IT as a Strategic Differentiator


By Bill Miller, Chief Information Officer, EMS USA, Inc

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As of 2016, it would not be noteworthy to say that IT can help drive business.  It is assumed that IT is required for most business processes to function properly.  In many organizations, the legacy platforms that enable business processes are considered more like utilities, which allow the company to accomplish common goals, such as transaction processing, reporting, or communications.  As a result, IT is seen as a very basic enabler of business functions, and one that should make those functions run more efficiently.


However, there is a much more impactful view that CIOs should be bringing to the boardroom, and it most certainly does not conclude that IT is simply an enabler.  The view today must be that IT is a strategic weapon for your business, and one that should be used to differentiate your business against competitors.


What does that mean?

Next generation IT will be a deciding factor in which companies prosper and which ones do not.  While all of us are familiar with tech giants and how they deploy technology to drive value, the majority of enterprises remain focused on tactical, utility-like platforms, which are frequently similar to what everyone else is using in their space.


In order to break the paradigm, CIOs should be thinking way outside of the box, and have the ability to see opportunities to deploy technology to dramatically alter the competitive environment.


For example, EMS is an oilfield services company.  Many of the legacy processes here are truly manual, including hand-written time entry tickets.  Incredibly, as we started benchmarking our process with others in the industry, we found that many, if not most, companies process time entry tickets virtually the same way that we do, which is manual.


This presented us with an incredible opportunity – by deploying mobile-enabled time entry, we could truly change not just the process, but provide EMS with a series of enormous differentiators against competitors.  These included:


  • Providing customers to see real-time information about their projects through field-level time entry and a secure customer portal;
  • Reducing duplicative costs for data entry; real-time view for project managers to see and understand project costs; and
  • Providing the ability to ultimately deploy follow-on mobile applications for areas such as dynamic business intelligence, and even mobile CRM to collect sales opportunities identified in the field.


Instead of using IT as a traditional business process enabler, we were able to identify an opportunity to deploy a game-changing tool which would truly alter the competitive landscape.


How do we make this happen, and take IT to the next level?

Of course, Information Technology MUST be able to provide efficient business processing and reporting.  Without that ability, you will never have the opportunity to get to the next level.


Once that level of basic functionality is achieved, CIOs and IT leaders need to develop a highly-compelling IT vision, one that inspires other business leaders to support it.  That vision needs to include the tools and capabilities necessary to create a new dynamic for IT as a strategic differentiator.  These solutions need to be able to truly drive performance and bring value to the bottom line, not just make transaction processing go smoothly.  In short, instead of IT supporting the business, it needs to become an integral part of the business, rather than separate supporting entity.



As we all know, IT is critical to enabling core business processes.   Without proper IT tools, business process enablement is not possible.  However, once IT has automated basic business processes and reporting, CIOs and IT visionaries need to find the solutions that will drive their companies to the next level of performance.  This is the difference between IT as a utility, and IT as a strategic weapon.  Those leaders that can provide a compelling IT vision, sell business leaders and board members on that vision, and then deploy strategies and tools to support it, will undoubtedly be extremely well-served in the years ahead.