Many years ago the CEO of a large transport company 1 told me that he regarded their IT as a key competitive advantage. IT should be a vital part of reducing costs, or improving the product or service, or generating leads in almost any business. What opportunities do you have to make technology a competitive advantage?
Many businesses that have long relied on technology that had a limited role with easily defined deliverables (so it could be treated as a cost centre) have found that technology defines much of their offering. A good example are banks: internet banking has replaced branches (so web sites and apps define customers experience, rather than branches and staff), while computers have taken taken key decisions (such as evaluating the credit worthiness of a customer) away from humans.
Its not just big businesses either. Small local businesses get customers through their websites or take bookings or payments online. Anyone with a list of customers can use at least the contact management aspects of a CRM. Interacting with customers (dealing with enquiries, taking bookings, selling products, whatever) builds a list of existing customers for marketing and for managing the business better.
It is hard to run a business without admin and bookkeeping. The right technology choices can simplify these. Integrating systems can reduce the workload of typing the same data into different systems. For larger or more complex businesses a fully integrated enterprise resource planning system may be the answer.
In the case of the transport company, the competitive advantage came from better logistics: software that can find the most efficient way to get a load from one place to another, taking into account what combinations of loads can be placed on a single vehicle, etc. Automated finding of optimal solutions is common in manufacturing and logistics, but has a wide range of applications.
A simple example of something common that can often be improved, is an enquiry or contact form on a website. It collects a lot of data, but does it store the data? Pass it on to a CRM? Email enquiries can also be added to a CRM. There are many opportunities (registering to use a site, installing an app, subscribing to a mailing list....) to create a relationship out of a casual request.
There are far too many possibilities to list them exhaustively here, but if you contact us I can almost guarantee to be able to find some way in which any business (or other organisation) could be better through better IT. It might be a custom web app or a nearly off the shelf CRM? The gain may be a cheaper, more efficient, or easier to use substitute for an existing system or something completely new. There is always something that is at least worth considering.
The company in question was Christian Salvesen, then a one of the UK's biggest transport companies. It was taken-over by Norbert Dentressangle, which was in turn taken over by XPO Logistics.