Posted by David Scult

Looking at the rapidly evolving technology that surrounds us, we tend to assume that the way we do business is improving, too. Those iPads look so good, they must be making us more efficient, right?

In reality, the use of technology does not necessarily equal improved processes. To trulyDigital Strategy realize the benefits of our tech investments, we may have to rethink our strategies surrounding new tools or re-evaluate how we judge their effectiveness.

A recent Harvard Business Review blog post by Gartner Fellow Mark P. McDonald addressed this issue, explaining that an IT strategy is not the same as a digital strategy. McDonald explained that creating an advantage through technology goes beyond “merely replacing clipboards with iPads.” Instead, technology is most useful when it plays a part in redefining overall business strategies and enhancing existing processes rather than disrupting them.

“Today's hottest customer-facing solutions rely on pervasive digital connections in which the individual technologies…merge to deliver an experience that looks and feels an awful lot like our natural behavior,” McDonald wrote. “In other words, the more connections between people, places, information, and things (aka digital density), the more customers can interact with companies and each other in a seamless and satisfying way.”

He named three ways in which an effective digital strategy stands out. Such strategies complement existing systems rather than compete with them; they bridge digital and physical resources rather than disrupting the business; and they concentrate on specific business outcomes with a manageable focus. Instead of overriding existing processes or working in isolation from them, a digital strategy should enhance these core business functions.

Unified communications (UC) strikes me as the perfect example of a technology that can play this enhanced strategic role but is often deployed as simply a surface-level change. A recent Network Computing article by Michael Finneran offered a great look at the way UC tends to be undervalued from an ROI perspective. Many businesses don’t recognize the full benefit of UC because they see it mostly as just a package that brings voice, text and video together. They are too focused on the “unified” aspect. However, UC also provides a way to integrate those communication tools into existing work processes and actually enhance employee capabilities.

“The key to tapping the ROI potential of UC starts with examining core business processes, particularly those that hinge on internal and external communications, and then embedding UC capabilities into whatever application the user is working in,” Finneran wrote.

Businesses that recognize UC offers not just an update to their phone system but an opportunity to revisit how “work gets done”. Small business owners can and should experiment with these new technologies. As with any digital tool, the key is developing an integrated approach; however, we all need to learn from the consumerization of IT.  New technologies and “apps” have surfaced overnight and have impacted so much of our lives.