Invest In Your Businesses Online Presence

Jessica Piatt

Here in Northern New York, the idea of not having enough time or resources to invest in your business’ online presence is widely accepted as a fixed fact by many businesses and organizations.  It can be difficult to see the value in planning ahead in a digital environment where content is comprised of click bate, feedback is instantaneous, and comment trolls come by the dozen.  When you challenge the idea that you do not have the time, the resources, or the savvy to plan, you will find that this strategy is an investment in your brand, it will make your life easier, and it will prove to be effective.

It’s an Investment

                When you take the time to plan your social media content, you’re making an investment in your brand’s online awareness and therefore you’re making an investment in the growth of your business.  Planning your content ahead of time can be as basic as setting aside time in the beginning of the week, evaluating your business’ needs, offers, or values, and selecting content to reflect those priorities.  Craft a message with your followers, costumers, or clients, in mind, then schedule a time to post.

It Will Lighten Your Load

                Once you’ve taken the plunge and commit to investing in your brand’s digital presence, aim for consistency.  In being consistent, you will make this investment routine.  Once it’s become common practice, this routine will help transform your tendency to be reactive in the digital arena, reclaim control of your brand’s narrative, and be proactive with your online presence. This mega metamorphosis, you will likely free up valuable time at the office and reduce the paralyzing stress surrounding the use of social media as a tool.

It Will Yield Results

                When you commit the time, and maintain consistency, your efforts will yield results.  I’m talking real, quantifiable results here.  When you plan your content keeping your brand and consumers in mind, schedule your posts using measurable data to maximize your impact, and maintain consistency in your diligent efforts, your business will reap the benefits.  Not only will this strategy reduce the time you squander thinking of clever captions at the last minute or reduce the stress you associate with pressures of social media, it will benefit your brand’s overall awareness.  Being present, intentional, and consistent, on social media, makeup the cornerstone of building trust with your audience. 

Resources are your Friends

                Choose platforms which augment your brand.  Once you get started, use the platform analytics available to enhance your objectives.  LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, all offer free engagement analytics for business accounts.  This information is essential to the enrichment of your content production and scheduling.  There are also external resources that can be used to supplement your efforts and strengthen your overall effectiveness.  Give resources like Canva, ColorStory, Hootsuite, Planoly, and/or VSCO a try.  See which apps/websites work best for your brand and implement them into your routine.  If you’re still hesitant, or simply have questions, additional resources such as the Greater Watertown – North Country Chamber of Commerce, or other organizations dedicated to promoting and supporting business are a great start!

A Bright Future

                It’s time to invest in your brand’s online presence and take advantage of what the digital world has to offer.  Social media platforms help businesses grow.  When used intentionally, social media can lead to increased brand awareness and build trust with your audience. When you challenge the idea that you do not have the time, the resources, or the savvy to plan, and you recognize that these platforms can enhance your brand and better your business, you will discover the plethora of possibilities that planning content can bring to your business in the North Country. 

Community Spirit Youth Giving Challenge

Rande Richardson

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.”  –Robert Louis Stevenson

At the Community Foundation, we hold a firm belief that the best way we honor the north country’s history and heritage of commitment to community betterment is to find ways to thoughtfully perpetuate it. Much like in life, you can never start too early to instill positive concepts and lead by example with the help of positive role models. When our youth learn the value and practice of giving and civic and social responsibility, all of our community’s organizations, including schools, benefit.

                Last fall, the Community Spirit Youth Giving Challenge was launched as a mission-centric way to proactively encourage civic engagement among middle school students. Seventh and eighth graders were asked to put into words what “community” meant to them and then identify a local nonprofit organization that they felt helped make their community a better place. Over 60 students from nine school districts expressed consistent themes of neighbors, safety, love, beauty, happiness, betterment, togetherness, kindness, helping, caring, belonging, sharing, and respect. I think we all want to live in a community where these themes run through it. At the same time, it is likely that the process led to conversations between the students, their peers, their teachers and families. All good things.

