Moving…Squeaky or Sleekly

Question though; is your business moving?…and how is the move? hm? squeaky or sleekly 😀

thing is most industries are fast changing for the better.

A major cause of such change is Information Technology; the continuous rise of new technology (an example of a tech focused company evolving positively is G.E).

The change (although, in this instance – negative) is reflected also in organizations that fail to review and adopt suitable tech for business or that do not embrace the volatility of tech in their respective industry e.g Blackberry and adjust accordingly in other to maintain relevance.

It goes without saying that technology is basically the primary shaper of all things we currently experience and will continue to experience as it has broadly touched on all aspects of our existence with continuous and drastic evolutionary updates arriving by the millisecond.

The world of business (and this covers all aspect; from healthcare to IT) is not left out on the current revolution instituted by information technology. As such, we must acknowledge and embrace IT or inevitably be left behind and subsequently face oblivion. There are numerous examples of companies on both sides (positively & negatively influenced) of the speedy take-over of tech, e.g. – Google, Facebook, GE, Blackberry, etc.

That said, the advancement and rapid take-over of new technology especially in business does not imply that the presence of a problem in an organization indicates the need for new technology. The organization should rather (primarily) decide on the vision, find the root cause of the problem as well as weigh all sides involved before deciding on the tech(s) to adopt. Otherwise the company will end up chasing and investing cash in every new tech on the block without necessarily resolving the issues on ground that made them obtain the technology in the first place. This is the reason why most organizations have technologies that have gone obsolete or are no longer in use after cash, time & man hours have been invested in same.

An important point to note is that contrary to the opinion of most (especially in under developed/developing/developed countries), IT does matter and it is transforming everything we do on a daily basis. These transformations should create intelligent real-time enterprises that would conduct business in a significantly smarter, faster, cost efficient, structured, orderly, easier, more efficient and effective manner that can adapt to the present day changing business conditions and help businesses grow better over time by leveraging the future generations of Information Technologies and the proactive trends these technologies will take. Taking this exact stance will create proactive businesses that are ready for and are properly aligned with the speed and direction of information technology. This is the crux of relevance for businesses in this century and in the coming era.

Technology can be the greatest friend or the worst foe in building smart businesses, depending on how well they are adopted and deployed in the enterprises or how unwilling the organization is to receiving new technology. This includes adaptability of the business structure to new tech, adaptability of employees, time to cover learning curve vs business hours, cost, maintenance culture of the organization, core culture, time to market, acceptability of new process by customers, how new tech affects the enterprise’s supply chain and management, etc.

Some principles behind creation and maintenance of intelligent real-time enterprises and how a principled adoption of emerging and established technologies can be maximized and used to build more adaptable, fitted, intelligent and agile enterprises as well as how these techs can be used to drive major business transformations include;

  1. New technology driving the development of new products then releasing it to the market i.e Technology push (e.g touch screen taking over keyboards). Or potential customers asking for improvements on existing products i.e business-pull, e.g. the advent of digital cameras and picture editing tools in photography.

  2. Harnessing the power of big data and predictive analytics to drive business process, every campaign, operation and the general decision making process.

  3. Just because the company can get new tech or competitors say they are using new tech does not mean they should get it (this borders on the should, can and must questions the company may need to ask).

  4. Time to market; moving the products developed by new tech to the market and encouraging a public acceptance.

  5. Technology adoption cycle (Innovators, Early adopters, Early majority, Late majority, Laggards).

From the last point above, major questions to ask before determining which technology to use would be –

  1. Where does the organization fall?

  2. How much risk are they willing to take for new tech? this is because each point of the phase has its degree of risk as well as benefits; while early adopters are willing to sacrifice for the advantage of being first movers and maybe owning a large percentage of the market share accordingly, the early majority are more willing to wait until they know that the technology actually offers improvements in productivity. Late majority are twice disadvantaged and the laggards will soon be out of business.

The principles of technological innovation, including the evolution/gradual take-over and generations of different types of emerging technologies (AI, IoT, Digital printing, block chain, robotics, smart manufacturing, drones/self-drive vehicles, cognitive learning, cloud computing, advanced analytics, etc.), their cycles and path as well as their dependencies and the industries they affect directly or indirectly and the use of same can cause differentiation and creating a competitive edge in business.

The principles and effect as at date of these techs were vividly illustrated with various studies of actual companies or industries currently utilizing same; e.g. the use of 3-D printing in space, use of big data by corporations, etc. One major point in the case of big data is the timely use of it, the ability to sieve relevant information from irrelevant ones at a speed that makes the relevant data important at the time it is retrieved and then used to make business smarter and dynamic.

Some questions organizations should ask themselves if they choose to go for big data and use of analytics are;

  1. How often are the data collected, retrieved or accessed?

  2. How easily accessible to the concerned departments and staff are these relevant information (data)?

  3. Will organizational process clog and create a bottleneck for easy flow of information to the requisite departments so that they have the info at their fingertips and can utilize them ASAP? Or staff has to wait for necessary approvals before data is accessed?

Technology has directly influenced the way we communicate; including wireless and mobile, computers, connectivity. It has also influenced the way business is conducted, it largely helps with building agile and responsive businesses, including content management. Adaptable businesses usually survive a technological turnaround but system that stick with brick and mortal style end up being extinct. However, a perfect mix of technology with brick & mortar seem to be the lead format today (an example is Amazon).

Studying these technologies in detail, has led to the exploring of various business opportunities that these technologies can create, as well as how they could lead to major transformations in the way we do business, how these techs can easily be deployed by companies so that these technologies support their core mission and allow the companies to achieve their business objectives. If organizations truly and proactively follow or look out for the directions and trends of new technologies and novel applications based on their vision, mission and current situation, mid-range to poorly performing companies can very well become high-tech companies if properly leveraged.

