Andrew Hampshire has spent the last 15 years working in operations and technology in the UK’s financial services sector, in private equity firms and large financial institutions.
During this time, a recurrent theme in his conversations with chief executives has been their frustration with IT, especially when costly investments in technology haven’t delivered.
Most chief executives accept that technology can be transformative. However, they neither have the time to keep up with all the latest developments nor often the expertise to decide which technologies are best for their business.
With decisions around technology likely to become more complex, Hampshire, who is chief technology officer and chief operation officer at asset management firm Gresham House, has written Creating Value Through Technology, a jargon-free book designed to help business leaders and SME owners get to grips with technology.
His approach is novel as he comes at it from a financial and commercial perspective that chief executives will easily relate to, rather than making it all about the technology.
“It’s important for CEOs to understand how investments in tech can drive revenue growth, profitability and the valuation of a business and also how to apply developments in technology to business principles such as revenues, profit, cash and valuation,” says Hampshire.
“In a modern business, different elements of the value chain need different technologies to support and improve them. My intention with the book was to give leaders a robust framework for assessing the opportunities.”
Recognising that hard-pressed managers don’t have the bandwidth to plough through a weighty tome about technology, Hampshire has condensed his advice into a slim volume divided into two sections, focusing on technology for revenue and profit growth respectively.
The first section covers topics such as salesforce management and customer relationship managment, marketing insight and automation and digital presence.
The second looks at using technology for profit growth and covers digitising processes, business intelligence, the Cloud and collaboration technology.
When looking at technology to bolster any of these processes, Hampshire’s advice is simple: ignore the bells and whistles promised by the vendor and focus instead on how it can be leveraged to create value in the business. If it doesn’t tick the “adds value box”, don’t even go there.
Hampshire’s book is aimed at the lay reader and its pages are peppered with practical advice and illustrative case studies.
His tip for those who avoid engaging with techies because they feel out of their depth with the unfamiliar language is pithy. “When assessing the merits of any investment in technology, don’t try and debate with technical people using technical terms,” he advises. “Bring it back to business basics. If you can’t articulate the impact this technology will have on the value levers of the business and how it will do that, it isn’t worth spending the time trying to understand the technical stuff.”
Hampshire also advises chief executives against being led purely by trends or technology fads . One way to spot them is by applying what he calls the “so what” test to whatever technology is being recommended. “Ask yourself a simple question – why should you care about it?” he says. “The driver should always be maximising value. Sometimes this will be with cutting edge technology and sometimes with a much simpler solution.”
Hampshire doesn’t try to cover all the technology bases in his book. Instead he picks those that are applicable in most business environments and solve the most pressing problems. This means that while the book covers technologies such as AI and machine learning, it does so from a practical perspective, focusing on the opportunities available immediately while leaving emerging technologies such as Blockchain to one side.
“With respect to Blockchain I feel that for most businesses and particularly SMEs there are greater value opportunities open to them right now,” he says.
“Blockchain has certainly had a lot of profile and its role in bringing certain cryptocurrencies to life is notable. However, at this time I remain unconvinced that Blockchain today, or even in the medium term, is going to be solving problems for businesses that they can’t already solve with conventional technologies.
“Over time, as more solutions are built on distributed ledger technology, I expect that to change, but I also think it is a technology that is best suited to collaboration across industry or supply chains, rather than a technology a business owner might look to implement in isolation.”
The pandemic has forced many traditional bricks and mortar businesses online and has accelerated the pace at which organisations are going down the technology route.
But, Hampshire says, implementing technology for technology’s sake is rather missing the point.
“The businesses that will reap the rewards are those that make technology investments aligned to their business strategy,” he says.
“This means dissecting a business into its component parts to see where technology can make the biggest impact. For example, is it needed to improve processes or automation or customer service?”
One area where companies will have to invest sharpish to avoid a bumpy ride post-Covid is in systems that will facilitate a hybrid working model long-term.
“Currently, we’re all in the same boat, doing the best we can with Zoom or Teams, but the picture will change when people start returning to their offices. Unless organisations put in very slick interfaces between the office and home workers there may be issues ahead,” Hampshire says.