                A total of 23 students were able to present grants ranging from $500 to $1,000, totaling $10,000. As part of the program, students also visited the organizations that their grant was supporting. This allowed them the opportunity to see the work of their charitable organization up close. There is no doubt that the first Giving Challenge left memorable impressions on these young adults. At the same time, 19 organizations across Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties were provided with additional resources to advance their missions. The students’ interests included arts, culture and education as well as health and human services. Adelyne Jareo, who was awarded the largest grant to Meals on Wheels of Greater Watertown, said “To me, community means living through both good and bad times with people who love and support you. Community is about connection and brightening someone’s day and making it better even in the smallest way possible. Lending a shoulder to lean on or an ear to listen, or even a friendly warm smile can make the world a better place. That is what community is all about.”

                While the first year had positive outcomes and good participation, there is now an opportunity to have even more students involved in directly improving the quality of life in their community. From now until Nov. 19, seventh and eighth graders attending school in Jefferson, Lewis or St. Lawrence counties are encouraged to participate. Entry applications are available at www.nnycf.org or at the Philanthropy Center at 131 Washington St., Watertown. We encourage teachers and parents to begin conversations that foster an environment of caring and respect, and inspire student engagement and contribution.

                It is always good to remind ourselves that all of our actions impact more than just ourselves. The more seeds we plant, the better chance we have of developing critical thinkers, leaders and lives that inspire the pursuit of the fulfillment of life-long service and action for the common good. There are four kinds of people: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, those who wonder what happened and those who don’t know that anything happened. If we continue to plant good seeds, we will reap a bountiful harvest of those who will make things happen.

Why Homeownership Matters

Lance Evans

June was National Homeownership Month which recognizes the value of homeownership and its positive impact on families, communities and the nation’s economy.   An annual celebration, it allows a time to celebrate and promote the American Dream of homeownership and identify the many benefits of owning that roof over your head.

                “Most consumers know that homeownership is among the most sound investments an individual can make to begin building their personal wealth. However, owning a home is not just in the best interest of the homeowner. Homeownership provides social stability, builds communities and is a driving force for the national economy,” said Richard J. Wood, St. Lawrence County Board of Realtors president.

                Surveys back this up.   Recently, the National Association of Realtors released its Housing Opportunities and Market Experience (HOME) survey for the second quarter.  It showed that a high number of Americans, 75 percent, believe that now is a good time to sell a house, while 68 percent think it is a good time to buy.   The survey also found that a majority of consumers believe prices have and will continue to increase and that homeownership strengthens our nation’s communities.   In fact, two-thirds of consumers said that homeownership strengthened communities a great deal. Only 10 percent responded “not really.”

                Below are some of the benefits of reaching the American Dream:

  • Social stability: Improved educational performance, lower crime rates and improved health are a few social benefits linked to homeownership. “Homeownership allows households to accumulate wealth, which opens doors to more engagement in communities through volunteer work, involvement in social activities and electoral participation,” observed Jefferson-Lewis Board of Realtors President Vickie Staie.
  • Strong communities: Homeowners tend to stay in their homes longer than renters, dedicate more money to improve their home and are more engaged in enhancing their community. Mr. Wood added that “homeowners are often more invested in their home and their surroundings, which leads to stronger neighborhoods and communities and increased interaction between neighbors.”
  • Economic force: Being a homeowner also has a positive local and national economic impact. That is because homeownership creates jobs through remodeling, landscaping, lawn service, furniture and appliances, home improvement and real estate services. When a home is sold in the United States, the income generated from real estate-related industries is over $20,000 and additional expenditures on consumer items is about $4,500, which aids the economy.
  • Brings families together: Along with being more involved in their communities, homeowners are often active and connected to their own families. Family dinners and game nights at home could mean a more-connected, happier family.

                Ms. Staie remarked that “home is where people make memories and feel comfortable and secure.  Celebrating homeownership is an opportunity to reiterate that anyone who is able and willing to assume the responsibilities of owning a home should have the opportunity to pursue that dream and enjoy the many benefits that come along with it.”

                For more information about buying or selling a home, visit www.slcmls.com (St. Lawrence County Board of Realtors) or www.nnymls.com (Jefferson-Lewis Board of Realtors).   Both list the member Realtors in our area.


