Anyone resistant to the idea that technology is a tool for transformational change should take a good look at the explosion in social media. While it took 38 years for radio to achieve 50 million users and 13 years for TV, Facebook reached more than 500 million in six years. Twitter has ramped up 190 million subscribers in four.
These staggering statistics highlight how the world is undergoing extraordinary change that business leaders should take notice of as they struggle to survive and thrive. Many business leaders still talk about these technologies as if they are for a younger generation and therefore less relevant. In fact, the average Facebook user is 35 years old and the average age of a Twitter subscriber is 39.
We are going through a transformation that affects everyone, including businesses. People are consuming three or four different media simultaneously and communicating on multiple levels. It makes sense for businesses to bring employees into the office and give them access to tools that they use at home on a daily basis. Rather than hamper them with a disconnected workplace, we should be empowering them.
The goal is to leverage these new levels of connectivity in the work environment and apply them to core business processes to deliver success. Companies need to ask themselves how they can help better serve customers and do things differently. They must overcome traditional barriers that kill IT projects stone dead. They have to get away from a culture of legacy systems and security fears that are frequently used as an excuse for doing little or nothing.
The problem is the way we have all constructed our organisations – they are not designed for efficient communications. It is reminiscent of the Tower of Babel, where God cursed the people who were building it by making them speak different languages.
When communication stopped, so did the construction. Too many organisations have a technology Tower of Babel: business process, infrastructure, network and application people all speaking a different language to their customers.
This confusion is slowing organisations down in a period of unprecedented change. For some, it could be catastrophic. Established firms will increasingly face competition from new entrants who won't have any problem with technology. They will buy it all as a service that is firmly focused on helping the business better serve its customers.
Business leaders who stick with what they have risk being disadvantaged and left behind. However, the problem they face is that they are besieged by vendors talking about the cloud as the solution.
Cloud computing is certainly part of the solution, but to solely focus on this is to miss the point. It is about how your business interacts with its customers and its employees. It is about how your business survives and thrives in a fast-paced world where your customers often know more about your organisation than you do.
At BT we believe there is great power in just doing something, even if it’s small. You don’t have to embark on a five-year project; you can move forward slowly and steadily, improving the way you run your business in tiny bite-size chunks. You can dip your toe in the water; you can learn about the cloud rather than get lost in it.
While many multinationals and export-led organisations are already on this journey, I am concerned about the indigenous Irish companies that have focused on nothing else but survival. They are not thinking about strategy; they are certainly not thinking about social networking. They are just thinking about how to stay alive. While it is understandable, it’s an approach that becomes detrimental if it carries on for too long.
We now live in a massively connected world where geographic boundaries are no longer an issue. Irish businesses need to look to the future and make sure they are part of the new world, and not left behind in the old.
Colm O'Neill is managing director of business at BT Ireland.
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