We are one-fifth of the way into the 21st century. By now, your business’ biggest expense should be technology.
Having the proper technology backing your business is the most important and critical element of any modern business. Those businesses that embrace and invest in technology will be the ones still kicking at the turn of the century. And I don’t just mean “have a website, a database, and some backend software”. I mean truly grasp what technology can do for your business: automation, reporting, analytics, integrations, user experience. Those are what set a 21st century business apart from an ancient one.
Now certainly if you don’t have a website, database, and backend for your business, go commission those things immediately. But, you can’t stop there. Many businesses seem to think that in the 21st century, all they need to “keep up” is a moderately-functional website. No, that’s just what you need to get customers to even consider your business in the present time. To genuinely get customers to love and want and recommend your services, you need an amazing technology experience.
What is an amazing technology experience?
Let’s walk through an anecdote of a subpar one. When I moved to Georgia, I had to establish my apartment’s power through a local utilities company. The apartment manager simply gave me the name of the utilities provider. Their website was arcane, and only worked fully in Internet Explorer. I needed an account id to setup an online account, and when I called them, they told me I had to show up in person at their corporate office. After physically driving to initiate my power supply, I still couldn’t create a web account. I had to wait for my first bill by mail which included the account id on the paper statement. Finally establishing my online presence, I could only pay my bills by bank withdrawal, with no way to institute auto-pay.
So what would’ve been an amazing experience? Shooting for the moon, I would have loved my apartment complex and utilities provider to integrate with each other. The apartment knows all of my information–I had to fill out a whole notebook of forms. Why couldn’t they authorize utilities on my behalf? Why couldn’t the power company allow me to create an online account immediately following? Why couldn’t I pay with much safer credit card or PayPal account? Actually, why couldn’t my utilities bill automatically be rolled into my rent bill each month?
“But Jeff, utilities companies have little to no competition and no impetus to innovate!” Maybe they don’t think they have that impetus. But they do. How many tasks and systems could they automate? For most businesses, the vast majority of their core services could be automated. And beyond that, most of their core infrastructure could be in managed cloud services. While it may cost more than running it all in house, the benefits you gain are immense and not instantly visible: you no longer require employees performing day-to-day operational functions, and instead they can focus on real business problems.
Competition is not a requisite of innovation. If a competing provider was available with the features I desired above, I would’ve instituted my business with them in a heartbeat. The archaic power company only ever has customers whom the company is their only choice. That is not a great place to be in the 21st century. That provider should be innovating, providing an awesome user experience, and make people want to use them, regardless of if they have competition.
Every business should. But many don’t.
Why? Well for one, technology is expensive. I should say, quality technology is expensive. In the tech world, you get what you pay for. I’ve worked on countless projects in my consulting career from clients that tried to hire cheap, offshore teams. The end result, of course, is those clients are now paying more money to have my teams fix their software. Companies that try to cheap out on their tech either end up with subpar or extra-expensive software.
Companies that minimize their spending on tech are the ones ignorant to how it can accelerate their business. They are naive to the ancillary benefits well-designed technology solutions can have both internally and externally. It’s not just about making your customers happy. It’s making your employees more efficient. Nay, it’s automating menial, error-prone tasks, reducing call volume, and enabling self-service so your employees can focus on real, innovative work. When you invest in good technology, you foster a foundation to allow your entire company to be the best it can be.
The other major reason companies fail to bankroll tech is simply that technology is hard. It’s hard to create quality, meaningful, and effective software. That’s why it’s costly. Those “economical” shops that promise websites easy on the wallet aren’t in the business of advancing businesses. To ideate a technology platform that compliments and hastens your business, you need an experienced engineering team. Genuinely great engineers are few and far between. If you can’t staff your own, harder still is finding a technology partner that synergizes and empathizes your business.
Many of those same clients who skimped on their projects have come to my teams with a very gunshy and adversarial attitude. And I never blame them; it’s hard to trust a brand new set of engineers when your last ones didn’t deliver. But to never try again is to stymie innovation. Despite technology being hard, persistence overcomes all things. Unless your business is relentless in contracting its desired technology, it will only ever maintain the status quo.
Technology is hard and expensive.
Frankly, as it should be. It’s a differentiator. Again, it’s what sets a 21st century business apart from an ancient one.
Technology is hard and expensive, and either you’re just dipping your toe in, or you had a mediocre experience prior. How can you make sure things go well in the future? My best advice is this: don’t bite off too much. Iterate your technology in small, targeted goals. I’ve seen many a project finish with inferior results by taking on too much. Too big a tech transformation leads to muddled solutions across the board. Identify the biggest impact areas and address them one at a time. This allows you to easily observe their consequence and react accordingly.
Furthermore, don’t cling to your current technology. Don’t fall for the sunk cost fallacy. You may have invested a pretty penny into some custom software that makes your employees more efficient. But does it make them better at their jobs? Try to think deeply and critically about what it is you actually want your technology to accomplish for you. Not just replacing your excel spreadsheets with nicer logic-infused forms, but supplanting entire manual processes with automated ones. Ponder beyond basic productivity gains and into business performance gains. And don’t be afraid to abandon what you already have if it doesn’t achieve those goals.
Finally, find a technology partner that will work to understand your business, provide suggestions to further it, and then build an extensible and scalable solution. You need an outside opinion that can help steer onto the correct path. It’s often difficult for companies to authentically identify where their processes are inept. When a business has been operating in the same fashion for so long, they have a hard time thinking outside the box. A trusted partner can be a godsend in diagnosing inefficiencies and solving key problems.
That’s how your business gets ahead in the modern era. But again, don’t stop there. Keep pioneering and actualizing more and more technology. In my years of consulting experience, the companies succeeding in their sector are the ones spending heavily on technology. If you stop, you will only fall back to where we started.