Editor's Page -- Technology Is More Than IT

Dec. 21, 2004
Innovations in a variety of arenas also are providing manufacturers with new avenues to take in pursuit of competitive advantage.

When most business leaders talk about technology these days, nine times out of 10 what they're really talking about is information technology, and that's too bad. This narrow point of view limits you to a small, albeit important, realm of possibility and, worse, inhibits the broad thinking required for creating a culture of innovation. That isn't to say that IT hasn't earned its celebrity. IT has had the greatest impact on manufacturing since the Toyota Production System and, before that, Henry Ford's assembly line. The basis of the information revolution, IT has given rise to dramatically new, effective strategies for reaching customers and collaborating with suppliers. But with all the attention that we and others pay to e-business, IT is not the complete emerging technology story. New developments in a variety of arenas -- machine tools (perhaps the most overlooked source of innovation), materials and electronics, for example -- also are providing manufacturers with significant new avenues to take in pursuit of competitive advantage. More significantly, when we take the blinders off and view IT within the context of other emerging technologies, we put IT in its proper perspective: It's just another tool. We can more clearly see that innovation isn't simply about installing any new technology, whether software or hardware. Rather, it's about selecting from a broad array of exciting new tools that, when combined with new business processes, will help achieve the company's business objectives. It's not the technology that confers the competitive advantage -- your competitor has access to all the same new technology as you. What makes the difference is how you implement it. A recent study from Forrester Research Inc., Cambridge, Mass., and a host of articles published in this issue reveal the strength of this more down-to-earth approach to IT implementation. The Forrester study found that when comparing companies' financial performances, "high IT spending doesn't translate to better company results," and determined that "it's not what you spend, but how." The report suggests that companies whose IT implementations are closely linked with business strategies tend to outperform their peers. A more specific example is featured in our story about IW's Technology Leader of the Year, Jeffrey Bleustein, CEO of Harley-Davidson. In this article, Bleustein makes clear that he keeps technology of all kinds -- IT, machine tool, and product specific -- squarely in its place: at the service of business objectives. He's careful to note that new business practices and processes were just as important to the company's ability to create a culture of innovation and ultimately its extraordinary financial success. Look for other examples throughout the issue. Read them. Study them. And open your eyes to all the possibilities. Patricia Panchak is IW's editor-in-chief. She is based in Cleveland.

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