Without the right technology in place, ambitious growth cannot be realised. In a world where business differentiation requires personalisation, careful consideration of UX (user experience) and business responsiveness, growth is inextricably linked with technology.
Think about the conversations taking place in your business around new markets, products, and services. How does technological capability feature? Are the right people in the room when those conversations are being had? Here, we explore how and why technology and business growth should always be considered side-by-side.
Deciding strategy: who should be in the room?
When innovative ideas and strategies for growth are being discussed, it’s important to make sure that the right people are in the room (or Zoom). Having a good mix of expertise from across the senior team is key. It will ensure that operational and technical practicalities can be considered alongside blue-sky growth plans.
It’s also essential to make sure that there is board and executive support for the budget. Even if you only have a ballpark figure to begin with, make sure it’s stated. Understanding and addressing the difference between capex (capital expenditure) and opex (operational expenditure) for example, in terms of a new project or strategy, is essential. Transformative growth strategies will have an impact on both. The value of pursuing a new product or service and investing in the technology needed to support it should be evaluated. Consider the positive impact on operational processes and costs, and in terms of longer-term business value.
It’s why we’ve recommended previously investing in technology that can grow with your business. Investment needs to consider the here and now as well as the potential to support the realisation of future, and as-of-yet undefined, projects and goals. As Henry Cohen, Interim CTO at Aptem, advised during a recent webinar, “the only way to make technology change successful is to embed it in a business change.”
Technology as a vehicle for growth
When a business sets ambitious growth targets, it typically looks at growing its existing customer-base or expanding into new markets. Both options, or a combination of the two, have implications for your IT or technology strategy. This should be considered from the outset, in tandem with wider corporate development.
Some would go so far as to say that a discrete technology strategy is superfluous when a business considers technology requirements and management as a fully integrated part of its business planning.
Either way, bringing IT teams into the conversation too late can cause significant challenges further down the line. Those with expert knowledge of IT systems, implementation and end-user needs will undoubtedly add value to the strategic planning early on through challenge and advice:
- What new service offerings is the business planning? Were our existing systems built to deliver those? Are there components of our current technology that are underutilised, or should we look now for new technologies to see us through the next 3-5 years?
- Are we looking to increase revenue from our existing services, in which case is there a role for technology to drive efficiencies and cost-savings? How are our customers’ expectations changing? Where does our technological capability risk derailing customer satisfaction and repeat business?
- What’s on the horizon for the business? Which areas are we likely to be focusing on in 3-5 years? What far-off growth plans might we want to be considering now from a technology perspective?
Don’t overestimate customer loyalty. People will defer if a competitor is offering a better experience than you are. In an industry such as apprenticeships, where interaction with your service delivery platform can run into years, this is especially important.
Keeping one eye on your own employees
One common challenge from strategically-focused tech teams is the impact of growth on employees and other key stakeholders. How can technology better support all those who use your IT platforms internally, and all those third parties who interact with your systems?
Outdated technology causes employee frustration and significantly reduces efficiency. According to Information-Age, “Companies risk losing opportunities, profits and even their employees. Over half of workers surveyed (53%) said that they would be more productive, and nearly one in seven (14%) admitted that they would stop looking for another job if their office had better technology.”
Internally, and from a change management perspective, those early conversations about technology and the role it plays in the success of your company can be transformational in terms of bringing people on the journey with you.
Questions to ask when procuring a technology provider
None of this is to say businesses should jump on every technological bandwagon. If you are considering investing in new technology, you should do sufficient due diligence. You need to be confident that it will deliver against existing goals and future plans. There are also other critical considerations to make:
- How is the company you’re considering buying from, or partnering with, incorporating development into their product? What does their product development team look like? Can you be confident that the investment will last?
- Does the system you are looking at have a proven track record in delivering a solution to changing industry needs? In the example of EdTech in our sector, this might be use cases of customers who have successfully diversified their apprenticeships business into AEB, or grown their products from intermediate apprenticeships to degree apprenticeship offerings, using a system that works for multiple programme types.
- Are there sufficient support structures in place for you to feed in and determine a roadmap? Successful partnerships involve collaboration. What better way for you to get what you need than to be working alongside your tech provider? Share your strategic goals, challenges and successes to help develop a product that is perfect for you.
- In a similar vein, it’s incredibly important to trust your provider as your industry representative. Are there SMEs within the tech company constantly looking at the marketplace and anticipating changes you are likely to need, so that you are aligned in your goals? In the same way that you would expect a leading platform such as Salesforce to have sales experts staying close to customers and driving the product roadmap, so you should expect your EdTech provider to have a deep understanding of your sector.
- What level of support will you receive as you look to the provider to help your technology grow with your business? It’s all very well to have new functionality released. But, you need a partner that will help you and your team to apply it, use it and benefit from it.
- Security should also be a factor here. Maintaining old technological systems may leave the business open to security risks. Newer tech will incorporate more sophisticated and up-to-date capabilities to protect your business and your customers.
- Similarly, regulation is ever evolving – especially in our industry. Newer technology will support proper compliance, doing the thinking for you so you can focus on growing your business.
It’s natural that as businesses grow, some find themselves with multiple systems that have been brought in to meet an immediate business requirement. A number of Aptem customers in the skills and employability industries have moved away from proprietary systems that, while nicely tailored to their business (and often a labour of love), are proving costly to maintain, develop and integrate with other new technologies. The times they are a-changin’ was never a more relevant mantra. It’s often a relief for growing businesses to shift responsibility on future-proofing their tech platforms.
“Our student record system has proven to be very, very challenging over the years with any updates or modifications requiring additional consultancy. With Aptem, we can fly solo. It’s very intuitive.” Terry Hodgetts, Director of Corporate Client Solutions at Aston University
Ultimately, technology is linked to business reputation. There are plenty of examples of organisations investing in an ineffective product with detrimental impact to their reputation. The UK government’s Test and Trace system, for example, has been lambasted for failing to deliver on its promises and for the huge costs it incurred: a total of £37 billion. In March last year Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said: “despite the unimaginable resources thrown at this project, Test and Trace cannot point to a measurable difference to the progress of the pandemic, and the promise on which this huge expense was justified – avoiding another lockdown – has been broken, twice.”
To go back to who should be in the room, growth strategy discussions need to involve senior team members with the expertise to determine feasibility, as well as agree business goals and budget.
Take the degree apprenticeships sector. Reputationally, Ofsted ratings are more important than ever, and HE institutions need technology that will support good outcomes. Platforms such as Aptem are an extension of their organisation, so must be intuitive and easy to use if they are to avoid reflecting poorly on them.
To talk to Aptem about your growth plans and how your system requirements may change over the coming months and years, please do get in touch.
“We were impressed by the functionality that Aptem offered, as well as the robust plans for future development and its potential as a system that could grow with our organisation.” Natalie Hare, Head of Operations, Haddon Training