                The Jefferson-Lewis Board of Realtors recently launched a new version of its public website.   This is the first major overhaul in several years and brings new functionality to the search for a property in our area including the ability to search listings by a variety of methods including map tools, filtering by geography and features, searching by listing agent, etc.   Users can also access the websites of area school districts, read real estate news, and find many helpful links. 

                St. Lawrence County Board of Realtor members have a new tool to assist them in working with clients.   The Association recently signed on with ZipForms, a provider of digital real estate forms.   ZipForms allow agents to seamlessly integrate and manage all the documents needed for a transaction from listing to the closing.   These can be shared with clients, customers, other real estate professionals, loan officers, and attorneys.   The documents can be signed electronically, also. 

LANCE M. EVANS is the executive officer of the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Realtors and the St. Lawrence County Board of Realtors. Contact him at levans@nnymls.com. His column appears monthly in NNY Business.

A Healthy Organization For Healthy Communities

ALYSSA COUSE

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County is recognized for its community involvement in many different capacities. However, one theme seems to intertwine them all: healthy communities.  From out to pasture to on post, CCE Jefferson promotes overall wellness throughout the county.  If you aren’t yet familiar with our office, you can find educators in the areas of agriculture, youth development, nutrition, military life and parenting.  When you hear the term “health,” fruits, veggies and exercise probably come to mind, but social and mental health are also important to overall wellness and successful communities. 

Nutrition and Parenting

                In addition to teaching healthy cooking classes and bringing healthy recipes to area schools, the CCE Jefferson Nutrition Program helps other organizations to become healthy workplaces.  Through the Adopting Healthy Habits Community Coalition, wellness policies are developed and changes are implemented to make grabbing a nutritious snack or being active in the workplace a possibility.  If you are interested in getting your organization started, check out the Adopting Healthy Habits page on http://ccejefferson.org/nutrition/adopting-healthy-habits

                The nutrition and parenting departments also interact with families on a daily basis.  Whether it be financial stress or tension within the family unit, educators provide direct assistance to help these families get the most out of their money and their relationships.  For example, Eat Smart New York (ESNY) is a free and completely confidential program that teaches shopping on a budget, meal planning, food safety, etc., to ensure better physical health.  In addition, parenting courses are offered to improve the mental and emotional state of local homes. 

4-H

                4-H youth development is also making health a focus of its programming.  After all, health is one of the H’s! (head, heart, health, hands). As an agriculture educator, I was invited to attend one session during the 4-H afterschool farm-to-table unit. The program began with a healthy snack (varies by day, but usually includes milk and fresh fruit options) and a few minutes to unwind after the school day.  The group had been working on an extensive food web showing how food and other products, such as leather goods, make it from farm to consumers’ homes.  That particular day, the lesson focused on dairy products.  I brought the ever popular wooden milking cow and discussed as much about lactation, cattle nutrition and benefits of consuming dairy products as their attention spans could handle.   The session finished up with the students making their own butter!  This is just one example of how 4-H members are educated about healthy choices and where their food truly comes from.  Other programs, such as    4-H Yoga for Kids, not only teaches kids a new skill but also actually gets their bodies moving!

Agriculture

                The agriculture and food systems department focuses mostly on the health of Jefferson County’s plants, animals, and ecosystems to support the production of wholesome local foods and successful farms.  The health and well-being of the farmers themselves is a growing (pun intended) priority within the industry.  With low commodity prices, increased expenses, and lack of rain, farmers need help now more than ever.  To help with the social stress and even depression that has come with the economic downturn, CCE offices all over the state are connecting producers with resources such as NY FarmNet, transition plans, and even crisis hotlines.  NY FarmNet is a Cornell University program that provides financial counseling as well as personal counseling for struggling farm families.  How can you help the health of farm families? Support them by simply buying their products: milk, cheese, yogurt, fruits and veggies, meats and whole grains.

