Bad fortune haunts leaders who are made to believe that they know it all. Before his invasion of Russia in 1812, Napoleon Bonaparte had only suffered three defeats in previous battles, which were largely outweighed by his numerous victories. It is not difficult to gauge how this affected his ego and judgment.
“My business is to succeed, and I’m good at it. I create my Iliad by my actions, create it day by day.” Those were the man’s words to Pope Pius VII himself, at the peak of his career. While there certainly were things lacking in Napoleon’s character, self-confidence wasn’t one of them. And Moscow, well, just seemed like yet another tick on a long list of imperialistic ambitions. Little did Bonaparte know that the upcoming failure would put his influence, career, and life into a steep downward spiral.
It is not necessary, though, to look that far back in history to find examples of leaders who misjudge their personal ability to assess situations and make decisions—decisions that break their empires soon after. The story of Borders, a global bookstore chain established in 1971, is one of the more mystifying examples of ignorance behind management.
Borders bookstores were well-known for their addiction to their own product. Rather than buying out huge two-store retail spaces and stuffing shelves with every single category of the written word while coming across as a soulless grocery store-style warehouse to the aficionado, Borders would instead invest into cozy, private spaces with staff that were each a specialist and enthusiast of a particular section. It was a place united by a shared passion—a place with a soul, somewhere you would go to just… be there.
This all changed when Borders was acquired by Kmart, a discount department store chain, in 1992. Kmart executives knew little about that brittle sense of magic that drove book lovers to the Borders stores for decades. Instead, they approached the bookstore business as another subdivision of discounted bulk goods, ruining the very spirit of the chain. The original management—which was what Kmart was really after—all left as a result, and the bookstore chain died not long after, along with Kmart’s hopes of running a successful bookstore division.
But this is the JMARKIAN, the blog of an I.T. managed service provider. What do Napoleon and bookstores have to do with that?
For Businesses, Increasing I.T. Complexity Is the Achilles Heel
Complex server systems that support all of your network and contain all of your company’s files, communication systems that ensure all of your company’s inner and outwards conversations happen in an errorless and discrete fashion, backup management and downtime prevention protocols—key tools to allow your company’s operations to keep running when trouble comes calling—cloud computing, network security… These are just a few of the many areas that fit under the banner of “I.T. Services” today.
Unfortunately, many company leaders are still happily married to their decade-old I.T. infrastructures and philosophies, neglecting the rapidly changing modern business landscape.
It’s not just the fact that I.T. today runs through pretty much all areas of a business—from communications and data storage to security and operations—that seems to be overlooked. It’s not even that each of these areas of I.T. has increased tremendously in depth and complexity.
No, the biggest mistake many business leaders make is failing to recognize that I.T. systems don’t act in isolation, that their functionality is highly intertwined with every area of operations, making I.T. decision making levels more complex. For example, having network security doesn’t just involve upgrading the network and the servers—it also involves writing new security protocols for emails, installing security measures on mobile devices, and encrypting laptops.
Evolving technology adds layers of consideration required to make informed decisions. It’s not enough to understand the function of a particular I.T. service about; it takes an understanding of the bigger picture (or, in our case, the I.T. infrastructure) to be able to say with confidence that one I.T. investment is a good one while another is not.
New Customer Generations Have No Patience for Old Business Paradigms
Speaking of investments, it is important to note that I.T. hasn’t been considered one for… well, pretty much its entire existence. I.T. expenses were considered just that—expenses: something that needed to be done, maintenance. That is no longer the case.
In an overcrowded buyer’s market, it is those buyers who dictate which companies thrive, and which ones go under. Therefore, companies go through all sorts of trouble to differentiate themselves from the competition.
Here at JMARK, we often like to bring up the case of Amazon, who has raised the bar multiple times over for the retail, shipping, and manufacturing industries. Same day delivery, the FBA program, the Prime feature— time and again, Amazon has introduced innovation that was shocking at the time, but is considered a norm today.
But it is not just a norm for Amazon—customers expect these same features from all marketplaces. They don’t give two cents about whether your economies of scale are large enough to support the same offer, or if your technological infrastructure is compatible with a particular feature. They want what they want, now, or they’re going to Amazon. Try telling an Amazon customer to shop at any outlet that actually makes you wait a few days to get your stuff!
What is easy to overlook is that many of these market-leading features are enabled by nothing else but sound I.T. infrastructures. Same-day shipping, for example, would have been impossible thirty years ago. There were planes, and there were warehouses, but messages could never reach their targets in time (at least not with a scalable price tag); and even if they did, there wouldn’t be a system robust and secure enough to take in, hold, and spit out all the data. Alas, let’s not forget that automation has played a major role in advancements in the shipping industry, too.
So if the old ways are gone, and the new rules have yet to be firmly established…
What Is the Solution to Making Difficult I.T. Decisions?
Taking a look at the big picture, note that what is happening is a two-front problem for business leadership: on the one hand, I.T. systems are getting considerably more complex and intertwined; on the other, market powers present merciless demands for business owners—demands that often require sophisticated I.T. solutions.
In such situations, it is important not to succumb to the pressure of quick decision making, or to cling to outdated notions. Instead, recognize your own lack of expertise in the complex world of information technology—and recognize that this is nothing to be ashamed of. You’ve got your own area of expertise in your industry, and these days, immersion in one complex profession is enough for any one person. Gone are the days of the “Renaissance Man;” in 2018, everyone specializes.
So rely on experts for counsel. Your I.T. provider should be more than a hardware and software vendor, or the person you call when something breaks. They should be a trusted advisor and partner to help you navigate the complex world of I.T. planning. Not only should they help you make the best decision regarding your current technology needs, but they should be helping you evaluate future needs and plan wisely, to ensure that as your company grows, your I.T. infrastructure grows with it.
In fact, the best I.T. partners won’t only be giving you the right answers, they will also help make sure that you are asking the right questions.
If you have any questions at all regarding I.T. in your company, feel free to browse our Resources page or JMARKIAN blog for more articles like this one; or, if you have a particular question in mind, just shoot us an email at [email protected]. You can also give us a call at 844-44-JMARK.