If Minnesota wants to become a high-tech hub, business leaders must harness the power of advanced IT.
Have you heard? A property management group out of Chicago did a survey of “high-tech hubs” that ranked the Twin Cities 20th in the nation. While we have some notable assets — highly educated professionals and a plethora of innovative types seeking patents — the number of information technology (IT) workers in Minnesota has fallen considerably since 2000.
In response, many civic-minded people are proposing creative strategies to draw more techies to our area, from promoting venture capital to building tech corridors. Even the Star Tribune weighed in with some ideas and a call to action in a recent editorial.
As someone who started a thriving IT consulting and training business 20 years ago in Minnesota, I have a slightly different perspective. Minnesota businesses, nonprofits and even governmental agencies have the power to transform the Twin Cities into a top technology hot spot overnight, transforming their own organizations in the process.
By immediately harnessing the power of sophisticated IT applications to transform organizational processes, strengthen customer engagements and kick-start productivity. In other words, everyone in Minnesota who is responsible for running a business, nonprofit or government agency should start using information technology as a positive performance driver instead of viewing tech resources as a necessary but not truly mission-critical … (wait for it … those dirtiest of business words) … cost center!
As many have discovered, savvy employment of information technology can do for the bottom line what a can of spinach did for that plucky little sailor man. IT applications that gather and analyze data, in real time and on the fly, then deliver that crucial information to the people who need it most on the front lines, represent a true business sea change.
Winfield Solutions, a subsidiary of Arden Hills-based Land O’Lakes, has pioneered a technology initiative that is helping the crop production and seed distribution subsidiary work with customers more effectively. According to an informative piece in SearchCIO magazine this past June, former Land O’Lakes CIO Barry Libenson (he has since moved on to serve as CIO at Safeway Inc.) and his IT team combined “internal customer data with reams of external data … to help the business predict what crops [would] yield the highest value where — down to the acre.
“The new initiative not only involves integrating diverse data from disparate sources but also putting complex yet easy-to-understand analytics right into the hands of the company’s internal sales and marketing team, as well as into the hands of the cooperatives and farmers it distributes to — Land O’Lakes’ external customers.”
The results speak for themselves. Land O’Lakes’ Winfield Solutions saw an incredible 60 percent rise in earnings in 2012, just one year after deploying the new analytics tools.
Intertech built a similar software solution for a local company. The application allowed people working in vineyards and other agricultural businesses to use iPhones and iPads to streamline harvest information, which provided a larger, more robust and much more readily available data platform. By using mobile technology, the data collection process is much more effective because it is collected in the field, analyzed on the spot and then quickly provided to the people who need it to make intelligent production decisions.
According to Gartner, a leading technology research firm, Land O’Lakes’ Winfield Solutions “is far from alone in bringing data to the customer,” with 36 percent of the respondents to a major Gartner survey indicating they were already on this path.
Ironically, many organizational leaders have not yet embraced IT’s potential to drive efficiency and increase revenue. Nearly half of the respondents in a 2013 Information Week survey of more than 500 North American business technology decisionmakers said their budgets and operations were often looked upon as cost centers with static annual budgets.
So why the disconnect? Shouldn’t leaders be busting down the doors of local consulting firms and generously staffing internal IT departments?
And, to the larger issue of turning the Twin Cities into a top high-tech hub, wouldn’t stronger demand for sophisticated applications draw more technology professionals to our state? I know from experience that highly skilled Web developers and programmers are extremely motivated by the opportunity to do great and challenging technical work.
It is our responsibility to demonstrate how IT can be used to gather and transform mere data into rocket fuel for growth. A lackadaisical approach to IT’s strategic potential condemns Minnesota companies to second-class-citizen status.