CEO Report: Maximizing Impact and Future-Proofing Your Business in an Ever-Changing World

By Tracey Zimmerman, President & CEO, Robots & Pencils

As CEO at Robots & Pencils, I have the amazing privilege of supporting leaders on everything from bringing game-changing new ideas to market to optimizing products and services that have been at the heart of companies for decades. Over the last few years, together, we’ve navigated everything from lockdown, to an influx of customer spending and “growth at any cost” strategies, to preserving cash as we brace for a looming recession. In financial services, education, travel, healthcare and so much more, my team and I have helped to shape tech and business strategy for everyone from fledgling startups to F500 companies amidst a sea of constant change. With no end in sight–and even more acceleration of technology and societal shifts on the horizon, I wanted to highlight what’s influencing decisions today–and call attention to 4 strategic areas with the biggest opportunity for organizational impact.

The State of the Marketplace and Technology

Let’s start with what I’m seeing and hearing from friends and clients on the front lines.

  • Limited Funding: Money is increasingly hard to access. With consumer spending down, interest rates up, and boards and investors focused on operating margin and profitability, every initiative needs a strong business case and clear ROI. Because guaranteeing growth through better and more customer engagement is extra challenging right now, securing funding for those projects has become trickier. Internal efficiency gains are easier to justify investment due to perceived greater ability to control the levers that are needed for impact.
  • Rapid Change: With the daunting speed of change, companies are struggling to select future proof strategies and technology. Further, many companies rapidly selected dozens or more tools during the pandemic to keep business going–and now aren’t sure how to rationalize what to keep, what to cut, or where to reassess the solution space.
  • Increasing Need for Flexibility: To provide a runway for business to innovate, iterative approaches are needed that flexibly adapt to change. It’s easier to swap out a small thing than a big one–and only make big changes after something is proven to work. Whether its technical architectures, business processes, key partnerships, workforce and talent management (think the gig economy), and even stackable education credentials that may add up to a degree, or not, the desire for flexibility is pervasive.
  • AI Acceleration: AI is a rapidly emerging tech that has been in the periphery, but suddenly everyone has questions about it thanks first to the release of ChatGPT and now new tools launching literally on a daily basis. Wherever you look, both uncertainty and excitement about its potential are high. (We’ll get into this more in coming blogs!)

Top Business Priorities for Maximizing Outcomes & ROI

Given these trends, there are 4 areas that I think leaders need to focus on today and into the future to maximize ROI. I’ll intro them here, and, in the coming weeks, devote a full post to each one.

1. Digital Modernization

Companies have launched new tools left and right in recent years, but too often we see projects happening in isolation. Leaders need to take a step back to improve the underlying infrastructure and address fragmented data, tools, and processes. But it’s not easy! Getting everything in one place and systems working seamlessly won’t be a walk in the park, but the payoff is the ability to effectively extract business insights and keep pace with the latest tech advancements.

2. Cost Reduction & Efficiency

Good luck finding a leader not thinking about efficiency right now! Everyone’s looking to automate processes, decrease internal costs, and hit targets without over taxing our teams or budgets. A huge opportunity lies in designing employee tools based on a deep understanding of their experiences and on-the-job needs (and perhaps backed by AI-human partnerships!). These efforts will help you both boost productivity and shift focus to the highest value activities.

3. Personalization & Engagement

It’s all about the user! To meet customer expectations and boost loyalty, companies need more unified and personalized experiences across platforms and touchpoints. To succeed, these initiatives must stem from an understanding of the user and have clear ties to revenue and business outcomes. In a similar vein, schools need better, more connected tools to attract students, keep them engaged with personalized content throughout their educational journey, and turn them into lifelong learners and active alumni.

4. Expertise & Guidance

With so much moving at lightning speed, it’s tough to plan for the future while avoiding costly short-term mistakes. From keeping up with user trends to prioritizing tech investments to maximizing ROI on new products, maintaining the expertise to make all these high-value decisions and plans alone just isn’t feasible. Leaders who seek guidance and support at crucial moments will be better equipped to stay ahead of market change and disruption.

Stay tuned for a deeper dive into these strategic priorities — and join the discussion at an upcoming executive digital roundtable!

In my next blog post, I’ll explore how fellow leaders are approaching digital modernization–and the proven methods I’ve seen to navigate the roadblocks along the way. Later in the series, I’ll talk about internal cost reduction & efficiency strategies, approaches to product personalization & engagement, and where organizations are finding outside expertise and guidance most useful.

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