The Art of Fusing Technology and Business for Growth
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Episode 33 Transcript:
Chris Curran: Growth Igniters Radio episode 33: The Art Of Fusing Technology and Business for Growth.
This episode is brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated, enabling successful leaders and companies to accelerate to their next level of growth, on the web at www.businessadvance.com. And now, here’s Pam and Scott.
Pam Harper: Thanks, Chris. I’m Pam Harper, Founding Partner and CEO of Business Advancement Incorporated. And here with me is my business partner and husband, Scott Harper. Hi, Scott.
Scott Harper: Good morning, Pam. As always, I am so happy to be here with you talking about Growth Igniters Radio, and to remind our listeners that the purpose of our program is to spark new insights, inspiration and immediately useful ideas for leaders to take themselves and their companies to their next level of success. So, Pam − what are we talking about today?
Pam Harper: The art of fusing technology and business for growth. Specifically, we’re discussing IT − [Information Technology]. For example, companies such as Uber are referred to as technology companies, but in fact they’re really just new models for old services based upon blending IT and business in new ways. However, Uberizing is really just one example of good business model…
Scott Harper: Uberizing?
Pam Harper: Uberizing.
Scott Harper: New verb…
Pam Harper: Maybe one of our listeners could be next to come up with a completely new model that everyone wants to use, but doing this is easier said than done. It takes strategic insight and imagination and ability to lead people in new ways, and recognizing the rapidly evolving technology to pull it off well. That’s why we’re happy to have Tim Hebert as our guest today. Tim is CEO, President, Captain and Superhero of Atrion, a top one percent organization, as they’re known, with a proven track record for helping clients fuse IT with their businesses.
Tim has driven himself and Atrion over the last 20 years to remain on the cutting edge of IT services, and Atrion has numerous industry awards including best place to work, business excellence award winner and Inc. 5000 Company and more. Tim’s passion for people, leadership and relationship goes well beyond Atrion’s family. He is now a visionary national speaker with a personal mission to light a fire in the hearts and minds of those around him. He believes that there is more to business than simply turning a profit. I’m going to let him talk about a lot more of this. You can see his full bio by going to the episode 33 page for growthignitersradio.com. Tim, welcome to Growth Igniters Radio.
Tim Hebert: Thank you, Pam. I appreciate being on your show today.
Pam Harper: We’re delighted that you can join us. Let’s start up by talking a little bit about your background. First of all, I think it’s really interesting that you’re the “Captain and Superhero” at Atrion.
Tim Hebert: Yeah, that’s it; we have a little bit of fun here at Atrion. In my office, I have a six foot one inch tall me in a superhero costume, cardboard cutout and all.
Scott Harper: That’s great.
Pam Harper: That’s fabulous. How did you develop your philosophy, then, that IT can be a powerful driver of strategic growth?
Tim Hebert: I think when we look at how I started in this career, I started way back when I was in high school in technology. I was that classic computer geek. I walked the halls with my pocket protector, my black Horn Rimmed glasses, and it’s taped around the corner of it. I was that classic computer geek. Over time, when I first started in IT, it was a very different world. Think back into the 80s − computers weren’t that prevalent. On most office desks, people had a phone. They didn’t have a computer. Maybe you had a calculator. I grew up in those early days where IT was this mystery.
No one really understood it. It was not integral to the business. It maybe did some functions for the business such as reporting or speeding a function up, but it wasn’t widely used. There were very few people that really know how to use it.
Scott Harper: A black box…
Tim Hebert: Yeah, it was a black box − absolutely. It was a mystery, right? You had to have … It was in a different room, a different part of the building, all those kind of things. When we started our business, what we wanted to do is we wanted to make it less mysterious. We wanted to take it out of the black box. Our goal was to help companies use it to really drive more of the business function. That really started everything that we did. It’s taking it from this top-secret, behind-closed-doors environment to really opening it up and making it very transparent, but more importantly making it more accessible to the business and to the users that were in the business who were trying to use it to move things forward. That was our big change.
