A Bible verse that became The Christian Science Monitor motto popped into my head as we worked on this month’s feature about technology. It’s from the Gospel according to Mark, Chapter 4, Verse 28: “First the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.” The verse basically says that good things will come—and then repeat themselves in equally good fashion—if you toil steadily in the fields.
That advice applies equally well to information technology in LBM, I thought. It takes constant work to install IT products and get people to use them, and the improvements made to systems regularly don’t always seem all that great. But ultimately the rewards are bountiful.
I think this slow, tiresome process is what makes IT so tough to embrace at building supply companies. We’re a nation that loves fourth-quarter, bottom-of-the-ninth, 18th-hole comeback victories. A sales rep can land a whale of a sale five minutes from closing and the day gets marked down as a success.
IT implementations aren’t geared that way. One reason is that tech takes teamwork—a willingness throughout the company to give up personal conveniences in order for the company to achieve an ultimately greater benefit.
Tech also requires organization and patience: As our story on the arrival of smartphone apps in LBM reveals, companies like US LBM ultimately concluded that it couldn’t provide the services it wanted to plug into its app until it first made several other changes to its core systems.
And finally, there are the surprising discoveries that pop up when tech arrives. I have a sneaking suspicion that some installations of a customer relationship management (CRM) system go badly because the sales reps are reluctant to admit they are terrible at spelling. I’ve heard that some CRM battles got turned around only after the installers added voice-dictation tools to the systems.
Successes built on incremental progress require not just discipline and commitment but an ability to accept and even welcome small changes as part of a bigger achievement. Read our story on tech advances this year and you won’t see many blockbuster announcements; rather, there are lots of relatively modest improvements that save a smidgen of time or a few coins’ worth of money.
It’s the equivalent of what baseball players refer to as “keeping the line moving”: You ultimately have more success if several players in a row hit singles and doubles than you will if you rely on just one guy to hit a home run.
Or, as a farmer would say, what you reap depends on how diligently you sow.