Top vs. Bottom Performers: What Role Does Technology Play?

by Michael Cocanower

Our IT firm was curious about the role technology strategies play in separating exceptionally successful firms from those that are stagnant in growth. We reviewed the business practices for dozens of local small and mid-sized businesses ranging from 20 to 500 employees, and we took an in-depth look at everything from mitigating risk and developing IT standards to budgeting, auditing, and maximizing ROI on technology investments. We also examined back-up versus disaster recovery, measuring SLAs (service level agreements), educating employees and the need to implement real-time monitoring of all technology — not just computers.

Our research revealed that, too often, small and medium-sized businesses either lack the understanding of critical strategies they should be implementing or they neglect to invest time and resources to improving their business.

One of the distinct differences between top and bottom performers is their maintenance of a defined and written standard of technology in the organization. Top-performing organizations have a relentless adherence to standards. Even in bottom-performing organizations that attempt to establish a standard, the strategy fails because they never revisit those standards once they have achieved compliance. Bottom performers often choose technology based on current trends or the lowest price. In contrast, top performers begin by adopting detailed standards for their technology, and make decisions based on compliance with those standards.

Not surprisingly, we found that top performers took the time to devise an information technology strategic plan to define the specific objectives to drive the business forward using technology. This comprehensive plan helps in decision-making, prioritizing technology and implementation. Top-performing SMBs strategize as a whole at least once a year. Just like a budget must be created, the vision and objectives of the strategic plan for technology must be reevaluated and refreshed every year. Top performers also have specific strategies as they relate to the annual plan. Having a plan and successfully executing it will ensure that the organization stays focused on the bigger picture.

Top performers are adept at utilizing every known and discoverable feature of the technologies they invest in. They use these features to increase efficiencies and drive the business, creating a better ROI on their investment. For example, a bottom performer may invest in the same product or technology as a top performer, but 80 or 90 percent of the technology feature set will be utilized by the top performer, while a bottom performer may only use 10 or 20 percent. Top performers make it their business to know everything about the tool, product or software they are using to capitalize on their investment in every way. For top performers, the ultimate goal is to get the most out of what they own or invest in to have greater rewards.

Bottom-performing organizations consistently have untapped potential in their existing technological environment that needs to be “turned on” or enabled. No additional investment is required to take advantage of existing features; the team is just uninformed in the areas of what their investment could do, and the potential impact of learning about that investment and how it could help drive business results.

Michael Cocanower, founder and president of Phoenix-based itSynergy, created Ten Technology Strategies That Separate Top and Bottom Performers in the SMB Space as a free resource for businesspeople.

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