Scott Harper: That really explains a lot, Tim. In a previous conversation we’ve had, you told us about three roles that IT can play in a company. Not all companies use them in that way. They range from operational to strategic. Can you share your philosophy about this with our listeners?
Tim Hebert: Yeah, exactly. I think the big issue that you have with IT in general − there are three primary function that they provide in to an organization. The first is that they run the organization as far as the IT infrastructure. We all know how we’ve become so dependent on the infrastructure to be there. Think of how lost we are when our phone doesn’t work or we forgot our phone at home.
Pam Harper: We know this [laughter]…
Tim Hebert: Technology has become very prevalent, and you have to run it. You have to be good at running it.
The second portion is that IT can help you grow your business. Think of a company − [for instance,] we do a lot with retail − think of how they will grow their business by opening up remote offices around the country, around the regions that they serve. Technology drives how we connect to that location, how we understand inventory, point of sale, reporting, collecting statistics so we can help grow the organization.
The third thing that we do is we [can use IT to] help transform the organization. Pam − in your intro, you mentioned Uber. Uber is a great way where technology is transforming a business that’s been around for hundreds and hundreds of years. It’s a way that no one had once thought about. It’s changing the business model completely, and IT has the power to do that.
Pam Harper: One of the things then, that we’re seeing is more people saying, “Hey, I want to do that,” but not recognizing that that’s just one way to do it. I imagine you’ve seen a lot of different kinds of examples then of fusing IT and business together in transforming the very nature of what the company can offer. Can you give a couple of examples?
Tim Hebert: Yeah, I can. Two years ago, I was playing soccer on a Saturday night and I broke my wrist. I had to be rushed to the emergency room in a local clinic and they did x-rays on my arm. I’m sure everyone’s had some kind of experience with that kind of procedure. They printed out these huge x-rays. They gave them to me in a folder. They, said, “we can’t set your wrist. You have to go to a hospital.” So I go to the hospital nearby, and I had my folder with all my x-rays in there. Basically, I get to the hospital, I give them my x-rays and they say, “we can’t use these. We didn’t shoot them, so we can’t use them.”
So I had to shoot all of my x-rays over again. I had to wait for three hours for a specialist to come in to read my x-rays. Once they did that, they had to wait for another specialist to come in to set my arm. I was there until about one o’clock, tow o’clock in the morning − no painkillers. No nothing.
Pam Harper: Nasty.
Tim Hebert: We help a lot of companies throughout the Northeast. Healthcare institutions actually digitize that whole process, where the x-rays are nothing more than digital file. I would have brought over a CD if I was to bring something over, or better yet they could just send it across the network to a hospital. And even better, we work a lot with healthcare organizations where actually the people who look at it 7 by 24, 365 days a year are in different locations around the country. Someone does not have to come in. [For example, in] one location we deal with, they actually have someone in Australia at midnight scanning your x-rays and going through them to provide guidance and advice − from Australia.
Changing the way [these companies deliver value] − the cost structure in healthcare, where before it’s a very − at that location − a very high cost, and now I can distribute the cost, I can make it so people aren’t waiting three hours for someone to look at an x-ray. That’s the kind of ways that we help clients start to look at technology to change their business models.
Scott Harper: And become a lot more effective, a lot more efficient.
Tim Hebert: Yes, exactly. Once again, it would create a better client experience. I was from 7:30 at night to one, two o’clock in the morning in pain − being aggravated by the process, right?
Scott Harper: Yeah…
Tim Hebert: That can be completely eliminated now, down to maybe a couple of hours from start to finish to get diagnosis, treatment and eventually get out of there.
Pam Harper: That’s fabulous. The more that we can begin thinking about what the needs are out there, there are a lot of ways that technology can literally transform what the business offers, and the value it has for businesses, for the world, and for everyone.