                There is no escaping healthy habits in this office either. A centrally located healthy snack center makes it easy to choose nutritious snacks like carrots, almonds, or cheese versus chips or sweets. Many staff choose to spend their breaks going for a walk around the block or participate in a monthly challenge.  For example, a challenge might be who can make the most trips up the stairs in a work day.  Just yesterday, we had a six-member team of afternoon break walkers! Even the bathroom stalls are plastered with flyers for physical or food challenges. Staff members also share their heathy habits on the CCE Worksite Wellness Facebook page.  Whether it is hiking with the family, a Zumba class, or kayaking, here you can see how staff practice what they preach…. even after hours!

Interested in finding local foods? Check out the Local Food Guide:

https://s3.amazonaws.com/assets.cce.cornell.edu/attachments/30623/2018_Local_Food_Guide_FINAL.pdf?1526321007

‘Uncertainties’ in Nonprofits Are Uncertain

Rande Richardson

One of the most frequent words used when discussing the future of nonprofit organizations is “uncertainty.” Nearly every week I hear speculation that the next generation won’t choose to support the work of nonprofits in the same way their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents did. Others wonder whether the work and mission of some nonprofits will be relevant to those in line to lead them. While I remain optimistic based on what I see through the Community Foundation’s Youth Philanthropy Council, Young Professional’s LEAD Council and Youth Giving Challenge initiative, I believe that “business as usual” for some local charitable organizations may be turning the page on its last chapter.

                It would have been difficult to predict 25 years ago that the Syracuse Symphony would cease to exist after 50 years, but we all know what happened in 2011. While there were likely multiple reasons for this, one of them had to be the changing landscape and the growing disparity between the mission, its sustainability and those willing to support it.

                At the Community Foundation, we continue to look for opportunities to encourage and support the thoughtful consideration of nonprofit reorganization through mergers or other affiliations, as well as sharing of resources. Indeed, there have been successful examples of preservation of mission over entity, including the Teen Center finding sustainability under the auspices of the Children’s Home of Jefferson County or Meals on Wheels finding a natural collaboration with the Watertown Urban Mission. The Philanthropy Center now allows five nonprofits to share space and other resources, with one more expected soon. More of these will happen. Some organizations may even dissolve completely where the mission has become increasingly irrelevant or obsolete or another organization has found a more sustainable way to fulfill that same purpose.

                All is not lost, however. When I meet with charitably-inclined citizens looking to perpetuate their giving for a specific nonprofit, I will usually ask: “Is it the organization you want to support or is it WHAT THEY DO that you want to support?” There is a distinction. In most cases, the donor acknowledges that it is the work and mission they are supporting, not the organization itself. While they may be sentimentally or emotionally attached to the current provider of that work and mission, they recognize that it is the result that they want to see sustained through their gift or bequest.

                While community foundations exist to support diverse aspects of a region’s quality of life, what truly makes them unique is their ability to maintain appropriate flexibility and adaptability through something called “variance power.” In 1976, the Internal Revenue Service issued Treasury Regulations that endorsed and codified the variance power as an essential feature of community foundations.

                Back to the Syracuse Symphony illustration. Many years ago, a committed group of residents teamed up to raise funds to establish an endowment to support Syracuse Symphony performances in the Watertown area. That fund was entrusted to the Community Foundation, and through prudent management, has grown to nearly $700,000. Because of this, when the Syracuse Symphony officially dissolved, the Community Foundation’s governing body was able to deploy those funds to support live orchestral music performed by other groups. The charitable purpose endures as each year the fund supports performances by the Orchestra of Northern New York, among others. Recently, a donor created an endowment to support their church, with provisions for three other nonprofit organizations if the church should someday face an unforeseen end. The might and muscle of this variance power cannot be overstated, both for the purpose and the donor.

                I will always feel strongly that the best gift is an enduring one, and the future of the nonprofit sector will increasingly rely on that long-term support. As organizations shuffle, the sacred trust and stewardship of donors who want to see vibrant, healthy, happy communities must be positioned to do the most good, regardless of the organization doing it. If not for variance power, we run the risk of not only losing the charitable resource, but providing an obstacle for perpetuating legacies that can make a difference, despite the nonprofit landscape of the future.

