Don’t Tell Me That IT Doesn’t Matter

Mar 20, 2006

While there have been some “experts” who’ve made names for themselves by bashing IT and saying it is, at best, a necessary evil, I completely disagree with them. There are so many ways IT can give your A/E/P or environmental firm a strategic advantage over other companies that it’s impossible to list them all. In fact, were I running a design or environmental firm today, I would have a written strategy that said we would over-invest in IT. I have actually seen one firm have this strategy in its business plan, and they have not only been on our Hot Firm List repeatedly, but are also highly profitable. Spending 50-100% MORE than other competitors spend on IT is a reasonable strategy— because it is one of the BEST ways you can invest your money. Here are just five examples of how IT can give you a strategic advantage over other firms in this business: The right technology can help you sell a specific project by being better able to show the client what they are going to get. Being able to do walk-through 3D simulations, showing what a streetscape will look like if a plan is implemented, and showing what it looks like behind the wheel of a virtual automobile as it drives past a new mall that isn’t there yet are all examples of new technologies in use by firms today that help them sell work to clients. These kinds of virtual reality software applications SHOW someone what we are really selling. It can help you attract and keep the best people by giving them the tools that they want and expect. People expect you to have the technology they got exposed to in school in your firm. If you don’t, they don’t want to work there. Everyone wants to learn— especially younger people. They don’t want to become obsolete. This means you need to give them the tools to do the best they can do as efficiently as possible. And some people want to push the limits. They want to try things that haven’t been done before. These are some of your smartest people. Keep them around by having an IT budget that provides them with these tools. It can help you be able to find things faster than other firms because your information is better organized. Having central servers, enough bandwidth, well-designed intranets, electronic document storage, and the people and training to make all of this work properly is essential to efficiency. People working in A/E/P and environmental firms waste an incredible amount of time just looking for stuff. Why not save some of this time and make things more efficient? If you could save as little as 5% of your employee’s work time during the week, that translates into two hours of production. At an average billing rate of about $85 per hour, that’s $170 per week per employee. Multiply that by 100 employees and you are talking about saving $17,000 per week. That would support a lot of IT investment! It can help you develop and maintain a real client prospect list so you can effectively target your marketing and build brand-name awareness. Just try implementing brand-building direct mail, e-marketing, and PR without a good client prospect list. Or how about promoting a client seminar, sending out invitations to an open house, or informing clients of new regulations that could impact their business without such a list? It’s impossible! CRM (customer or client relationship management) systems are expensive to implement. They always cost more than you think if you want them to work as they are intended. They take a lot of planning, a lot of training, and a lot of time to implement, not to mention top management support. And they MUST be distributed to ALL employees or they will not work. This costs big bucks. But it’s money well-spent. Show me a 200-person firm that has a good 10,000- to-20,000-name, client-and-prospect list that they use every week and I will show you a firm that is out-marketing its competitors in this business! It can help you be more responsive to client inquiries than other companies. I keep saying it— clients don’t like it when they cannot reach you and your people. Everyone needs a BlackBerry or other wireless PDA. Everyone needs a cell phone. Everyone needs remote access to the company’s computer network. Everyone needs a web site that allows clients to ask for more information and a system such that those inquiries get responded to immediately. Yes, all this costs money. But I saw one study that said the payback on BlackBerries was 30 days! Stop fooling around and invest in anything that makes your people more accessible! These are only FIVE of the ways IT makes you more competitive in this business. If I had the room, I could probably come up with 25 ways. Stop viewing it as a cost and start viewing it as an investment, and you will reap the rewards many times over in the years to come! Originally published 3/20/2006

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Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.