Improve Your IT IQ

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The theme of the 2014 NSCA Business and Leadership Conference, to be held in Dallas, TX February 27-March 1, is “Improve your Business IQ, Develop Your Leadership, Secure your Future”. While many topics will be discussed ranging from sales, service, and compensation to recruiting and operations, the topic that still keeps me up at night is IT convergence. Is our business ahead or behind the curve? Do our customers and vendor partners see us as leaders or laggards? Are we still clinging hard to the past or embracing the future where technology and applications converge over the network and through common languages?

Today’s business leader needs to answer these questions on two fronts at the same time, customer-and internal-facing. At the end of the day we are all service companies that leverage technology to solve problems and create great customer experiences. We place our development emphasis on what we sell and are most concerned with advancing the IT IQ of our sales, design, and field staff because that’s the most obvious impact on our image and growth. Frankly, the customer-facing impact of IT should concern us. It’s a field full of landmines and great opportunity. It drives our revenue, gets our people excited, and wows our customers when we get it right.

But I can’t help but wonder if we are making a mistake when we approach IT IQ as another set of products and skill sets that have to be mastered, instead of treating it as a fundamental part of our business culture. Do we train, design, select, and implement IT converged solutions because that’s where the market is going and we don’t have a choice, or because it’s already the way we run our businesses and we can’t imagine another way? Do we express a curious nature, tend to be early adopters, and therefore could only install a solution that embraces the latest ideas that improve the customer experience?

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I’m often reminded that the millennial generation never knew a world without cell phones, wouldn’t know how to use a VCR, and has no idea why I would buy a CD or Blu-ray, much less keep my collection of cassettes and vinyl records. Their worldview is different from mine. Their curiosity about all things IT, and all things “apps” resembles the same passion my generation had in the ’70s, ’80s, and into the ’90s over the technologies we had at our fingertips.

If this new generation started a business today I bet it would look a lot different than ours. I bet they wouldn’t have a room full of servers with tons of air conditioning and backup power systems like we do. I bet they wouldn’t have desktops and laptops and pay for a complicated phone system like we do. If they had a business card, it would only have a cell phone number and an email address, no fax, no main number and no physical address. When they hire their sales force, they would give them a tablet and a “Square” credit card reader, no laptop, no printer. They wouldn’t need a desk to sit at and do paperwork, because there wouldn’t be any paperwork. Are you getting my point?

I think it’s time for business leaders to get excited about building a culture that values a high IT IQ. But we should start by evaluating our own business infrastructure and be willing to blow it up if necessary. Our businesses need to reflect what we want our customers to experience through our products and converged solutions. But, I’m afraid most of our businesses don’t. We should probably stop spending so much money on IT physical infrastructure, servers, software, and communications, and put more business capital into database, software, and applications designers. The future of technology is now. How intelligently are you building your own IT infrastructure?

Mike Bradley (mcbradley@safeguard.us) is the president of Safeguard Security and Communications in Scottsdale, AZ. Bradley has participated in sales and management in the low-voltage contracting industry for 32 years. He served for 11 years on the NSCA board of directors and is a frequent speaker on marketing and management topics at various industry events.

It’s Not Your Father’s Business

So why does it still look like it? Maybe one of the key questions to keep asking your staff in 2014 is, “If we were starting this business from scratch today, what would we do different and what would the business look like?”

I bet if you apply this question to your own technology and IT infrastructure, you might be surprised at the list of things you could do very differently today or in the near future that would revolutionize your business and how you go to market. Here is a short list of some of the business tools and infrastructure you might do differently today.

The Cloud: Do you need to own the servers and the network or could you leverage cloud computing and avoid having your own network engineer?

Software: Would you buy and install software for your business or would you pay as you go with products like Salesforce.com and Zoho. com?

Paper or Plastic?: Would you still print out and sign contracts and agreements or would you only use electronic forms and contracts with electronic signatures?

Phones: Would you need or buy a phone and complicated voicemail system?

Cell Phones: Would you provide cell phones with all the management that entails or would you adopt a BYOD policy and provide an allowance?

Hardware Support: Would you buy a lot of IT hardware and hire desktop and hardware support staff or use the internet and the cloud so you can hire software and app developers?

Consider not only how to leverage innovative IT technology for your customers, but also for your own business. By the way, if you do, you might attract some of those bright young minds that are going to work for the other guys who already figured this out.

—M.B.

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