                Remaining relevant in a world that, inevitably, will change, applies not only to nonprofit organizations, but also to the resources that are used to support them. Part of that relevancy includes providing an approach that balances the desire for specificity and the desire for thoughtful flexibility over time so the larger charitable intent remains intact. The standard for variance action is extremely high, however, when it is needed, its value to the donor, the nonprofit sector and the needs of our ever-changing community landscape is even higher.

Rande Richardson is executive director of the Northern New York Community Foundation. He is a lifelong northern New York resident and former funeral director. Contact him at rande@nnycf.org.

I LOVE Northern NY – How to get in on ILNY promotions

BROOKE ROUSE

Many recognize the I LOVE NY brand and think of it as New York City. In fact, I LOVE NY is the official destination brand of New York State.  Each county government designates an organization be the ‘local boots on the ground,’ or tourism promotion agent (TPA) for I LOVE NY, or more specifically, Empire State Development’s Tourism Division.  An annual grant is then administered, combining state and County funds to be used specifically for marketing the County as a destination to out-of-county visitors.

                In addition to the grant funds, the TPAs work closely with the I LOVE NY team on a number of marketing initiatives and state wide campaigns. So how do you, as a business or community, get a piece of the pie?

                Your County TPA creates a marketing plan annually and always appreciates participation from tourism partners. Sometimes cooperative marketing opportunities exist, where you can buy in at an affordable rate to get a lot more. This is done through regional branding efforts, where you can be highlighted in print or digital platforms.

                Your TPA is actively seeking exposure for your county…one of the best ways to do that is through earned media (we do the work to earn the recognition, but don’t necessarily pay any money). For example, the TPA will communicate with writers or the state may organize a trip of writers (also known as a FAM or familiarization tour) to visit and write, blog, photograph the area. Typically we need businesses to host for overnights, meals, excursions, or tours. Typically these things need to be offered for free or at a discount. The ‘host,’ as an active participant will then be covered in the content. These stories have tremendous value that our tourism marketing budgets could not afford, so this is a great opportunity for the destination and the business, product, etc.

                Your TPA is actively updating websites, social media, visitor guides and requests for story leads. The most important thing…PHOTOS. A picture tells a thousand words. High quality (high resolution) photos, showing people doing things are the best way to really tell the story. Any time your community or business can share high quality photos (not smartphone photos) of a festival, activity, landmark – you are sure to be included in the next promotion.

                The more we know, the more we can help. I LOVE NY is constantly sending out story leads for major publications like USA Today, NY Times, etc. They want to know what is new, what is unique. If we know what you are up to (and have high quality photos!), we can quickly send the word (and image) along. Sometimes its quirky – a top 20 list of breakfast features, or unique requests like spa getaways where you can sleep under the stars. The more unique offerings you can create, the better. The more we know about it, the more you benefit.

                The state and other state partners have also developed several thematic campaigns.; Haunted History Trail, PRIDE, Underground Railroad,  Path Through History, Taste NY, to name a few. If you can create an event or have an attraction that is a fit, be sure to let your TPA know.

                To get connected with your local TPA, call 1000 Islands International Tourism Council (Jefferson County) 315-482-2520, Oswego County Department of Community Development, Tourism & Planning 315-349-8322, or St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce 315-386-4000.

Brooke Rouse is executive director of the St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce and a Tourism Promotion Agent. She is a business owner, holds a master’s degree in tourism and is a former SUNY Canton Small Business Development Center advisor. Contact her at brouse@st.lawrencecountychamber.org.

The Business of Small Business

KRISTEN AUCTER

President Calvin Coolidge stated that “the business of America is business” and although the statement was made in the 1920’s it still rings true today. The encouragement of entrepreneurship across the country idealizes our willingness to take risks and reach for the stars. The successful businesses that run through our small towns and communities provide the nourishment to keep that enthusiasm and those dreams alive.

    Small businesses create a strong middle class, give back exponentially to the community and have been, throughout the nation’s history, the primary source of job creation in the country. It is our job as consumers to continuously provide support to perpetuate the cycle of success to the business owner and the communities we live in.

