How large companies can innovate with successful technology implementations

Is your company disruption-proof? This past year showed us that every industry and everything we thought we could take for granted about business operations could change at a moment’s notice. For companies that managed to survive and even come out stronger, one capacity stood out in common: the ability to quickly innovate and adapt through the use of technology.

In today’s fast-paced world, business disruptions are forcing companies big and small to rapidly change everything about how they operate, from working arrangements to product distribution. Suppliers, partners, regulations, market demands, target customers—all of these conditions can change overnight. Global socioeconomic events can alter the landscape in unforeseen and previously unimaginable ways. Companies need to be agile, adaptive, and resilient. 

Companies are increasingly solving these challenges, or are attempting to solve them, with technology. But as any leader of a large organization knows, it can be difficult to actually implement a new solution in an established enterprise. Smaller companies and startups don’t usually face the same internal hurdles that slow or impede technological innovation. So, how can large organizations successfully and quickly implement the technology solutions they need?

Large enterprises need to adopt a “startup” mentality to survive rapidly changing market conditions

When a major market event happens, whether globally or in a specific submarket or industry, it is a prime opportunity for a smaller startup to come in and disrupt the established competitors. Why? As a startup, they have the agility to react quickly to the changing conditions, whether that means establishing new supply chain models, marketing differently to consumers, or even changing their product. Large enterprises, on the other hand, typically have firmly established processes in place, including highly structured technology architecture and stringent security requirements.

As major disruptions occur with more frequency, however, large enterprises need to be able to take advantage of innovative technology and pivot quickly. To do so effectively, leaders and companies need to adopt a “startup” mentality to innovation, all the way to the team level. Without the ability to respond rapidly or innovate effectively, large enterprises will get left behind in times of upheaval.

What does the startup mentality mean, in the practical sense? To me, the guiding principle is the “minimum viable product”, in other words, what is the most basic thing you can do that receives traction and accomplishes the goal you set out to do? In the case of the enterprise architecture teams, this would be internal customers. Whether you are responsible for the actual product or solution that your company sells, or you are in HR trying to onboard remote workers, the same idea holds true. You need to understand what is at the core of your problem, and how technology can solve it. 

These key tenets can help you and your teams stay focused on the minimum viable product concept:

  • Figure out what the “customer” wants. Whether your customer is your actual customer or internal customer, you need to be sure it works for the end-user. I call it the pill vs vitamin question: make sure you are building a solution people actually want (the pill), not just any solution to a problem (the vitamin).
  • Do not overengineer. Especially early on, do not get caught up in extraneous features. Keep yourself, your team, and your company focused on the main intended use, making it simple instead of unnecessarily complex or inefficient. Focusing on the core will enable you to iterate on prototypes quicker, giving you more opportunities for feedback, and lead to the next tenet much quicker.
  • Fail fast, learn, and repeat. You need to get feedback throughout the process, at regular intervals. You do not want to figure out at the end, once everything is perfect and completely built out, that something is wrong or isn’t resonating. 

While these principles hold true for every kind of innovation, they are especially necessary for technology implementations. Historically, new technology implementations have been a struggle. Is this scenario familiar?

Leaders see that new technology—for example, a new AI-assisted call center solution—would benefit the organization and enable more successful work-from-home arrangements. They begin evaluating vendors, and after narrowing down to a couple, they bring in other teams. The security team vetoes one of them, sending the leaders back into the vendor list to search for another option. Once the technology finally gets chosen and implemented, usage ends up being subpar because it doesn’t fit with the actual call center employees’ workflows. These technology implementations are taking too long, aren’t fitting seamlessly with the users’ workflows, and end up being more of a hassle than a benefit. Leaders see the cost and none of the promised return, ending up frustrated and hesitant of major technology investments in the future.

If that sounds like your organization, don’t throw in the towel. There are solutions out there that work. That’s not the problem. The problem is in the implementations, the company culture, and the company structure. But there are companies out there doing this successfully. 

The problem: barriers between technology and the business hamper innovation

As companies grow, so do silos between functional groups—none more so, perhaps, than technology and business teams. IT is what other employees think of as the internal technology help desk to fix computer problems and set up their VPN. Beyond that, many employees probably don’t think of IT at all. To department leaders, IT may simply be the annoying, but necessary, “security checkpoint” when they evaluate technology vendors. But IT, and specifically enterprise architecture (EA) teams, can and should be a valuable asset that propels technological innovation, promoting best practices and helping other departments find and implement the best solutions. 

Companies that do this successfully have an EA department that fits more holistically into the organization, structurally and culturally. From the very top, leaders commit to a shared vision of digital innovation across the enterprise, unifying functional groups and IT. By breaking down the barriers between IT and the rest of the business, the necessary technical and functional expertise can be brought together to accelerate business and technology opportunities. Whether it is working with a vendor or building internally, collaboration can help the organization fail fast and build the necessary agility to survive any disruption. 

How to build IT and business collaboration

Every company is set up differently, and while it works best if the message comes from the very top, even team leaders can work to set the tone and culture of their teams to foster innovation and collaboration. Much can be solved by educating and building relationships between IT, EA, and operational departments. 

IT leaders should consider pairing technology teams with business employees. They can then build relationships and business knowledge, encouraging both sides to think about business context, challenges, and how technology could help. With business objectives understood and aligned to, better results will follow, especially in IT’s ability to advise and direct successful implementations.

For other function leaders, they should help their employees understand the digital vision and goals of the overall company. They can also help them develop the skills and knowledge needed to embrace and support the new technologies. Especially where automation or AI is involved, a clear message of human workforce value can make employees more comfortable. Ideally, every employee should be comfortable working closely with Enterprise Architecture to communicate and align their business needs across different sectors of the company. 

When businesses can break down the barriers between business and technology, they encourage and support collaborative innovation. This kind of innovation can enable them to meet rapidly changing market conditions, adapt business models and continue to grow while other companies struggle.

Additional resources

Igor Boshoer
Igor Boshoer
Cloud Architect, Enterprise Applications