What to do when your company reaches the size tipping point
Both products and operations got a technology overhaul when Toronto-based data research company Delvinia grew to 150 employees
As it grows quickly into a mid-sized company that specializes in data collection for clients, Delvinia Interactive Inc. has found the need to make a few important decisions to position it to deal with the challenges that come along with growth.
One thing the company needs to consider is SMACIT.
SMACIT is the acronym for Social, Mobile, Analytics, Cloud and Internet of Things, coined to describe the technologies that drive digital transformation in business.
While it's hardly unusual for a tech-based company to embrace these digital tools aggressively, for a business undergoing a growth spurt like Delvinia, it is imperative to move fast.
"We've expanded," says Adam Froman, CEO of the Toronto-based company he co-founded in 1998.
By the end of this year, Mr. Froman expects his work force to double from its current size to more than 150. Building a staff this quickly brings its own challenges, so Delvinia needs to make sure its human resources digital tools are up to speed.
Delvinia's data research work is becoming ever-more sophisticated quickly, as well. Started in 1998, the company shifted gears a few times, both sharpening and widening its focus. It has moved from its early days advising clients on how to use the Internet to applying broadband-based digital tools for detailed market research with access to more than 10-million consumers in North America.
"We now build algorithms to automate the entire research process," Mr. Froman explains.
"This means that instead of taking six weeks to do a major research study, we can automate the process to deliver a report to clients in less than 48 hours."
All this also means that Mr. Froman and Delvinia have faced two major decisions in the past five years. First, the company honed its service, expanding into the United States and managing its growth, which has been in triple-digits year over year since 2014.
This has meant having to pay close attention to Delvinia's own customer relations management (CRM) tools, embracing what SMACIT has to offer.
"Now that we're in another growth phase, we've had to pay close attention to CRM," Mr. Froman says. The company is using cloud-based software from Salesforce.com, a San Francisco-based company.
The second big decision is to manage its human resources using online, cloud-based tools.
For human resources, Delvinia has opted to work with a Utah-based company called BambooHR. It allows workers to connect directly to their HR department without intermediaries; rather than pestering a boss who might have to ask someone else, employees can go online themselves to book time off, review their benefits, see whether teams need help or resources or to schedule meetings or training.
"We're a people business; we need to deal with the entire life-cycle of our employees," from hiring through promotion to leaves of absence, performance, job satisfaction and departure, Mr. Froman says.
"As you grow, you have to put in the processes to keep up with the growth. But with so many new employees, sometimes you find that instead of using their soft skills to work through problems, you start to lean on the process too much," he explains.
"We're bringing in these project management tools so our employees can spend more time on the soft skills of judgment and decision-making and not be overburdened by having to maintain processes."
The importance of embracing SMACIT for a company of Delvinia's size and growth trajectory cannot be underestimated, says Yolande Chan, associate dean and professor of information technology management at the Smith School of Business at Queen's University in Kingston.
"There's a difference in what you can do from when you're a small business, when you double your size to 150 people," Dr. Chan says.
"The complexities change, and so do the tools you need to support the business shift. I'm highly supportive of medium-sized companies investing in tools to manage their increasing information flow," she explains.
Using cloud computing is important both for HR and CRM, Dr. Chan says. She points to research by Jeanne W. Ross of the MIT Sloan Center for Information Systems Research.
Keeping a company's ability to deploy SMACIT is more important than ever, Prof. Ross says.
"Whether or not a company can execute its strategy depends largely on whether it was designed to do so," she wrote in January.
"In other words it depends on business architecture [her emphasis] – the way a company's people, processes, systems and data interact to deliver goods and services to customers."
In growing to 150 employees, Delvinia reaches the size where people no longer know everyone in the company, according to author Malcolm Gladwell in his influential book originally published in 2000, The Tipping Point.
Given the the pace of change since the book was written, this makes digital HR tools even more important, Dr. Chan says.
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