    According to the Small Business Administration, small businesses make up 99.7% of US employer firms. Since the last recession they have accounted for 67% of the new jobs created! Those statistics alone should make people want to identify how to continue our small business revolution. Here are some ideas on how you, as a consumer or business, can do just that:

  1. Shop there! This one shouldn’t need much of an explanation. Visit their businesses. Use their services. Make it a habit to check what they have available before going to larger box stores.
  2. Participate in “Small Business Saturday”. Since 2010 American Express has been encouraging consumers to skip Black Friday shopping and support their local small businesses. The campaign was launched in an effort to aid small businesses in gaining exposure and to change the way consumers shop in their own community. Many Chambers of Commerce, including Lewis County’s, open their doors on that day as a welcome station. Providing lists of business open for the day, reusable shopping bags and goodies for kids or pets who may be tagging along!
  3. Encourage your friends and family to shop local. Everyone hates the dreaded question “what do you want for your birthday/Christmas/graduation etc”. Let them know you love what the local shops have to offer. It not only gets you what you want but introduces a new customer to those businesses.
  4. Look into community gift certificates. Many local Chambers offer gift certificates that can be used at multiple participating businesses in the area. Lewis County will have Chamber Ca$h available as of June 1st. It is a dollar for dollar match that will allow the recipient to purchase goods and services locally!
  5. Organize a community event. Small Business Saturday doesn’t have to be the only day of the year to step foot in the doors of these businesses. Be creative and host an event that encourages people to become aware of what hidden treasures your community has.
  6. If you enjoy your experience provide a good review. Yelp, Google and Foursquare are all review sites that other people use when making decisions where to shop. It is the new “word of mouth”. It will increase their visibility in search results and continues to foster that sense of trust in small businesses.
  7. Network. Network. Network. Business After Hours are a great way to know what is new in the community. Most small businesses start out of someone’s home. While these businesses might not have a store front to visit this doesn’t mean they aren’t exactly what you are looking for and you can help them grow. As a Chamber we encourage these new, up and coming businesses to come to Chamber events to let people know what they have to offer.
  8. Collaboration. Do you own a small business? Do you have skills or insight that might be a benefit to someone just starting out? Reach out to your Chamber to host a speaking event in a local speaker series at a free or discounted price.

   Beyond creating jobs, investing in locally owned small businesses keeps money in your community to support other important initiatives through the local sales tax earned. Education, law enforcement and emergency services, parks, and other publically funded programs all benefit immensely.

And, of course, shopping at local small businesses creates a unique experience you can’t have online. Small businesses tend to provide a more personal customer experience and offer special things you wouldn’t find elsewhere.

Kristen Aucter is the president and CEO of the Lewis County Chamber of Commerce. Contact her by emailing kristen@lewiscountychamber.org.

Organic Milk Production in Jefferson Co. and NYS

Agri-business column by Jay Matteson

Northern New York is one of the leading dairy-producing regions in New York State and the nation. Dairy farms in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties combined produced approximately 1.8 billion pounds of milk in 2010.  That is a lot of milk!  All three counties rank in the top 10 of dairy-producing counties in the state and top 50 counties in the United States.

                We are also seeing continued growth in organic milk production in our region. According to Sharad Mathur, chief operating officer with Dairy Marketing Services, it is estimated that Northern New York has over 100 dairy farms producing about 5 million pounds of pure organic milk every day. Nearly one-third of the organic dairy farms in the state are located in Jefferson and St Lawrence counties. There are conventional dairy farms interested in converting to organic dairy production, but are looking for good markets for organic milk.

                Organic milk is different than conventional milk in that certified organic dairy farms are required to follow strict guidelines that govern use of pesticides, herbicides and type of fertilizer applied to farms, the type of feed that can be used to feed cows and the management practices a farm may use to keep cows healthy. The price organic dairy farms receive for every one hundred pounds of milk they ship is generally higher than what conventional farms receive for their milk, but the cost of producing one hundred pounds of organic is generally higher than producing one hundred of conventional milk.

                We are now seeing a limited number of farms further differentiating their production method by going to certified grass-based milk production.  This certification required the farms to follow a different set of regulations regarding the use of grass in feeding cows on the farm. Certified grass-based farms receive an even higher premium than organic farms.

