Published on 2014/07/16

The Differentiating Value of Technology
More than new infrastructure or courses, technology itself can serve as a differentiator for institutions when applied innovatively.
Brands can be made or broken by how an organization establishes itself in the marketplace. Technology establishes its value to an organization, and its customers, in a similar fashion.

As CIOs work with their internal partners and IT teams on strategic planning and the daily operational ‘blocking and tackling,’ they should consider where current technology stands as to negative, neutral or positive differentiation. Customers no longer just use technology; they experience an organization via technology.

There are three types of differentiation customers can experience as a result of technology:

1. Negative

Technology that is absent, broken or limited. The most prevalent example is poor reliability of networks or applications that are down, degraded or insecure. These will create poor perceptions not just of the technology but the organization. Response time expectations are getting shorter and shorter, and even split-second delays can cause customers to go elsewhere. Ignore gaps in the technology portfolio that are negative differentiators at your organization’s peril.

2. Neutral

Technology in this space doesn’t particularly differentiate your organization, but if you don’t have it, you’re disadvantaged in comparison to the competition. Technology moves from innovative to obsolete at an escalating pace. CIOs don’t want to wake up one day and find the competition has implemented technology to such an extent that it’s expected — and their organization is lacking. It wasn’t long ago that the existence of mobile applications was considered leading edge. Not anymore; people expect to go to their mobile device and interact with your organization. People also expect that when approaching (or being approached by) your organization, whether in person, via phone or digitally, you know who they are and can customize their experience. For most organizations, the bulk of the technology portfolio is probably in this space.

3. Positive

Innovation lives here, but not for long. Wearable technology, ultra-fast broadband and home automation are a few examples. CIOs should be thinking about which of the plethora of innovations could be positive differentiators for their organization, and move to implement before the competition applies it to such a great extent that it moves into the neutral zone. The challenge here is to prioritize; avoid the trap of trying everything but not implementing anything.

CIOs and their teams need to partner with their business counterparts to correctly identify where technology sits along the differentiation scale to ensure enhancement of, not damage to, the customer experience and ergo the brand.

Tech Differentiation
This scale outlines how technology can impact customer satisfaction. Image by Joanna Young.

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Readers Comments

John Saunders 2014/07/16 at 11:27 am

This is a good way to differentiate among the technology an institution implements. My guess is that the majority of institutions operate primarily in that ‘neutral’ space but may think of themselves as operating in the ‘positive’ one. This is because they tend to discover technology when it’s still new, but by the time it gets fully implemented and embedded in the day-to-day, a newer version or entirely new system is available.

One way institutions can combat this issue is rely more on external sources to assess their current technology needs and lead the charge in implementing them. I find this method helpful as external providers tend to have a better grasp of trends in the industry and where an institution is in comparison to its competitors. External providers also have the ability to set up and take down more quickly than when this process occurs internally.

Julie Matthews 2014/07/16 at 1:22 pm

Institutions need to be careful as they move their technology implementation from the ‘neutral’ to the ‘positive’ space. While innovation is welcome and, in some cases, greatly needed, institutions should always ask themselves if the new technology will address their needs and is an effective use of resources. There’s a lot of pressure to be the first to implement something, or to differentiate yourself entirely by technology, but sometimes being too long in that ‘positive’ space isn’t good either.

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