For an entrepreneur, being on the cutting edge means being on the razor’s edge, as far as technology is concerned: While in this day and age innovation is critical to a company’s success, it is important to make judicious choices about which tech makes the most sense for your organization. Otherwise (to torture the metaphor a bit more), it could mean death by a thousand cuts.
Certainly there is an obsession in the business world with the Next Big Thing. That is the only explanation for worldwide IT spending that approached $4 trillion in 2019, and for the fact that spending in that space accounts for half of the U.S. GDP growth each year. Entrepreneurs want new gadgets. They want things that will save time and money, that will keep them abreast of the competition, that will spark growth.
The need for continuing innovation has become even clearer during the coronavirus pandemic. A study undertaken by the Beagle Research Group in April 2020 revealed that over 52 percent of employees (including 56 percent of those in small to medium-sized enterprises) found that their computing system did not meet their needs, and that 51 percent did not believe that these systems kept them aligned with their company’s aims while working remotely.
Raju Vegesna, an executive for Zoho, the software company sponsoring the survey, noted that technology — particularly that which is available via the cloud — has made it easier to work remotely. At the same time he added that it has not come quite far enough, that we now find ourselves in a “pre-Industrial Revolution era.” And, he pointed out:
“This means that the right tools have to be made available for employees to be productive. Unfortunately, as the survey finds out, this is not currently the case. This has to change for employees to be successful.”
Beagle Managing Principal Denis Pombriant, author of the report, reached a similar conclusion: “If companies want to improve their performance, they should look first at the technology systems that support their primary business activities.”
Again, that’s the fine line entrepreneurs walk: They need to take on tech that works for them — that is neither too costly nor unnecessarily time-consuming, but rather leads to growth. In other words, they should forge ahead, but they should do so with eyes wide open.
Certainly there is some degree of trepidation about technology. Lena Requist, president of the California-based marketing software company Ontraport, referenced in a piece for Entrepreneur.com a Pew Research Study poll showing that 67 percent of Americans fear they will lose their jobs to a robot over the next half-century. Requist nonetheless believes entrepreneurs would be wise to continue their innovation efforts — and while she didn’t mention it, there are those who believe technology will create more jobs than it eliminates.
Requist goes on to write that business leaders should take three factors into consideration before implementing new technology:
1. Identify automate-able tasks to alleviate mental fatigue. The executive with too much on his or her plate will not have sufficient energy to devote to high-value tasks. Requist cites, for instance, a McKinsey report that concludes that 25 percent of the insurance industry’s current tasks could be automated.
2. Isolate low-value tasks. Entrepreneurs should zero in on what really matters, as opposed to spending their time on things like approving ad copy or backing up data — both of which can be handled by machines. Her example is that of a company called GitLab, where human error led to data deletion.
3. Assess what you need from others. It is here that Requist writes about her company either consulting with a business partner about its marketing needs, or providing a new service.
Abdullahi Muhammed, CEO of the content marketing firm Oxygenmat, amplified the latter point in another Entrepreneur piece. He noted that 68 percent of the marketing heads responding to a Salesforce study believe customer experience is the linchpin of a successful effort, and quoted Loopring CEO Daniel Wang as saying that technology—artificial intelligence, blockchain, etc.—is central to that.
“Choosing to ignore the latest of these technologies,” Wang said, “may quickly make your business obscure and irrelevant as you are no longer delivering what the customers want.”
Another area impacted by tech is collaboration, as we have seen during the pandemic. With remote work the norm at many companies, video conferencing became essential, and Zoom emerged as a particularly popular platform. It showed a year-over-year revenue increase of 169 percent in the first quarter of 2020.
A savvy CEO would also do well to remain current on trends in office programs, inventory management and email services. And as Muhammed pointed out, small and mid-sized companies, nimble as they are, are better able than larger companies to implement changes to their tech stacks. Moreover, they must; CBInsights.com notes that 20 percent of small businesses fail because they are simply outcompeted.
Yes, tech is ever-evolving, and there is much for an entrepreneur to consider when implementing change. But as the pandemic has reminded one and all, the need for innovation is constant. It is truly an adapt-or-die situation.