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Rethinking Your Business (Part 1)

Why you need to rethink the role of technology in your business

Think back to when you first started your company or started working in your industry.  You wanted to make a difference by offering your customers a unique experience; one they couldn’t get anywhere else.  You chose tools and technologies to help create and deliver your offering.  As you talked with customers and prospects, you pointed out the benefits of working with your company and how you were different from the competition.

Over the years you have fine-tuned your offering in response to customer feedback and new offers from your competition.  Perhaps you’ve even added a few new tools and technologies to the mix.

So why do you need to rethink the role of technology in your business now?

For starters, the business landscape has changed and continues to evolve.  Here are some key drivers that are impacting your business:

  • Your current customers’ expectations have changed.  What was new and exciting 10 years ago is tried, true, and boring today.
  • A new generation of potential customers has emerged.  These “digital natives” are daily consumers of technology and look for companies that use and embrace new technology as they do.
  • New competitors have sprung up.  They have taken advantage of new tools and technologies to develop new offerings in order to compete with you and lure away your customers.

What’s more, the list of commonly used technologies has grown as well.  Here’s a short list of technologies that can dramatically change how you interact with your customers:

  • Web applications
  • Mobile applications
  • Voice, e-mail, and SMS notifications
  • Software as a Service (SaaS)
  • Cloud computing
  • Social media channels

Rethinking your use of technology involves more than fine tuning and incremental additions.  The goal is to step back and ask yourself:  If I were starting my business today, how would I use technology to offer a better product/service to my customers?

The real value of new technology is rethinking how it impacts your business and improves your interactions with your customers.  Appropriately used, new technologies provide your customers more visibility and greater access to your services, while improving the way they do business with you.

In Part 2, we’ll take a look at how to rethink your business to stay relevant in the eyes of your customers and set yourself apart from old and new competitors alike.


Four Benefits of an Effective Cloud Strategy

How would you rethink your business in the era of cloud computing?

Most discussions of cloud computing focus on the technical benefits:  scalability, accessibility, redundancy, usage-based billing, and so on.  While valuable, these are behind the scenes benefits that indirectly impact your customers and their perception of your business.  Simply moving your existing applications to the cloud may offer benefits, but it does not change the way customers do business with your company.

The real value of the cloud is the opportunity to rethink how customers interact with your business.

If you provide your customer the appropriate visibility, ability, and access to your business, your cloud services strategy can improve the way they do business.  You deliver more value to your customers by providing your Business as a Service (BaaS).

The result is that your business becomes an integral part of their operations.  Customers incorporate your services into their business processes to help them run their company better and to provide more value to their customers.  You become more than a vendor – you become a vital part of their business.


The architecture of the cloud enables expanded opportunities for integration.  This means the information your company generates through the normal course of business can be made available instantly to your customers.

Without visibility, your customer has to call or email you to get the information they need.  Their next step is to wait while you look up the information in your system and get back to them.  With cloud services, you can expose the appropriate information to your customer so they can find what they need when they need it.


Because your cloud services are integrated with your business software, you can allow your customers to take actions directly.  They can enter orders, track shipments, and get the information they need to provide value to their customers. 

In effect, you can give them benefits of your business that they didn’t have access to before.  Your customers can then offer these benefits to their customers and stand out from their competition.


Cloud services are built for the web.  This means that they are available 24/7 from anywhere.  Your clients are no longer tethered to their desktop.  They want to get information and take action from a web browser, a tablet device, or a smart phone anytime, anywhere.

Vital Partnership 

When you utilize cloud services to provide visibility, ability, and access, you’re really offering the benefits of your business to your customers as a service.  Your customers can use your offering as a part of their business and pass the benefits of your service along to their customers.  This helps your customer differentiate themselves by providing a higher level of service at a lower cost.  In effect, your cloud services become part of their business strategy.

You now become much more than a vendor.  You become a vital partner.  As a vital partner, you give your customers better value.  Because your service is integrated in their operations, you form a stronger relationship with your customer and provide them with benefits that can lead to repeat business and referrals.


Steve Jobs on Building Successful Products

Lately there have been a number quotes and videos featuring Steve Jobs making the rounds.  I really like this one because it shows Steve's philosophy on change and innovation.

The year is 1997 and Steve has just returned to Apple as CEO.  All the famous "i" products haven't been created yet.  What he shares in the video is really the essence of Apple's strategy for the next decade.

He starts with a business question:  How do you go about selling $8 - 10 billion of product a year?

His answer is simple and powerful:  Start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology.


Two Key Questions to Spur Innovation

As part of Amazon’s announcement of their new Kindle Fire they also announced a new web browser called Silk

It’s a telling sign that the Amazon team didn’t start by trying to improve on Firefox or Chrome.  They took a step back and asked a much broader question – a question that ultimately enabled them to do something innovative:

               “How would you build a web browser in the era of cloud computing.”

To keep themselves from getting too focused on technology, they also asked another important question:

               “What do customers really care about?”

The Amazon team determined that the most important aspect of browsing the web on a mobile device was the time required to get something usable on the screen.

These two questions enabled the team at Amazon to think differently about browsing the web.  They were able to apply the latest technology to reinventing the web browser in a way that provides a significant benefit to their customers.

We can all learn from this example.  First, make sure you understand what your customers really care about.  Don’t guess – ask them! 

Next, rethink how you would build your product or service in the era of:

  • a new technology, like cloud computing
  • a new government regulation, like health care reform
  • a changing competitive landscape, like a new startup or global player in your market

Asking the questions is the easy part.  The hard part is to have the courage to act on the answers you and your team generate. 


The Role of Technology in Innovation

Technology plays a part in innovation, but not in the way that many people think.  For the common person, technology has no value on its own.  To make a difference, it has to be appropriately applied to solve specific problems or meet certain goals as defined by your business or your customer.  To maximize the value of that difference, it’s essential to apply only the smallest amount of technology to the areas that stand to benefit from it.

Too many people like technology for its own sake.  They get caught up in fancy gadgets, spec sheets, and bullet points.  They think that having technology is innovative in and of itself.  This is not true.  Innovation only happens when you use technology to provide a real or perceived value to your customer.

There are two primary uses for technology in business: to meet the status quo (web site), and to create something new that moves the business forward (innovation).  In either case, the use of technology should be driven by the needs of the business and the customer.

The status quo case is basically the price of admission.  Every company these days needs a web site.  It really doesn’t add much value to your company, but you need it to do business.  The most successful companies are those that use technology to support and enhance their market differentiators.

Take, for example, Domino’s pizza.  After mounting criticism of their pizza from focus groups and social media sites, Domino’s decided to try something new: listen to their customers, speak frankly to them, encourage feedback, and create a better pizza and a better experience.

They revamped their recipes, created a new marketing campaign, and tried again.  They also used technology in several targeted ways to facilitate communication between them and their clients.

Specifically, they created an online Pizza ordering tool that allowed customers to, 1) order their pizza, 2) track its cooking and delivery process, and 3) provide feedback to the store about “how they’re doing”.

The result of the campaign?  Domino’s reported a more than doubled fourth-quarter profit.

The driver of innovation today is not technology, but insight.  What do customers want?  How can you make it easier for them to do business with you?  And where can technology help reinforce those insights?