, innovative mindset that will bring the group back to the all-important problem clarity discussions first.
The technology leader will ultimately translate those big goals into actionable technical requirements for the problem solvers.
3. Assess the Existing Technology Framework
If you don't know what technology assets you have now, it makes absolutely no sense to keep bouncing on the let's-buy-that-software trampoline. And yet it happens to smart companies every day. Why?
A lot of reasons---
Everyone wants to try the shiny new thing.
Your competitor is using it / not using it so this must be the right thing to do.
The absence of an experienced technology strategist opens the door for the self-anointed tech expert. He or she "likes technology" but seldom has the solid expertise to think strategically. This is a position you need to get rid of as quickly as possible.
It's natural for every business unit (even if it's just one person) to choose the tools that work best at any given time. What worked once isn't a strategy. That's a one-time quick solution.
Regardless of how you have arrived at this place, there is an easy solution.
A savvy technology leader is going to ask every business unit these fundamental questions early in the planning process:
What tools / applications / software do you use?
Why do you use them?
Who uses them?
What do they do?
How long have you used them?
Did the company buy them or build them in-house?
Are these installed on local desktops and/or mobile devices?
Are these managed by an internal server, an external company server or a SaaS third-party solution
What would you like to change about them if you could?
What do you like about them?
What tools do you need that you don't have?
The list goes on, but the point is obvious.
The speed at which technology adoption needs to happen for a nimble company to remain competitive has compounded this situation.
Conducting a thorough technology inventory delivers some immediate actionable benefits including:
Identifies technology overlaps among business units. This creates opportunities to consolidate and streamline.
Reveals potential solutions to strategic goal items using existing assets, eliminating additional financial investments
Uncovers potential security risks that need to be addressed in your strategic plan
Identifies additional data analytics sources to support and enhance customer experience initiatives
Creates a technology roadmap that connects and aligns strategic goals with existing technology investments
Pinpoints priorities in new technology acquisition
Guides future technology adoption practices
4. New Marketing and Technology Collaboration
Agile marketing teams
regardless of size must rely more and more heavily on technology to support, drive and measure the effectiveness of their initiatives. This growing dependence is creating a shift in the IT and marketing relationships.
IT is learning that it needs to adopt a think like the external customers mindset.
Technology teams have newfound opportunities to contribute to customer experience project results through data retrieval and technology integrations. With access to data across the organization, your technology team has the unique ability to identify and implement tools that deliver meaningful analysis and reporting.
Marketing must develop a level of comfort and competence with both marketing automation frameworks and software applications.
Your technology team can fill this skills gap while also fostering knowledge growth. Given the rapid pace that technology is being woven into the customer journey, it's not surprising that this technical depth doesn't exist in many marketing teams.
5. Communicates Security Throughout the Company
Safeguarding your company's and your clients' valuable data is the responsibility of everyone. The success of your security success starts with the leader who can explain, educate, and enthusiastically create committed employees.
One of the key roles your CIO will fill is building your essential network security team. Companies have traditionally relied on an internal IT staff for day-to-day support. If you are an SMB, you might outsource some or all of your IT to a managed services provider (MSP). These team members are all valuable, but they are lacking in the new deep security skills your company must have.
Your CIO will have deep knowledge about today's cyber risks and can add the right new team members to your existing IT team. Because cybersecurity skills are in high demand and expensive, SMBs are wise to develop an outsourced partnership.
6. Collaborative Company Go-To Resource
Effective technology leaders are curious learners. Their continuous exploration enables them to connect seemingly random requirements into "how about this instead of that" solutions. They just see things in ways that most people don't.
This objective strategic perspective will naturally encourage employees to gravitate to your leader. Learners love to share and inspire others to discover the same excitement. Technology is no longer the "thing" to be feared, maligned or tolerated. It becomes the unifying toolset across the organization.
. . .
1. The successful technology team starts with the right leadership.
2. Every company regardless of size needs an experienced strategic technology leader.
3. Technology leaders are curious learners. They are not comfortable doers.
4. Including the strategic technology leader in every business planning session contributes to a unified growth model.
5. Technology and marketing teams are becoming more collaboratively connected to serve and support the entire organization.
6. As we have seen from the new demand for cybersecurity skills, technology leadership requires the continuous awareness for what comes next.
Tags: Technology Strategy
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is a lifelong curious learner. She is fueled by discovering the unexpected connections among technology, data, information, people and process. For more than four decades, Linda and Quest Technology Group have been their clients' trusted advisor and strategic partner. They actively contribute to each client's success through mutual collaboration, thoughtful business analysis, enterprise software development, technology integration, database design and management, opportunity discovery, business growth strategy, and marketing initiatives.
They believe that lasting value and trust are created through continuously listening, sharing knowledge freely and delivering more than their clients even know they need. As the CIO of their first startup client said, "The value that Quest brings to Cotton States is far greater than the software they develop."