Today, every business is a technology business in one way or another. If you’re not embracing technology, you will be left behind by your competitors.
Steve Clarke, founder of Freeman Clarke, helped a switchboard outsourcing company implement a data warehouse to revolutionise their billing and reporting, reducing what had been a five day task to just a few hours. They also worked with a pub chain to implement a data analytics system, which provided automated, bespoke offers to its customers over email, web, and mobile. The result was a boost in customer loyalty, and over £18 million in increased revenues.
These businesses are embracing new technologies to improve their processes, at the same time transforming them into high-technology businesses from traditional models.
You can’t get much more traditional than a coffee shop. Yet Starbucks is one example of an old-school business model that has turned to technology. In 2009, as the company’s performance slumped, they decided they had to innovate.
Effective use of social media, mobile and other systems have since played a key role in improving the customer experience and boosting profits and share price. For example, in 2012, by implementing new systems that cut 10 seconds from each card or mobile phone transaction, Starbucks cut customer waiting times by a total of 900,000 hours per year! Now, technology is at the heart of their business.
Another dramatic change to business is connectivity with customers. In the future, predicts Steve Clarke "technology will bring the customer ever closer to the business. Customers want to work with companies that they feel they can trust and want to buy things in friendly environments. So, out will go the current impersonal and cold online buying process to be replaced by on-line communities that foster community-based buying."
This means technology is tapping into much more basic urges to take part in community activities. Technology is going beyond the product itself, and even the company. As Reckless, an award winning digital agency, point out, "the impact of digital technology isn’t on products, but rather on the relationships it creates between consumers."
They point to the example of Nike+, a product which connects an individual’s running shoes to their iPod, enabling them to track their speed, route, and times, and crucially, enabling that data to be shared amongst online communities. They now have a worldwide user base of 10 million, who are engaged not just with the company, but on a deeper level in communities with other Nike+ users.
And now, connectivity is even going beyond social media and online communities. The Internet of Things is seeing more of our everyday devices going online. Currently there are 4.9 billion sensors connected to the web, with that number predicted to rise to between 38 and 50 billion in around 5 years’ time. That ranges from smart devices in the home managing your heating or creating a grocery list, to cars, insulin pumps and pacemakers.
Google "futurist" Ray Kurzweil [below], who works on artificial intelligence at the search giant, predicts that by the 2030s the human brain will be able to connect directly to the cloud. It might sound like science fiction, but just bear in mind: in the 1990s Kurzweil made a list of 147 predictions for 2009. When he reviewed the list in 2010, a whopping 86 per cent of his predictions were correct.
Data and connectivity are the future for business. But technology innovation, and the boost to efficiency and productivity it can bring, comes in many forms. Mando, a web and app development company, came up with a unique solution to a common agency problem – the Timesheet Fridge – to ensure 100 per cent timesheet completion each week. This simple but effective app won Mando the "Most creative use of digital technology" award at the Digital Entrepreneurs Award recently.
The Timesheet Fridge is a Windows app which operates a magnetic lock on the fridge. If, by 4pm on a Friday, every team member has submitted their timesheets, the fridge opens and everyone gets to help themselves to a beer or cold drink. In the lead-up to 4pm, a list of "blockers" is shown to the team. No nagging from management is required – instead the team cajole each other!
Notes Ian Finch, Managing Director of Mando: "We’ve had a lot of interest from around the world in the Timesheet Fridge and Friday at 4pm is always a popular time for clients to coincide their visits to us!"
Despite the growth of the tech behemoths; Google, Facebook and the like, technology is a space where smaller, innovative and fast-moving businesses can really gain a competitive advantage through their inventiveness and flexibility.
The businesses I work with at The Supper Club are incredibly enthusiastic in embracing new technologies and creating their own. And with data and connectivity now at the heart of not just business but everyday life, almost any business that ignores these trends is putting itself at risk of being left in the past.