You Win the Tech Battle With Small Skirmishes

June 2021


By Zach Anderson Pettet


Dropping The Big One is no way to dive into digital moves that could be transformational.

Few words are more hyped than “technology.” 

What’s your tech strategy? What’s your innovation strategy? Are you digital first? Executives across Kansas City are bombarded with these questions every day. Frankly, much of it is nonsensical consultant speak.

Let’s unpack it. 

First, why would one implement a new strategy that hinges around some newfangled piece of technology? The answer should be clear for your business: growth or efficiency. Maybe even both!

If the tech strategy you’re running after doesn’t increase efficiency, revenue, or give you access to new customers, then you’re really just talking about technological theater. 

Most news releases you see about digital transformation are technological theater, as well. It’s almost the business version of virtue signaling. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with theater. It can lead to change in reality, but it’s good to be wary. 

Executives at established companies that could be prime candidates for a “digital transformation,” should run the other way from consultants offer-ing multi-year plans for said transformation. 

This is a common pitfall and it’s understandable. If you perceive a digital transformation as a gigantic undertaking, then it’s easy to get sucked into the vortex of shiny multi-year plans pitched by consultants in even shinier blue suits. 

In truth, digital transformations should be the opposite. They should be simple. One step at a time. 

Try something. Test it with a clear set of quantified parameters. Iterate. Double down or try something different. Think of it all as a set of experiments.

This is my prescription based on my experience helping to build technology companies in Kansas City, investing in and partnering with startups across the U.S. at NBKC bank, and moving on to a Silicon Valley company, helping banks and financial technology companies modernize and grow:

 

Start small. Don’t get pulled into the allure of a complete overhaul. Pick one technology initiative and give it a try. NBKC didn’t build their new fintech business based on a 100-page plan. It started with testing one single partnership, seeing how it worked, and iterating from there. The keyword there is, “testing.” If a past partnership didn’t live up to what you’d hoped for, don’t let that experience destroy your faith in technology in general. It’s simply an experiment. You got some data back and now you know more than you did when you started. 

When you do find what works, think of that as a tiny ember in a fire. Blow on it and nurse it carefully until it’s a blazing fire.

 

Find a partner. Ask yourself what is a single piece of the business that could potentially benefit from a technology integration or partnership. Once you identify a good candidate or two, find a
partner to help you get there. Look at what JE Dunn has done with their investment and partnership in local startup Homebase. Not only is Dunn investing in the future
of construction and technology infrastructure, it has partnered with the experts. The likelihood that the answer to your technology strategy lies inside your walls is low. Look outside your walls, get to know these entrepreneurs, and ask questions. You will likely kiss a frog or two before you find your technological Prince Charming, but don’t give up. No one bats 1.000 and it’s all about testing, testing, and testing some more.

 

COMMIT. The most important piece of advice I can give is to commit fully to using technology and learning everything you can about everything you can. Embrace it and ask every seemingly dumb question possible. To that end, don’t let the techies intimidate you. Tech has a pervasive problem where the “tech people” in their hoodies and board shorts act like you should already know what they’re talking about and understand the industry. I’ve been in the industry for almost a decade, and I still ask dumb questions every day. Turns out they’re not dumb questions. They’re good questions that technologists often don’t realize 99 percent of the world has never heard of. 

We have authorities on technology and innovation experimentation in Kansas City. Diana Kander, as one example, has written multiple best-selling books on the subject. We have incredibly innovative companies like C2FO and TripleBlind. Not to mention the countless folks who work for innovative companies across the U.S., but call KC home. I work for Bond in San Francisco, but I live right here in our beautiful city of fountains. Reach out. We’re all Kansas Citians. We’re open and we want to help. 

Now, the annoying part: It never ends. Innovation is accelerating at an impres-sive and annoying rate. I still don’t under-stand TikTok, but that’s for a separate ar-ticle. Staying on top of your digital plan is a full-time job and a half. 

My last piece of advice is about hum-an capital. Technology strategy isn’t a part-time job. It requires focus and a lot of relationship-building. 

If banks like NBKC, Lead Bank, and UMB can partner with technology and build together, you can too. Go! Test! 

Oh … and have fun.