Technology: Innovators, Imitators and Laggards
Previously, I offered how credit unions should value technology as an interconnected, strategic capability to deliver member relevancy, and organizational worth of technology is dependent upon intrinsic views of it relative to the organization’s values, vision, mission and strategy. Therefore, the next logical evolution is asking oneself, as a credit union, “What are our cultural views of technology?” and “Where do we stand with respect to technical capabilities?”
First, what are our cultural views of technology? Culture is comprised of the values, norms, beliefs, attitudes and historical precedence within the walls of the organization. Additionally, modernist views of technology consider the methods, information and knowledge in providing products and services, as well as the tools and equipment used. Clearly a core system or a mobile platform is technology, but so are an organization’s capacity for information sharing and knowledge management, and processes related to serving credit union members.
Values are the principles that an organization deems important. Norms are expressions of those values and the expectations an organization follows. In short, values define what is worthy, while norms make it clear what is considered customary. For example, a credit union may value the alignment to accomplish strategy, and may espouse technology as a means of vision achievement. However, does meaningful technology representation on the senior team exist? Does technology participate directly in strategic planning? Is technology maximization a core strategic tenant? Does technology report to the CEO? These are but a few norms that would support those values.
Beliefs and attitudes are perceptions that penetrate culture. They are not necessarily visible but often represent reality. For example, does a credit union have a tendency to apply people to a problem even though a technology solution may exist? Is a system conversion considered a “problem” to overcome quickly rather than an “opportunity” to enhance service? Do we typically allow off-the-shelf technology to define our processes, or do our optimized processes drive custom technology?
Vision and mission, in the simplest terms, can be described as our future destination and our overall purpose. Our strategy is basically how we expect to reach our vision relative to our mission. Therefore, is substantial technology envisioned for the future? Is technology part of our core identity? Do we feel technology is inherent in our civic contribution? Do we believe that technology is a means to advance our strategy? Do we routinely prioritize our technology efforts against potential strategic value?
Historically, what has been the technology precedence? What has been our past level of annual investment? Do we prefer to buy, rent or build technology? Have prior technology decisions been made with enterprise-wide consideration, or at a departmental level?
Second, where do we stand with respect to our technical capabilities? In this area, there are generally three types of credit unions that exist: innovators, imitators and laggards.
- Innovators are fully integrated with strategic initiatives, hold a high degree of alignment with functional areas, have created shared understanding between technology capabilities and business needs, have a business-driven IT strategic plan, have developed technology excellence, employ a technology council as a decision-making body, prioritize their technology efforts, leverage technology as a competitive advantage, continuously exploit their technology investment, have achieved a high degree of information integration that approaches information superiority compared to peers, have greater customization, and enjoy optimized and automated processes in their value chain to enhance member experience and reduce costs. Also, the technology team exhibits proactive solutions delivery, high-quality repeatable processes and robust governance.
- Imitators do not lead, but match or copy peers with average alignment to strategy and functional areas, moderate investment exploitation, have a basic technology roadmap, measure IT performance, may have a technology council, possess adequate utilization of information analytics, achieve typical automation levels, apply technology as a tool, and hold a mixture of off-the-shelf systems with some customization. Also, the technology team possesses problem-solving capabilities, some defined processes, and simple governance.
- Laggards, as the name implies, have a low degree of alignment with strategy and functional areas, lack shared understanding, have no technology plan, decisions are made in isolation, information for decision-making is difficult or simply unavailable, a technology silo exists, technology investments are viewed as a necessity and rarely exploited to potential, technology is often behind and possibly obsolete, system stability may be an issue, responsibility for technology is often decentralized within the organization or delegated to vendors, manual tasks are the norm and the team is reactive, in order-taking mode, and functions without repeatable process or governance.
In conclusion, I have openly proposed more questions than answers for intentional reflection. Do views match capabilities? Do values match norms, beliefs and attitudes? Is your credit union an innovator, imitator or laggard? Once reflective clarity is obtained, senior leadership can decide if their current technology posture is adequate and acceptable for the future.
Anthony W. Montgomery is a senior director for a global non-profit in Nashville, Tenn., a former credit union executive, and currently pursuing a doctoral degree in interdisciplinary leadership from Creighton University in Omaha, Neb.