Beware of Digital Ideologues
Growing up, I recall a radio ad that promoted the theme, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”
In the era when businesses have evolved from labor-, to capital-, to now talent-intensive enterprises, there has been a disturbing rise in technology advocates I call “Digital Ideologues.”
To paraphrase the lead quote, “The mind of a digital ideologue is a terrible thing.” Period!
Ideologues are people whose belief system is so focused on one subject that they fail to accommodate, even tolerate, different points of view, different opinions, alternative and complementary solutions and/or belief systems.
As a twenty plus year Business Partner with the US Postal Service, co-owner of a software development company that provides mail manifesting solutions and a Print2Mail center that composes documents and delivers them in electronic and printed formats, I’m in the eye of the digital storm. As a former senior bank officer, I’ve lived the evolution from processing paper checks, to check images, to truncated statements to e-delivered documents. Since 1998, our core market for mail automation software was banks.
My introduction to Digital Ideologues occurred at an association meeting of bank technology professionals. This was seven years ago. My affiliation with the US Postal Service drew smirks and snubs from a disproportionate number of the group’s members. “Shock” was not an uncommon reaction. They viewed me as a blacksmith who was misplaced in a meeting of transportation engineers and innovators; or worse, an unwelcome contagion that needed to be isolated and eliminated. I repeat, this was seven years ago. Many of these ideologues, when trapped sitting with me at a table during lunch, spoke condescendingly about the fact that the USPS was an anachronism and paper would soon be replaced completely and forever by digital documents and e-delivery. They thought they were doing me a favor by trying to destroy what I did and undermine what I knew.
How has our company survived in a world driven by new technology, declining demand for paper statements, a bank population today that’s 60% smaller than it was when we started our business and, to add insult to injury, a growing population of close-minded, intolerant, arrogant digital ideologues?
It hasn’t been easy, but our strategy is no mystery. We followed a path defined by logic and sustainability.
First: Strategic Planning My partner and I are former senior bankers and strong believers in Strategic Planning. Thirty years ago I wrote a Planning Protocol that we used with bank and some corporate clients across the south and, when we became partners with the US Postal Service and began developing mail automation software, our faith in strategic planning became stronger; more specifically, it became a codified element in our business model. That was 1998.
Second: Adaptability This is where our Planning discipline paid dividends. We define our company in terms of Strengths and Weaknesses and bifurcate these into two critical channels: External and Internal. Once these are honestly and thoroughly discussed and vetted, we take what we’ve learned and focus on actionable items: Our Opportunities and Problems/Threats. When engaged in a business that is totally dependent of the USPS through print2mail solutions, and these solutions are targeted exclusively to banks and their check image or truncated statements, we had to accept several facts: (1) Digital communications will displace a large number of printed items such as personal correspondences as well as transaction items, and this will be a steady trend; (2) Remaining solely depended on the USPS and banks had to end and development of non-USPS dependent solutions must begin immediately as well as a multi-channel marketing approach; (3) Taking care of existing users was paramount as well as maintaining a close watch on their changing needs; (4) Said changes in our customers revealed new opportunities and it was paramount we valuated these changes in terms of our capabilities and capacity and respond accordingly.
Third: Persistence Never let up. We must keep our thumb on the pulse of our changing marketplace and trust our ability to adapt and maintain a constant state of readiness.
Today, we remain a software development company, moreover, we’re no longer one-dimensional in terms of solutions and markets; instead, we’re multi-dimensional and offer a full suite of workflow solutions. We believe in trademark protection and registered our flagship, mail automation product, AutoMail®, at the time of its launch back in 1999. When we broadened our product suite and market scope, we trademarked our proprietary VDP solution, AutoDocs™, which has applied value in all verticals. To cap it off, we adopted and registered a new theme more in tune with our current market position, “Take The Work Out of Workflow.®” Our corporate growth today is on a record-setting track with workflow solutions that favorably impact document creation, composition and, yes, print and electronic document delivery.
We live in a world of both paper and digital documents. In some situations, digital is more efficient and far more cost-effective. In others, paper is more practical and less vulnerable to hacking and global cyber theft. It’s not a zero sum game.
During a recent visit to our corporate tax accountant, I noticed a stack of printed documents on the corner of his desk. As a member of American Express I immediately recognized the square shaped blue logo in the upper left corner of the top sheet in the stack. Our discussion began with our CPA extolling the virtues of internet based statement presentment, “Don’t you love having your statements delivered over the Internet?” I qualified my agreement, “I prefer Internet access for daily monitoring and money management, but I’m more comfortable having a paper statement for archiving and auditing.”
He seemed perplexed, which prompted me to ask about the foot high stack of American Express statements sitting on the corner of his desk, “What are these?” I asked.
“Oh, yeah,” he demurred, “I print out copies which makes is easier for me to reference and do research.”
I rest my case.