Technology in the Middle Market: Nice-to-Have vs. Need-to-Have

Eric Anderson, the president of Quassy Amusement Park in Connecticut, isn’t a web geek or technologist. He does, however, use technology to help automate his business in a number of innovative ways, like how rides connected to the Internet send signals back to the manufacturer when parts need to be replaced to how its arcade games rely on a virtual currency unique to the park.

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“[Tech] is becoming a larger part of certain aspects of our business,” said Anderson. “The experience here at the park is crucial to the success of the business, and we’ve used technology in a number of different ways to augment the operation and drive more people here.”

Anderson’s approach to technology is ahead of most other middle market companies. Most middle market companies, defined as revenue between $25 million and $1 billion, view technology as a nice-to-have, not a must-have. Technology’s role is a supporting one, according to new data from Capital Insight, the Washington Post’s research arm, in conjunction with CIT. Results from the technology trends survey indicate there’s an advantage for those middle market companies that view technology as a key factor in driving business strategy.

Most middle market business leaders, according to the study, view technology’s role in their operations much in the way that Eric Gally of Gally Public Affairs, a lobbying firm based in Annapolis, Maryland does. The company monitors policy and petitions the Maryland state government on behalf of its clients, such as the American Cancer Society. The work is data intensive and requires a keen sense of the impact of trends on policy. Yet much of the work is done offline, or simply by reading documents. The team is proficient in technology, yet tools like the iPhone and Dropbox, while helpful to Gally’s business, are not mission critical.

The thing is, middle market companies know that technology is important to their business: 72 percent of business leaders, according to the study, report that technology is a high priority for them. More than half indicated that technologies that emphasize efficiency and automate tasks — particularly cloud-based tools like Amazon Web Services and Dropbox — are the most important. Additionally, a third of survey respondents find strategic value in social media tools like Facebook and Twitter.

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But these are cosmetic approaches to technology; these aren’t business imperatives. Quassy’s Anderson sees the benefits of investing in technology, of making it a central pillar to its business strategy.

For example, using a mobile tool called Purple Portal, visitors can access wifi in the park and opt-in to sharing information from the park’s Facebook profile. Quassy uses the data provided by the portal to see what parts of the park are most interesting to and frequented by his visitors. This helps him understand what components of his business to prioritize and optimize.

“We’ve expanded our online presence with marketing campaigns, and we have a huge database that we mined ourselves,” said Anderson, explaining how technology drives his business. “That’s proved to be very successful for us.”

Technology’s impact on middle market companies, however, has been mixed. A little more than half of the survey respondents said that technology serves as a key differentiator against competitors. Middle market businesses that look towards the future see technology as a key asset, and are making investments in software tools, security, and cloud services as a spending and strategic priority. This is the difference between growing versus running your business.

According to the survey, half said their organization has made investments in information security, cyber security, and data privacy software, 38 percent said their company has already invested in some kind of cloud computing.

Curt Schwab, the CEO of Blue Water Media, a Washington D.C.-based digital media agency, sees the growth of cloud services reflected with his clients. “Security vulnerabilities come in to play with cloud technologies,” said Schwab, indicating that a fear of a security break tops the list of client priorities. “The federal government is actually building out their own cloud to just try to clamp down on security.”

Fifteen-years-ago, Quassy Amusement Park came online and much to its surprise was able to bring 6,000 people from a New York City postal union through its gates because of its website. The game is more sophisticated today. Technology has gone far beyond a simple website. It’s CRM; it’s social media; it’s information security; it’s cloud services; it’s mobile devices; it’s automating process that for decades were manual. Most important for the 63 percent of business influencers and 59 percent of the technology influencers whose companies view technology as a supporting function, it’s an opportunity to drive and sustain revenue.

“We make sure that technology improvements that have an impact on the guest also have an impact on the business cost savings,” said Anderson. “Anything that can enhance the guest experience and streamline our operation, in our opinion, is a good investment. It’s a win-win, the way we look at it.”