CORONADO, Calif. -- The "unplugged PC" that serves as an office accoutrement rather than a business tool for the chief executive officer may be the first signal that a company is headed out to pasture.
CEOs' resistance to technology not only limits them to filtered information provided by others but undermines the vital learning that must occur throughout the ranks if a company is to compete effectively, said Roger "Rocky" Laverty 3rd, president, chief executive officer and chief operating officer at Smart & Final, Vernon, Calif.
In a keynote speech during last week's Information Systems conference here, sponsored by the Food Marketing Institute, Washington, Laverty lamented the computer-illiterate CEO. He called upon companies to abandon their traditional "no risk" approach to technology and venture out onto the leading edge and even the "bleeding edge."
Laverty said such initiatives may not generate profits -- and cited Smart & Final's Internet home page as an example -- but the learning that's achieved in the process will catapult a company past its competition.
"In our own industry, we have heard many a senior executive either belittle the need for their own use of current technology, or protest that they are too old to learn how to use it," he said.
"Leadership by example has never been more important. The contrary message will quickly send a company out to pasture in Jurassic Park," he said. "Unless executives understand the hows and whys of technology, new systems implementation will take forever. The proud-to-be-illiterate CEO will not and cannot recognize technology's potential."
Smart & Final has determined technology's potential lies in its ability to leverage the company's most important assets: people and information, Laverty said. The commitment to training has been a longstanding company philosophy, he noted, and pointed to Smart University, but the company's emphasis on information access represents a shift in strategic direction.
"The era of guarding information is out. This is not something we can afford to do any longer. We are now in the era of free access to information -- information that can be accessed by anyone in our organization at anytime and from anywhere," he said.
Employees who are provided easy access to information and trained to adapt rapidly to change will successfully maintain the crucial link to customers, Laverty said. To illustrate the point he described the "store of the future" making use of available technology to reinforce the customer relationship.
Upon entering the store, a customer approaches a kiosk and swipes a card that welcomes the shopper by name and generates a printed list of special offers developed based on the individual's past purchasing history. The shopper may also be notified that a spending threshold has been exceeded, thereby entitling that customer to an extra discount.
"And at the same time," Laverty continued, "an alarm goes off in the manager's office and she sees one of her top customers is in the store. She doesn't want to be in the office; she wants to be on the floor to welcome" the shopper.
He cited another example where remote access to information can enable an employee to identify problems and respond more quickly to solve them.
"A district manager out in the field can use his laptop to perform some quick analysis, store to store, category to category.
Only with continual training and access to information can a company play out such scenarios and make such nimble moves, he said.
"People and information, taken together, believed in, invested in and committed to, will result in the only viable remaining competitive advantage that is left for us to pursue: the ability to learn faster and react quicker than our competitor," Laverty said. "People and information are the only sustainable competitive advantage."