And that is a good place for us to take a quick break. When we come back, we’ll talk more with Tim Hebert, CEO of Atrion, about fusing technology with business, and how to make it happen. Stay with us…
Scott Harper: You are listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper, brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated. On the web at www.businessadvance.com. We enable successful companies to accelerate to their next level of innovation and growth. If you like what you’re hearing, spread the good word. Go to www.growthignitersradio.com, select episode 33, and use the share links for Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter at the top right of the page to tell your social media communities all about us. Use #growthigniters. This will help extend our reach to all of the people who can benefit from this series.
Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper − that’s me − and Scott Harper. Scott and I are talking today with Tim Hebert, CEO of Atrion, about how companies can take advantage of the full strategic value of their IT resources. Tim, how can people find out more about you and about Atrion?
Tim Hebert: Pam, our website is www.atrion.net or www.atrion.com ,and it gives a full list of all the services that we offer. Also, I’m on CIO.com; I have a monthly blog article. I post out there talking about “The Road to IT Relevance” and how does IT become more relevant to the business. I also have a Atrion blog sites; it’s blog.atrion.com.
Pam Harper: That’s great. Thank you.
Tim Hebert: Thank you.
Pam Harper: Again, for those of you listening, if you go to the episode 33 page at www.growthignitersradio.com, you can see links to all of this. So, Tim − we’ve been talking so far about the possibilities that go with actually fusing technology and business. but let’s talk a bit about using IT as a strategic asset.
Tim Hebert: I think that there’s a number of things that cause people frustration when they’re trying to look at how to use IT more effectively in a business. I think the first thing that I notice out there is that lot of people underfund IT. The last decade or so − what we’ve seen is this desire to treat IT as a back office utility, like the power company or like the internet. What I see in a lot of organizations − they have mandates where they talk about cutting IT 10% year over year. If I’m going to use IT to change my business, I have to invest in it. I have to invest wisely in it. I think we need to look at alternative ways that we fund IT, and how we actually measure the success of that funding.
Pam Harper: Are you saying, Tim, that people get caught in their habits of thought about IT? In other words, if you’re only thinking about it as that function that keeps the company going, then you’re only going to fund it a certain way which makes it very difficult to use it in new ways.
Tim Hebert: You’re absolutely correct, Pam, on that. I think that the challenge with it is that we all know that we need IT, and we see it getting cheaper on the consumer side of things. You look at the cost of phones and phone services as an example, or the cost of putting a network in your home − the costs have gone down. Everyone thinks that IT is declining, but in the business, we use IT to grow the business and there’s an investment that has been made to grow. Just like anything I do in my business, if I want to grow it, I have to invest in it. IT is the same way. I could change the way we think about that investment.
Scott Harper: There’s a limitation in how leaders can view IT, but I imagine that also even if a leader has an idea of, “I want to use my IT more strategically,” in some companies perhaps, are there the folks who are actually in the IT function itself who have their own limitations of belief on them − what they can do or should do?
Tim Hebert: Scott, I think you hit the nail on the head. One of the challenges that we have from an IT perspective with the businesses is sometimes we haven’t made that transition from being a technologist to being a business leader. That’s a real limitation. IT professionals at the highest level in your organization − whether it’s a one-man IT department or a person that has thousands of people reporting to them − you have to have a certain set of skills that make you more valuable to the organization. It’s not the technology side of things that make you more valuable.
It’s things like being able to be strategic, being able to understand the difference between technology and a business outcome, being able to be a problem solver, and having unbelievable communication skills. Sometimes the senior IT leader is not there physically to be able to lead the organization in the direction they need.
Scott Harper: We’ve got a synergy here; you have to have both the technical side and the leadership side working. So how can CEOs and the board and the executive team − the C suit − work in a balanced way with CIO and the IT management, and even the people in the front lines of IT, to get the most powerful business outcomes? Can you give maybe some lessons or examples you’ve learned in leading Atrion? Let’s see if the shoemaker’s children have shoes…
Tim Hebert: Scott, we do have shoes. Sometimes they’re a little bit worn, but we do have shoes.
