Tech-tock, tech-tock…

Posted: April 29, 2012 by Chuck Matthews in Operations, People, Planning, Startup

“This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson

In 1998, I sent my first text message using my mobile phone.  To paraphrase a popular mobile carrier television commercial, “That is so 14 years ago.”  When I traveled abroad in 1987, in order to make a long distance call back to the U.S., it was not uncommon to have to wait for an overseas operator to place my call and ring me back.  Fast forward to 2012, I can be just about anywhere in the world and make calls, send text messages, email, access the Internet and more all on my mobile phone, virtually instantaneously at a fraction of the cost of that call in 1987.

The excitement of sending a text message on a mobile phone has been replaced with a veritable alphabet soup of digital world acronyms that have permanently changed how we do business. E-Business, M-Commerce, CRM, RFID, Smart Grid, Cloud Computing, EDI, Extranets, Product Visualization, the Digital Economy, Web 2.0, 3.0, 4.0 (and counting).  That list prompts a very simple question that I posed back in 1998, “Is your small business equipped with technology tools or toys”?  In 2012, we struggle to understand a dizzying array of new technology and applications, entrepreneurs must still address to follow-on questions: How can you use technology to your competitive advantage? When is it better to be “high tech” versus “high touch”?

Tech Tools Versus Tech Toys

 If you own and operate a business, you cannot ignore the fast change and high impact of technology in the workplace.  It used to be sufficient to review new technologies once a year or even every few year.  More recently, however, the pace of change emanating from the “high tech” sector seems to be quickening with new products, applications, and innovative uses popping up everywhere all the time.  For example, Google recently announced it is developing what it calls Google Glasses – smart glasses that push the envelope of the computer user interface with audio, visual/heads-up display, and connectivity to voice, mail, data and more.  While it still remains to be seen if this will lead to the next entrepreneurial tech tool, as a small business owner, you still need to ask and answer two basic questions: How can I best use information technology to gain competitive advantage? What steps do I need to take?

Gaining a Competitive Advantage

Simply put, the best, and some might add the only, reason to embrace technology in your small business is its ability to make your business more competitive. In general, technology needs to be part of your on-going strategic planning process.  It is always in order to explore the possibilities, but do so within the context of mini technology/strategy audit, so to speak.  Having an audit trail of past, current, and current technology applications gives you an advantage knowing where you have been, are, and want to go. One thing to keep in mind, technology will not fix a bad manual system.  Address the problem first and then introduce technology to increase effectiveness.  On the other hand, technology can often provide a solution to a problem that was elusive using a manual system.  In this case, technology can trump a manual system.  For example, one area where technology can greatly enhance manual systems is use of restocking, order entry, and GPS systems to track routing and delivery processes from suppliers.

Essentially, match needs with current and potential technologies.  Identify areas in which you may use technology to build resources and capabilities that will make your business more efficient and competitive. For example, if you attend trade shows, either business-to-business or business-to-consumer, and on-site sales can be facilitated by taking credit cards, you need to check out the latest mobile phone credit card processing technology such as Square and others.

High Tech Versus High Touch

 As alluring as technology can be, it is not always the answer.  If there is one thing that stands at the forefront of Management education today, it is the delineation of the limits of technology counterbalanced with a limitless capacity for human interaction.  That is just a fancy way of saying we are human.  As consumers, we can all relate to the moment where we don’t want another phone tree that takes us nowhere, promises of 24/7 Internet access that ends up limiting our access, or a seemingly endless need to provide unnecessary personal information for the so-called convenience of doing business online.  No to mention the painful process of reading one more 64 page, 8 pt font, single spaced “terms of agreement” form which prompts a confirmation that it has been read, when we are lucky to have even opened it, let along absorbed the mind numbing legalese densely packed into the pop-up box.

Bottom line, define your technology needs; develop a budget; integrate hardware and software solutions; track the impact on resources and cash flows; evaluate, review and make the necessary changes.  More importantly, plan, assess, and review the impact and customer response.  When it comes to keeping customers, sometimes, high touch trumps high tech.

You can find more on our web site at  Till next time, all the best for continued entrepreneurial success!

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