Source: Äri-IT Spring 2021
Author: Marek Maido, CMO
Company culture and technology are much more intertwined than they appear to be at first glance. Technology has even become one of the most effective drivers of culture.
Company culture is a very broad concept that can be elusive at times. In a nutshell, it refers to a common set of norms and values that have been agreed upon or have developed on their own and ways of working together.
It has been confirmed that the quality of a service or product depends to a large extent on the culture of the organisation1. This is why, over the last few decades, there has been more and more talk about it being an important instrument in management. A company’s culture is undoubtedly influenced by national characteristics, traditions and the economic environment, but it is also shaped by the size of the company, the sector in which it operates, its international scope, etc. But technology as a tool for shaping and guiding culture is not talked about that often.
DINNER WITH A CUSTOMER AND A ‘NEW’ DISCOVERY
We at BCS Itera have been implementing enterprise resource planning software for almost 20 years and most of our customers are considered medium-sized or large companies in Estonia, many of them international. One of the most important factors in any investment is the return on investment, which can come in the form of efficiency, customer loyalty, increased competitiveness, money, etc. But one September evening last year, I was struck by a ‘new’ discovery – it happened over dinner while I was listening to feedback from a customer on the implementation of a new enterprise resource planning software program. This customer was an international Estonian company operating in Eastern Europe. At one point, they expressed an idea that I hadn’t yet formulated in such a way myself: ‘Without modern and unified enterprise resource planning software, it is not possible to create a unified culture in a company.’ They have established firm quality rules for their services, based on processes, i.e. rules and agreed upon activities. These rules ensure the meeting of deadlines, availability and quality of trade services, correct data, transparent management, etc. Obviously, it is almost impossible to harmonise processes and thus culture in larger organisations, especially multinational ones, without a common management and resource planning software program.
A simple example. A customer sends an enquiry about a product or service. How quickly can we respond to their request? Let’s imagine that one company has a modern customer relationship management solution where the whole process is described and traceable. In the other company, the request is in the mailbox of a customer service agent, or worse, in their memory. This quickly becomes a norm in the company: how we respond to the customer’s need; how quickly we react and, ultimately, how committed we are to our mission and objectives to offer the best service.
Nowadays, a great company culture is no longer an option, but an obligation. Together with the core values and ethics, it is the DNA or the personality of the company, supporting processes, and vice versa – the agreed upon processes support the core values of the company. Culture is the foundation of what an organisation does as a collective team to achieve its ultimate goal. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software is the backbone of an organisation’s business information that offers managers integrated and comprehensive information on all processes. It effectively coordinates business operations, and thus culture is primarily supported by technology. The technology also empowers employees to do a better and more efficient job, boosting morale and contributing to company culture.
ERP IMPLEMENTATION AS A NOTABLE CHANGE IN CULTURE
Change management is increasingly being discussed in connection with ERP implementation projects, and is also discussed in other articles of Business–IT. This is because adopting a new solution is not just a change of software on a computer, but a shared decision to do something different and better with new technology. With new technology, we are breaking certain old habits (inactions) and behaviours in the organisation for a brighter future.
In general, a ‘great proletarian cultural revolution’ is not the best possible way forward. The change should rather be value-based and inclusive. It is considered to be one of the most complex processes because it involves related goals, multiple roles, interests, values, practices, attitudes and assumptions.
The lack of technology or the sharing of information between a large number of different systems allows the culture to evolve in an unguided direction, with everyone doing things as they see fit. But the introduction of a modern holistic solution compresses many norms, practices, rules and attitudes into a fixed channel or model. For example, we don’t manage projects the way one project manager or another thinks is best, but we have a set of rules about how we plan the project; where the budgets are; how we monitor their execution, procurements or tenders from sub-contractors, project deadlines; what data we enter and where we enter it, etc. I know from experience that such a change is at first met with a great deal of resistance in most construction companies, because project managers who have been doing the job for years have acquired their own style.
GIVE YOUR COMPANY A CHANGE
Technology is both a great tool and a reason to change the culture and performance of a company and, above all, to lead it. It doesn’t take a lot of people to win a battle, it takes a good strategy, good resources and coordinated movement. John Coleman in HBR (‘Six Components of a Great Corporate Culture’, 2013) identifies practices as one of the six key components of a great corporate culture. Values are of little importance unless they are embedded in the processes of a company. If an organisation professes that people are its greatest asset, it should also be ready to invest in people in visible ways. Values must be rooted into daily routines and processes. Technology can be of great help here.
1 Organisational Culture and Quality Improvement; Dr R Maull, Dr P Brown, Prof R Cliffe; University of Exter 2001. Creating a Culture of Quality by Ashwin Srinivasan and Bryan Kurey; Harvard Business Review 2014