Scott Harper: Good. [laughter]
Pam Harper: Tim, how many employees do you actually have? Let’s clarify that Atrion is not a tiny organization.
Tim Hebert: No, we started as a two-man operation − myself and my business partner − in ‘87. Today, we’re a 300-person organization; we’re growing at a rate of about 25 to 30 percent year over year. We’re a high-growth company.
Pam Harper: You really typify the listener that we are reaching out to.
Tim Hebert: Absolutely.
Pam Harper: This is very relevant. Now − let’s talk about this.
Tim Hebert: There are two things that the board, the CEO and senior-level leaders need to do with the organization. First of all, I think you need to evaluate the senior-level IT person. You need to have your senior IT leader, a CIO, VP of IT, whatever you call that position in your organization − you have to evaluate: do they have both the hard skills, the technical knowledge, as well as the soft skills to lead the IT organization? I would say in the small to medium business space, about 60 percent of the companies don’t have the right leader [heading up IT].
They have to make changes and they have to look for those kinds of people. The challenge that you have with the IT industry is that it still has one foot firmly in the technology side of things. They’re starting to evolve more the soft skills and grow into that, but it’s still a maturing process. Finding talent is really, really challenging. It requires a search that you have to cast a big net to be able to find the right people.
Scott Harper: The next part of that?
Tim Hebert: I think the next part I’ve got is, I think these board, CEO − senior leaders of the organization need to provide clarity to the organization, and specifically to IT.
[For example,] this is a challenge I faced a few years ago − probably about two years ago. We were doing our strategic mapping and planning with our board. We put some pretty aggressive growth strategies out there, and when I realized to come back to execute them, I couldn’t run the business as usual, things had to physically change. Sometimes, it’s hard to explain what that change looks like when you’re so used to doing things over and over and over for years and years and years.
I had to provide a lot of clarity. I had to provide a lot of clarity with my key organizations. I was expecting different things from them. Being able to share their vision, and how clear is it that people can see exactly where you’re going to go… Being able to share the strategy − how are we going to get there and are they bought into it − [helps them] know how to translate that to their own organizational unit strategies.
Last but not least − what are the business outcomes that we need to achieve? How do we define them and how do we measure them? We had to get very clear on that. It took some time and a lot of effort on my part to overcommunicate that, I would say, in many cases.
Pam Harper: So overcommunicating was a very important aspect of making that transition for your company?
Tim Hebert: Absolutely. I’ll bring this to IT [specifically]. I have a really good IT organization with my company. We have literally hundreds of IT professionals − super smart people. But understanding that I’m going to grow my company, I’m going to grow it to a much larger number than we are today, I have to be more agile. When I’ve talked to the IT department, it was about I need to make my CRM for example − my Client Relationship Management software − more extensible. I need it to be able to change. I need to get better reporting. I need to make it more real time.
They all understood that, and they could tell me five products off the top of their heads that would solve that problem. But what they were missing − the clarity I had to create for them − was what was it that I really wanted and how would I be measuring that success? I had to translate that for them.
Scott Harper: Yeah, so that clarity, and making sure that people know how to connect the dots between what you need is this business result, and what they can do to make it that happen more effectively and more efficiently − that’s the challenge, and that’s a really good place to be.
Pam Harper: Yes.
Tim Hebert: Yes.
Pam Harper: It’s so important for people to be able to have that understanding of what the business even is, then how they can make a difference in it. That is probably one of the biggest challenges, but the opportunity is out there that leads to a lot of good things.
We’re going to take another quick break, and when we come back, we’re going to talk more with Tim Hebert, CEO of Atrion, about some specifically useful things you can do right as soon as you’re done listening − so be sure to stay with us.
Scott Harper: Did you know that we also speak at events, conferences and company off-sites about top leadership issues related to what it takes to accelerate innovation, transformation and company growth? Clients have told us that they’ve gained new insights, inspiration and immediately useful ideas that have made a measurable difference to them personally, as well as dramatically increasing top and bottom line results for their companies. Go to www.growthignitersradio.com, click contact us at the bottom of the page, and we’ll get back to you to discuss options for helping you achieve your most important goals.
Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. Over the last two segments, Scott and I have been talking with Tim Hebert, CEO of Atrion, about how companies can take advantage of the full strategic value of their IT resources. Tim, tell us again how people can find out more about you and about Atrion?
Tim Hebert: To find out more about me and Atrion, I would recommend going to our primary website which is www.atrion.com. They can go to my blog site, which is www.blog.atrion.com, or they can check me out on CIO.com. The name of my blog series is called The Road to IT Relevance.
www.Pam Harper: Again, you can look at the episode 33 page by going to growthignitersradio.com, episode 33.
Okay, Tim − we are now talking about specifically, as soon as people are done listening, what would be three things that you would recommend that they start doing to help them to decide how to transform their IT function into a highly strategic asset to drive differentiation and growth?
Tim Hebert: I’m going to change this; instead of giving an answer, I’m going to give a question to answer for these three things. I think the first question I would compose − I really want to look at how I can maximize my IT expenditures to grow and transform my business. The first question I would ask is really, “Do you have the right strategic IT leader on your team?” I think that’s the biggest challenge. If I don’t have the right leader − this goes back to Jim Collins’ Good to Great book when he talks about getting the right people on the bus − If I don’t have the right person, I’m not going to be able to leverage IT correctly in my business.
Pam Harper: I agree. Now, would you say also that perhaps people need to take a step back, and when they’re developing job descriptions, even, to post that they put out a call for a different type of talent?
Tim Hebert: I actually do agree with that. I think that the challenge that you have in many cases is that we use the typical job description that focuses on competencies and responsibilities. I think that what you need to do when you’re putting that job description together is look at the outcomes you want to get from this position.
Scott Harper: Absolutely.
Pam Harper: Exactly. Put out a different call for action, you get a different result.
Tim Hebert: Absolutely.
Pam Harper: It is hard, and attracting that right talent is definitely a challenge. Have you found that there are certain things that really make a difference? For those companies out there − those leaders who are really looking for how to bring those people in − what’s the biggest thing that would make a difference?
Tim Hebert: One of the things that I recommend, that we do − we literally help hire hundreds of IT talents, all levels, entry level to senior level positions; we help our clients source people in all different levels − one thing I talked about is creating what I call a compelling marketing statement for the position. This is the ad, if you want to call it that: most people will say “looking for a CIO, 20 years of experience, must know blah, blah, blah,” and it’s boring. If you want to find the best talent, you need to make it exciting. Ours will sometimes really look like a 007, license to kill or that kind of thing.
It will read more like a movie description or something along that line − that will draw that great talent in. They’ll see that and say, “Hey, I’m interested in that position.” And then you of course have the job descriptions that go into more detail as you start to attract the talent, and say these are the things we’re looking for. How do your skills match this? We usually try to find something that’s more attractive, that pulls them in − better ads; better or more compelling marketing statements for the position.
Pam Harper: Does “strategic” attract people? If I were to call out for somebody to be a strategic IT leader, would that make a difference?
Tim Hebert: Yep. The words I would use in here are “strategic, transformative, someone that’s going to have an impact, make a difference in the organization, help change business models.” Those are things that are really attractive to the top echelon of the IT talent pool.
Pam Harper: Okay. Not to beat it to death, but I just know from how often I talk with leaders of companies and they’re going, “we can’t get the right talent.” Well, put out a different call.
Tim Hebert: That’s it, exactly. What’s the definition of insanity? “You keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect different results?”
Pam Harper: That’s right.
Scott Harper: When you’re focused on outcomes, you’re more likely to get them.
Tim Hebert: Exactly.
Pam Harper: I know that you have a couple of other points. What was something else that you wanted to tell us?
