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“Achievement is largely the product of steadily raising one’s level of aspiration and expectation.”

Coming from golfer Jack Nicklaus, in his book “My Story,” this quote is not intended to specifically address business technology users. Still, my recent participation with the Baltimore Business Journal’s Excellence in Technology Awards emphasized that this statement is as true for business people as it is for professional golfers.

The award was focused on displaying pragmatic use of technology ? information, manufacturing, and other ? as a specific strategic tool to improve and enhance business. Among myriad nominees, 10 finalists and three first-place finalists were chosen.

In meeting and talking to the 10 finalists that represented the public, private, and non-profit sectors, I noticed a common theme among these winners. Beyond sharing enthusiasm for incorporating technological innovations in their businesses, they had some key characteristics:

? Vision. Each of these winners had management with vision, management that was willing to invest in the future. For privately held companies, management understood the leverage that technology brought to the business even if the specifics of how an adopted technology works were not completely understood.

? Long-sightedness. Rome was not built in a day. These companies looked at the technologies already adopted and to be adopted as a continuous journey for improvement to the business. They also recognized, and even addressed, the likely setbacks to technology implementation. And they were not planning to relax the pace of the technology-influenced improvements to their businesses. Their plans included looking to the future with new and evolving technologies.

? Not really on the bleeding edge. Lest you think that all technology users who are innovators are also very early-adopters of new technologies, I will dispel that myth. While they are not laggards, many winners were using tried and tested technologies in creative and innovative ways, because they took the time to analyze their business weaknesses.

? Integration of technology and business needs. All of them looked at technology as a tool to improve business. To effectively improve operations, competitiveness, and the bottom line, they first needed to better understand existing business workflow, operations and practices. They also asked “why?” about almost everything they were doing.

? They involved the business users with the technology providers in creating and designing appropriate systems. For example, USF & G;, one first-place finalist, paired a business-oriented employee and a technology-oriented employee as a team. Talking to both of them, it was hard to tell which represented what discipline!

? Expanded view of resources. To accomplish a global view of the business goals, as these winners did, requires broader receptiveness to new ideas. It requires employees with wider combined business and skill sets developed through professional experience and education (i.e., some new MBA and undergraduate business degrees that combine both). It also requires open-mindedness about where some of the greatest innovations can come from.

While the brains and creativity of U.S.-born and educated citizens are phenomenal, an overwhelming brain trust was not born or educated here. When tapped, those ideas and creativity from outside can yield impressive outcomes in improving business. Interestingly, every first-place winner had one immigrant expert on the team who developed and executed the technological innovation.

? Nimbleness. There are two aspects to nimbleness. The first is the ability to meet lofty goals at a less-than-extravagant cost. Many finalists were smaller companies with small technology budgets. Even the larger finalists were very focused on projected and actual cost of achieving the business goals using technology. Still, the finalists were able to see the projects through to the end with a close eye to the checkbook and the budget.

The second is ability to incorporate new technology or changes in a technology that will impact the success of the project. The finalists generally did not wear blinders to “just get the job done.” Instead, they responded midstream to incorporate those marketplace and technology innovations by being attuned and attentive to what was going on outside their businesses.

So what about you? Every business should internalize these great lessons. Learn and understand your business and how it operates. Define product, information, quality, and other weaknesses that technology could improve.

Prepare for a long-term business improvement, not a quick-fix. And plan, plan, implement, implement.

Chaim Yudkowsky, CPA, is the director of management consulting services at Grabush, Newman & Co., P.A., a Baltimore-based regional certified public accounting and management consulting firm.

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