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Transforming Information Technology into Technology Innovation

By Andrew Macaulay, CTO, Topgolf Entertainment Group


Andrew Macaulay, CTO, Topgolf Entertainment Group

The stereotype is familiar: a hurried, harried information technology professional bounces from phone to desktop to server, trying to put out the latest IT fire. IT leadership tries to control the chaos by locking everything down, enforcing old standards, resisting change and always saying “no” before considering a partial “yes.”

“Make room for the new ideas that could take your brand to the next level and leave your competitors in the dust”

Progressive leaders have already pivoted from these old ways. Others—or their replacements—are following. We badly need a new brand.

Once upon a time, we were Data Processing. A central function, we used big machines to crunch data and run repetitive routines. Management Information Systems came into vogue for a while. But once the technology leapt out of central rooms and onto everyone’s desktop (then briefcase, then pocket), we became Information Technology. IT stuck.

We must reverse our thinking, so let’s reverse our brand. IT becomes TI. Technology Innovation.

Innovation taps the creative spirit of technology professionals and embraces the need to drive our companies forward. Technology covers every aspect of what we do and has the potential to disrupt major industries and differentiate companies from their competitors. 

Topgolf grew out of two brothers looking to solve a problem with tech. One day, after arguing over whose golf ball was driven the farthest at a driving range, they decided to settle the score. Instead of running onto the field to physically measure distances, they embedded a RFID chip into a ball and a new approach to an old sport emerged.

That spirit of innovation is embedded in our company DNA, and it flows from our executive leadership down through each associate. So, it’s not surprising that creative use of technology permeates our guest experience, venue operations, internal communications and new revenue streams—and we in the TI team make it happen.

That’s right. I lead the TI team at Topgolf, and the whole company is shifting to use that term.  Shifting focus like this doesn’t happen by accident and is certainly more than just a name change. Start by determining the intersection of innovation and your company’s business objectives. Technology innovation folds into key business drivers like customer relationship management, market disruption through new products and services, and streamlined internal operations. Take inventory of your technology team’s expertise, strengths and passions, and look for ways to capitalize on them. 

From these insights, create a transformation plan that is achievable and profitable for your company. Pick a few categories to tackle first. I happen to like these:

• Efficiency—There’s no shortage today of available data and analytics and ways to automate or eliminate busy work. Real-time information can be used to continually measure the current and projected health of your operations and identify new improvements.

•  Engagement—We create highly engaging experiences for our guests and believe we achieve that through actively engaged associates. Now more than ever, all companies in all industries can do the same. 

• Innovation—Give permission for research and development everywhere. Make room for the new ideas that could take your brand to the next level and leave your competitors in the dust.

• People—People are key to making all of the above possible. Challenge your technology professionals to think bigger and make the shift. Scout experts who are inspired to use their skills to move the business forward. Build a culture and a career roadmap that reinforces the power of innovation.  

For technology innovation to stick, the TI team must be led by individuals with great people leadership skills and technical expertise. Only one or the other doesn’t work, so it is critical to offer career paths for all desired outcomes as plenty of critical team members have neither the desire nor the skills for people leadership. The staff you have, or want to hire, need to see their future career with you.  Our TI career map starts at intern-level hires and shows all the roles available as individual contributors, with multiple levels of seniority. Then it forks three ways at the top: Technical Experts track; Project/Program Management track; and People Leadership track. All three paths allow an individual to reach the same “VP” level in their chosen track. “Management” is no longer the only option for advancement.

Why is that so important? You can only control the culture of your TI team with your employees. Contractors, consultants and outsourcers have their own culture, goals and mission. And they are not the same as yours. I know. I was one a couple of times. That doesn’t mean they don’t have their place in your transformation plan. Leverage them either for true bursts of activity where long-term positions don’t make sense (that means you actually let them go after their assignment) or for true outsourced functions where the economies of scale or specialty skills really exist. But do it around a core of employees with your desired culture. If you are going to create a strong culture, offer people a career and not just a job. The career map shows and delivers on that promise.

With executive support and the right team in place, a company can run full force at technology innovation. We use a model called the “innovation engine,” through which we generate numerous ideas. Many never make it to concept or implementation, but all are vetted for value. We take the most interesting ideas and evaluate them with research and testing. If an idea passes these stop-gates, we move it to our venues and support it at the corporate and local levels. It is really just a simple stage/gate funnel process. But a funnel relies on gravity. Ours is an “engine” because we add the right fuel, oxygen and spark to drive those ideas through the process.

Whether you’re ready to completely transform your company’s approach to technology, or if you see opportunities to subtly change course, consider how technology innovation can fold into your company’s success. The shift to TI is already underway; we just didn’t know what to call it.

Will you join me in changing our brand to TI? 

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