Tim Hebert: If you have the right person, I’d say the next question you can ask yourself is, “Is that person, that senior IT leader at the strategic table?” We provide CIO services for a lot of our smaller accounts; we’re actually the CIO for their organization. We make it a requirement that we sit on their senior leadership meetings, that we’re part of their board discussions. IT needs to be at that seat. If they’re not at the strategic table, they’re never going to be able to drive up the organization’s strategic level. All they’re going to do is run your business as efficiently as they can under the cost constraints that you have. If you want them to change it, they need to move up higher − have better visibility.
Scott Harper: They will be stimulated to think differently, and they’ll also be right there to say, “You know what? If we want this outcome, then how about…” whatever.
Pam Harper: Moreover, they’re being held accountable for speaking strategically and not totally operationally.
Tim Hebert: Exactly. I think that’s the key element. They need to be exposed to a higher-level thinking, because a higher-level conversation creates, simulates a creativity that the IT professional [has to have] to be able to change the business models. That doesn’t happen when you’re just running day-to-day operations. You got to get out of it.
Pam Harper: Your CIO does sit at your strategic table, right?
Tim Hebert: Yes, absolutely. Yes.
Pam Harper: Okay. Number three − what’s the third thing?
Tim Hebert: The next thing I would say is − the third question I would ask is − am I investing correctly in IT? What I look at is this − is that most people, when they look at IT expenditures, they look at it as a cost; they don’t look at it as an investment. If I’m making an investment, I’m measuring things like ROI. If I’m going to invest a million dollars in a new CRM system, what do I expect to get out in return for this? I expect my sales to grow, and if so, by what measure am I getting that? I think of this as an investment − “if I put a dollar into IT, what should I be getting out of IT,” and look in that environment.
We usually look on a scale − depending on the technology − somewhere between four to 10 times our investment. If I invest a million dollars in my CRM package, I should at least expect 10 million dollars in incremental business that’s specifically targeted to that replacement.
Scott Harper: So, if you want IT to be a strategic asset, you have to think strategically.
Tim Hebert: Invest strategically − right?
Scott Harper: Right.
Pam Harper: That’s right. There’s so many options for how to invest. The more that IT is thinking strategically, the better decisions they’re going to make. It’s virtuous cycle in a way.
Tim Hebert: Absolutely, Pam. I think the challenge you have is that a lot of organizations try to do too much. I think if you’re being strategic, the most important decisions you make sometimes are the decisions about investments you don’t make that could sometimes dilute the things that are more important and have a higher priority or higher impact in your business.
Pam Harper: That’s why we’re talking about with “the art of fusing IT and business”.
Tim, any last thoughts that you want to leave with us today about this topic?
Tim Hebert: I think the biggest thing I would have people walk away from this session with is, if you want different outcomes, you have to think differently. What I say to a lot of people I coach with − I coach or I counsel or consult with − is you have to really start with the end in mind. To be able to fuse business and technology to have a bigger impact, what is the end result? A new CRM package for my business is not about just putting a new tool in to collect contact information, to be able to have easier access to it. It’s about growing sales or to increasing client intimacy or to reducing cost in my organization.
I need to understand exactly what it is that my outcome will look like. How big do I want my company to get? How much growth do I want? And then I drive everything towards that outcome, and I design my CRM around that. You’ve really got to start with the end in mind, and work backwards.
Pam Harper: Powerful thoughts. Tim, thank you so much for being our guest today on Growth Igniters Radio.
Tim Hebert: Pam and Scott, thank you very much for having me. I really enjoyed our time together.
Scott Harper: Great, Tim. Thanks a lot, and thanks to our listeners out there for listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. To check out resources related to today’s conversation, share on social media, find out about upcoming episodes or open a conversation with us, go to www.growthignitersradio.com and select episode 33.
Pam Harper: Until next time. This is Pam Harper…
Scott Harper: And Scott Harper…
Pam Harper: Wishing you continued success, and leaving you with this question to think about:
Scott Harper: What untapped value can you find in your technology function that can enhance you business outcomes? How can you bring it out?