                In our efforts to attract new agribusiness into Northern New York from Europe, this diversity in our milk production is important.  Our office is currently talking with two dairy manufacturing companies that are interested in organic milk.  The fact that Northern New York produces pure, high-quality milk, and especially is a leader in organic milk production, is critical to our efforts. Our area has potential to grow our dairy production, especially organic milk production, and that is what these two companies are looking at.

                For the consumer, we are very fortunate to live in an area where you have choices between pure and nutritious choices in dairy products.  Our farmers are fortunate that our soils, temperatures and terrain provide opportunities for diverse production methods that suit the management styles of the farm owners. Whatever your preference is for great tasting dairy products, Northern New York provides some of the purest milk available.

 

Go digital for lasting improvements

Jill Van Hoesen

Jill Van Hoesen

As we move into 2017 the lines between the varying sectors of industries and businesses will become even more blurred and each and every company or organization will need to begin to become just a little more of a technology company.
You will hear about this craze throughout 2017, as the omnipresent quest to “go digital” will continue. Your digital transformation will equate into numerous opportunities for empowering your employees and enhancing customer engagement through new services and product offerings. Your keys to success will be different for each of you but you can begin to reconcile your existing technologies with the new digital offerings by taking the advice of Bill Briggs, chief technology officer, for Deloitte Consulting LLP, “Think big, start small, fail fast and keep moving”.
As you begin your digital innovation and investment strategy you must understand the impact the latest emerging technology trends will have on your business. This understanding needs to be translated into a strategic plan inclusive of these new emerging technologies and the understanding of how these latest kinds of changes will drive your business model and market. Each of you will approach this with your own unique set of perspectives, goals, opportunities and challenges. You will find as the boundaries blur commonality will emerge that can provide you some powerful opportunities to share ideas and strategies among entities which you may have been previously disconnected. Your technical and business leaders need to get on the same page to jumpstart your organization’s digital transformation and the magnitude of opportunities a digital transformation can mean. The harder part will be translating this “digital transformation” into viable opportunities for customer engagement, employee empowerment and new products and services that will enhance your bottom line.
Your tech leaders will embrace this as it will give them dispensation in their roles of strategist and change catalyst. You should look to your tech leaders to first evaluate the possibility of extracting more value from your present legacy systems. This could mean a full upgrade to a new platform or possibly only replacing outdated components with some newer tools driven by the latest technology. I am sure you have a sufficient investment in your core system(s) so core modernization needs to be done at a granular level taking into account your present budget, architecture, security, scalability and life cycle of the system. If you plan carefully and keep these changes manageable it will go a long way in helping your business meet its needs today while creating a roadmap for the future.
You and your organization are not alone in this digital transformation struggle. To some degree, most organizations are facing many of the same digital challenges. Technical debt is a real challenge in many organizations, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that legacy systems have no life left in them, maintaining core operations and keeping the lights on still matter greatly for most of us. A critical part of any effort to digitally modernize your business is to shore up your core information technology foundation. If your core is solid and running well you will have the foundation to begin to build your digital transformation on. Strategy is the key here, as digital transformation is as much about your tactics as your mind-set. If your business is in order you can begin to evaluate the pieces of digital transformation like integration, design and architecture. You will find the transition will be easiest on all when it can be focused on creating a specific product, service or customer experience. This provides the buy in you need from your stakeholders and the effort becomes bound to a precise not abstract goal. This should be your first step in your much broader effort toward digitally transforming your enterprise.
In 2017 and beyond successful companies will most likely be those that can live up to the mandate of being a tech company. Analytics and digital are the new currency on which all competition is being waged. Your challenge is determining how your company will compete in this digital environment and this challenge is not a luxury and it is not an option. If you are not exploiting the latest digital technologies and analytics to drive new offerings and customer experiences don’t worry your competition will.

Jill Van Hoesen is chief information officer for Johnson Newspapers and a 25-year IT veteran. Contact her at jvanhoesen@wdt.net. Her column appears monthly in NNY Business.