Basically, a solid understanding of both business problems, the requisite underlying technologies, the future of the business and the technology being used or other potential ones and a deep understanding of how these features interact is and will continue to be increasingly important in decision making and in managing modern businesses/in building smart businesses. For example, should a wireless phone company adopt the CDMA or the GSM standard, should same company adopt the android standard or differentiate with something new. Should a major retailer adopt RFID technologies, or a financial services company, Web services technologies? These and many similar types of decisions are not purely business or purely technological decisions since they involve complex interactions between business, core organizational goals and technical issues. Making a decision based on just one criteria will result in a dilemma for the company.

Also, the ability to understand both business and technical issues and their unique connectivity can often differentiate between the success stories and major blunders. Underestimating the scope and complexity of the technical task or business process or organizational culture will result in a major failure of the whole project.

The major subject businesses should consider when the decision to go tech (with all the above in view) is reached, is differentiation as this covers and gives some major competitive dimensions to the business (and competitive advantage is what all businesses crave). Some angles are listed below;

  1. Quality

  2. Service

  3. Price/Cost

  4. Delivery process & methods

  5. Performance

  6. Responsiveness

  7. Speed

  8. Time to Market

  9. Innovation

  10. Product Portfolio & Variety

  11. Customization

The decision to place the business at a forefront with an edge is dependent on the kind of business and the strategy to be adopted, whether differentiation strategy (using all the above listed), segmentation strategy or cost leadership and these are highly dependent on the market scope and the uniqueness of the business.

Supply chain is a major aspect for businesses, the product of the company will also determine the supply chain focus as well as the need for tech in that aspect. Products with relatively low stable environments will require low cost efficient supply chain While the more innovative and specialty type products will usually require responsive and speedy supply chain.

In achieving a smarter business, making apt projections in all aspects is a key factor accordingly. Thus, all aspects of the business are to be viewed as very strategic and held with high importance. Once this is done it is easier to have and continuously maintain a dynamic business.

Flexibility based on customer requirements is another criterion for staying on top because in business, one size does not fit all. Companies that can build a business process that easily adapts to customer needs are often more profitable than companies that have a stringent business process and cannot adapt to suit old customers with new needs or new customers with diverse needs, or customers with continuously changing needs. Once an organization can tailor both supply chain and other aspects of the organization to match customer service, the organization creates a niche for themselves where they are relevant and are the first point of call for existing and new customers. This is also a way of achieving differentiation and raising the bar on competition.

If the business is considering outsourcing certain aspects of its processes, leaders should consider keeping or refraining from outsourcing core strategic functions; such aspects of the business that deal with psychological bonding with clients, business effectiveness and branding. This is because a 3rd party firm may not be able carry the ‘’touch’’ the company needs to have when it comes to rendering such services.

Investments should generally vary depending on the market the business is operating in (emerging or mature market). These investments may not only be tech inclined. Once again, it is basically advisable that the business identifies its vision, mission, current situation or problem, needs and the best course of action before going into any kind of investment whether technological or not.

A keen interest in current technologies and next generation technologies is always a plus for businesses. However, taking it a step further by understanding the exact kind or type of technology that applies to the business in question and following closely on current and future trend as it concerns the (or these) technologies is even a much better position to take.

Organizations should invest more in an understanding of their corporate strategy. This is not just essential for top executives but for staff (low level) as the much needed change could come from any point in the organization if all employees are involved strategically in the process. Simple question like;

  1. What are the priorities of the business?

  2. What is the operating or business model of the organization?

  3. What are the capabilities of the organization?

  4. What aspects of the business are being focused on to create differentiation?

  5. What is the grading score of the business when it comes to – lead time, target market, configurability, planning, fore casting, cost, asset utilization, degree of push and pull per yardstick in the organization, influence of technology, accuracy (or the nearness of it) when it comes to predictability of demand, volume control.

  6. What are the corporate strategic goals?

  7. Who are the competitors or potential competitors?

  8. How long is the business going to maintain advantage based on first entrants (as per product or differentiation, if they are first movers)?

  9. What is the competitive strategy including leadership – strategic thinking, development, operational excellence.

In utilizing tech to build a product portfolio, businesses need to consider all of the below:

  1. New Launch

  2. Innovation

  3. Growth

  4. Mature

  5. Custom

  6. Specialty

  7. Saturated

Also, businesses need to identify their unique markets (this includes – Geography, Channel, Segments, Categories, Volume, Variability) and customer type. This will enable them adapt or get appropriately tech-inclined for growth and expansion, some points to consider in markets as it concerns customers are listed below;

  1. Large Businesses (are the potential markets large businesses?)

  2. Small & medium businesses?

  3. Distributors or Wholesalers?

  4. Retail Chains

  5. Discount Chains

  6. Specialty Outlets

  7. E-Commerce

To successfully drive growth and profitability, the business will have to effectively leverage the technologies and opportunities for different Product-Market combinations. Products in this case should have these characteristics – Functionality, Innovation, Branding, Technology and Marketing Strategy.

In the past, the trend is usually such that organizations design the product and services then push out to customers, but presently, customers determine the product and services and organisations at the top strategically position themselves to fulfill and meet the needs of customers or design a process that proactively predicts the potential needs of customers then design products and services tailored to suit these needs.

In summary, every business that wants to succeed in this era needs to get smarter and to achieve this, investing in technology is important. However, before determining which tech to invest in, the business has to first have an understanding of their vision, mission, the issues at hand as well as the future of the business to guide proper investments.

Inspired by and adapted from the elective course; Emerging technologies and the future of business at GIBS, S.A (June, 2018).

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