What are the business benefits of information technology? How can tech transform a business? What’s out there, and what are the real-world examples?
If I asked an owner what are the business benefits of information technology, what would they say? They might say better efficiency. Others might struggle to see the practical benefits beyond email and spreadsheets. In this second part of a two-part series, I wanted to provide real examples to help owners see the potential for their business. This series looks at six topics using real-world examples. In part-one “How can information technology help a business?” I looked at decision making, transaction systems and reporting. Part-two covers team work, the internet of things and real-time data.
I’ve seen first-hand and in many different situations how tech can propel a business. When used well, it transforms the business in stark contrast to muddling through. In my career of over thirty years, I’ve been fortunate to use tech to help businesses accelerate, scale and beat the competition. In most cases, tech has not been a bolt on, rather it’s been part of a bigger plan to make a big leap forward. That takes a bit to get your head round, and so examples can make it easier to think about future possibilities.
Using tech in a business isn’t always easy, it takes effort and determination. Taming tech requires an understanding of the business need and how technology can help. Even tried and tested solutions such as enterprise resource planning can fail without the right support. Tech rarely sits on its own. The business benefits of using information technology come through planned change. Changing outcomes, the way people work, processes and mindset.
Many struggle with getting the best of out of technology. Our guide, Business Technology: Essential Guide to Best Use, will help you create a robust process to ensure your new tech achieves your aims.
Teams work well when tasks are organised, and people can work together to solve problems. There are many different tools to help team work, so I found it difficult to pick just two examples. After all, shared information is one of the business benefits of IT. Having business data in a central store makes it easier to share information with the whole team. Teams not supported by good systems can spend longer finding information or in meetings. Paper or manual systems, email or spreadsheets work up to a point and then rapidly become less effective. In other words, these alternatives don’t scale.
The problem with email is you’re either in on the email or not, so the result is too many emails! With hundreds of emails, people can feel overwhelmed and tasks can fall between the gaps. When you think about an email system, it’s designed for an individual. Some people are more organised than others and may use folders or flags to help them manage their work. Others may not be organised and risk spending time searching or missing work completely. People spend time figuring out what’s important, organising their emails, and finding information before they even start work.
Teams exist to get things done. Project management systems help the team visually see tasks and focus on the job in hand. Many such tools support agile, for example with a Kanban board. Incomplete tasks appear as cards on the left, complete on the right, and different stages in between. For example, not started, in progress, check and complete. Nothing gets lost, missed or delayed. You can use this approach for any pipeline of work. When a team member completes a piece of work, they can pick the next in the list. There’s no delay, distraction or figuring out priorities. As each team member drags their own task to the next stage, the board is always up to date. The team can monitor progress visually and solve problems to keep everything moving.
For the second example, the team is greater than the sum of its parts. Communication hub systems help the team to tune into what’s important to them, discuss ideas and solve problems around specific topics, also called channels. These work in a similar way to social media with messages and replies, also called threads. People can include links, documents and videos. Some systems allow for planning meetings and video. The team members can decide what type of notifications they get so its relevant to them and the way they want to work. For example, you can set up a team around a business goal and create topics for different objectives. You can get better results through focused discussions. The team can feel more involved, and feel they are making a real difference. The discussions are organised and easy to share, so nothings lost, and no time wasted searching!
Internet of things
Another area of business benefits of information technology comes from the internet of things (IoT), reducing the cost of mobile sensors. Before IoT, tracking field equipment, trailers or cargo would require a significant investment. Now cheap sensors allow the collection of real-time data. That could be for better use of assets. It might also gather information about issues for proactive planning.
In a second example, Norway loses over thirty percent of water due to water leaks. Part of the problem is that they maintain high water pressure in case there’s a high demand to deal with a fire. High pressure and old failing pipes increase the risk of leaks. Norway detect water leaks much earlier using IoT pressure sensors and machine learning to spot problems.
Another example is how IoT is saving palm trees. Smart sensors provide an early warning of an attack by the Red Palm Weevil. Larvae invisibly tunnel into the heart of the tree. When leaves visibly wilt and turn yellow, it’s too late to save the tree. Low cost, low-energy sensors detect minute vibrations caused by the larvae. This helps farmers use pesticides more effectively and reduce the cost of replacing trees.
When I started my career, I worked as an analyst programmer in the city on trading systems. Back in the day, banks wanted to know how much they had of any currency at any point during the day. Ideally, they wanted to be “square” at the end of each trading day, meaning they had sold all the currency they had bought. This avoided the risk of losing money caused by changes in exchange rate. On the surface, a simple problem until you realise how many dealers and the speed they buy and sell currencies! The system I worked on recorded every currency transaction, so dealers could instantly see if they had too much or too little of each currency.
There are three points here. Firstly, computers are good at counting, it might be inventory, bookings, resources, leads, conversions etc.. Secondly with multiple people working quickly, computers can track what’s important in real-time. Thirdly this was in the late eighties and today this tried and tested capability is accessible to every small business.
In this blog series we’ve looked at examples of the business benefits of information technology. These examples scratch the surface of the possible ways’ information technology can improve business. There are no limits to the benefits, just as there are no limits to imagination and problem solving. I hope these blogs have been food for thought.
If you’d like to explore the ideas in this article further or need help and advice, please contact Rogan at firstname.lastname@example.org – to arrange an informal chat.
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