It is clear that the term "smart" has entered the business vocabulary, but it is mainly being used by the technology and vendor community and is not necessarily well understood by businesses and their leaders, writes Peter Siggins, smart expert, PA Consulting.
That is why, earlier this year, PA Consulting Group commissioned a survey to find out what the businesses we serve really knew about smart.
The survey confirmed that the level of understanding and curiosity about smart technology was relatively low. We found that data and information is perceived to be an under-utilised asset and that smart had not yet become a boardroom issue. It was also clear that developments in smart technologies such as social media, cloud and mobile had moved well ahead of the ability of organisations to take full advantage of them.
From a technology perspective there is nothing here that is "bleeding edge". There is not a lot new in smart technology, it simply enables businesses to combine information and data within and outside the enterprise in ways that create new sources of value.
The big concern is how you get to that point. Dealing with the legacy of how data and information is currently managed adds complexity and effort. Equally, there is a perception that return on investment will be slow, so smart projects tend to be among the first to be cut.
A further challenge is getting the board to see or consider the opportunities offered by smart technologies. Reading between the lines of the survey suggests this is the classic problem of getting the business to recognise the benefits and value of smart, rather than seeing it simply as a technology project.
There are three key lessons for business leaders. The first is that they must make the move towards a smarter organisation a corporate priority. The most senior executives need to champion innovative thinking and align their approach. The PA survey highlights a lack of consensus among members of the senior team about the key challenges and how to address them. For example, only 16% of chief operating officers believed new technologies were having a significant impact, compared with 52% for chief information officers.
Second, organisations need to create the conditions that allow data and information to be readily shared, analysed and combined in innovative ways across the enterprise. The survey shows more than a third of businesses struggle to work together to facilitate cross-company information intelligence, with middle management resisting the change. Corporations that experience or recognise this situation should consider forming enterprise-wide initiatives focused on taking advantage of smart technology.
Third, businesses need to support their people to become smarter. Just 11% of the organisations surveyed were focusing on training and developing staff to adopt smart technology. But it is people who use smart technologies, people who communicate the benefits (as customers and employees) and people who can stop companies accessing the main benefit of smart initiatives - information.
The companies that take on board these three lessons will be able to position themselves to take advantage of smart technologies and secure the value they offer.
Peter Siggins is an expert in smart technology at PA Consulting Group.
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