by Simon Lewis

Appily Ever After

We live in an ever-transforming world, and if you want your business to succeed, you have to keep pace

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Whether you Uber, WhatsApp, Dropbox, Zoho or Evernote, one thing you can’t do is ignore the speed with which the world (and the business world in particular) is changing. It requires that you will need buckets of data and WiFi connections at every step, but there are, however, a few bigger issues at play than just the hardware and software at your disposal. What matters is not so much how you use them, but why.

It’s a real “I-want-that” moment when you see hedge fund mavericks talking deals on their Bluetooth hands-free on a call directed from their London office to them on the travellator at LAX, while their right hand sends a follow-up Whatsapp to the CEO of a Fortune 500 and the left monitors stock prices on an Apple Watch. Exciting stuff, and it makes for great TV, but as a reader of Leadership magazine your focus is more likely on your company’s bottom line, and to bounce it skywards you need to scratch beneath the surface. Cast aside wishful thinking about which app to use or even which equipment to procure to kickstart your James Bond lifestyle—your crucial first step is to analyse what’s happening in the business world and how you and your business need to react.

Yes, you can get your choice or email, instant, text, video or voice message to your smartphone and app immediately anywhere there is WiFi connectivity or cellular service. That’s exciting —and dynamic—but you still shouldn’t allow yourself to be diverted. Stay focussed.

To succeed in the new tomorrow today, you need to institute a business strategy for how you’re going to kick ass now. You need this to ensure that your digital devices add power to your life beyond being fun, portable devices that help you get to the next level of Candy Crush while you’re on a bathroom break.

Convenience is king

Before you jump onto the speeding Tech-Train, step back from the track and take a look at what’s in front of you. For every generation the pace of life and work seems to get faster and more frenetic. It’s true that quality, reliability and performance creates success, but to stay ahead of the pack you need to add in a dash of staying relevant, to say nothing of generous dash.

Old saying – time is money. New saying – time is precious, which is especially true as we strive for more balance at work and at home. Your business doesn’t necessarily need a fancy ad campaign or award-winning website – but it definitely does need to work reliably, quicker and better than your competition. Most likely this will involve the Internet in some way (if the Internet proves relevant to your business).

Just as your children will give you the confused puppy look when you waffle on about the difficulties of the old days with loading fax roll paper and catching received faxes before they rolled under the table, the kids will give the same look when you reminiscence about bank statements. Remember the wait for the snail to deliver your bank statement, as well as all other accounts and documents? Today payments are done electronically and confirmations come through in real time. Need a copy of your last bank statement? No need to drive to your branch, find parking, struggle to reverse in with all the other customers wanting their bank statements. Now you log on and get your bank statement as at today (or within the last 2-3 working days). You can do it in the queue or when talking to the consultant who wants you to supply a copy of a relevant bank statement. In under 10 clicks you’ve probably got it and mailed it on to them. With one hand on your coffee cup.

How exciting is that… and wouldn’t your business fly if your customers could feel an equal level of excitement about your product or service?

All aboard

The future (which starts now) is about seeing what your customers need and discovering new and better ways to give it to them. The key to the future is the online applications and new technology that runs them, but the door is the demand, the need and the idea.

Debtors can’t hide behind the old ‘cheque’s in the mail’ defence, and no longer is there a problem with waiting for said cheque to clear. You can transfer the money you owe in the flick of the enter button or a tap on your smartphone’s screen—to anywhere in the world, with instant clearance for priority payments. Banks have changed.

No longer the need to stand in line at SARS watching old reruns of Chips or Orkney Snork Nie on whichever SABC channel their flickering TV set is stuck on. Today you can do everything online with SARS, to the extent that you almost never need to visit them, aside from the occasional proof of life appearance. In fact, machines are so smart they keep communicating with themselves. SARS no longer needs to rely on you receiving your IRP5 from an employer or financial institution and sending it into them. It’s now done direct by the employer so that, when you log on to do your tax return on SARS’ well-structured website, most of your IRP5s are there. SARS has changed.

Gone are the days of listening to Greensleeves for 10 minutes while you wait to break through an operator to discover the location of your package. Today you can track your couriered doc live for yourself, or log on to see where any driver in your fleet is currently driving (or not driving). You can pay your rates and buy airtime with the same swipe of your bank card when you buy your groceries, and you can arrange, choose, pay for and rate your next cab ride, all with one finger. That doesn’t mean to say everything must be digital—the message is deeper. What do people need?

Be the change

Crucially, your systems and infrastructure will almost certainly need a major revamp, but the first step is to revamp your thinking. Bank statements, being online, save customers time but also reduce the work and admin for bank staff, saving you time, saving them time – and saving everyone more money. It’s crucial to know about the tools the Internet offers and what new machinery is available, but that’s on a macro level. You need to dig into the chest of technology so that you can rip the guts out of what will work for your business.

“Start every endeavour with a vision of the end—and work backwards,” says business consultant Grant Jackson of Stone Soup Consulting. “The detail is not informed by the needs of incremental improvements, but by what a radically thought out end game needs it to be. JFK didn’t challenge NASA to fly higher or faster than before – he told them to put a man on the moon.

“If you’re walking in the wrong direction, running won’t get you there any faster. It will only get you further away from your goal,” adds Jackson, and this is particularly true of the digital world.

To be honest, every company would probably be better served creating a relevant app for itself rather than what most companies pass off as a website—static, out of date and not reflective of their company and people. Even though it could easily cost 50 times what your website cost to pop up online, an app is a business investment that could make solid business sense. Or not. The leader needs to unravel that conundrum, working with his or her team, and consulting with their customers.

“Working backwards from the end helps you avoid the bigger-and-better trap and, instead, focuses your thinking on the more relevant. Your customers aren’t going to be upset that you haven’t created something out of thin air for them to answer their needs – they don’t expect magic or miracles, they just want a better way to buy or be serviced,” says Jackson.

The key to the door is to ask questions. What does your company do? What is important in terms of the quality of our product or service offering? Where are the problems for customers? Where are the delays? What frustrates our customers? And what will make them buy from us?

Once you have created a more focussed picture about what your clients want in the new business world, you need to get a grasp on the technology available, or even what your magic wand technology could do. That is always the best path to innovation—to imagine! Then you put the Big Boss cap on and be the change by moulding your business service/products, your clients and available (or imaginable) tech into a bowl, then knead it and knead it until inspiration rises that will allow you to make your best business decision.

One of the great by-products of the digital world is that, before you embark on any digital initiatives, you are forced to do one of the oldest, most trusted business things. You speak to your customers and ask them what they want—because D is for digital, democracy, developers and drain… and the latter is where all your developer dollars will disappear if you make some bad decisions.

If you print it, they will read it

The property pages in the weekend paper will always be popular, but websites have proven to be the perfect marketing vehicle for the property industry. A good app, however, is even more powerful as it allows buyers to filter their searches and also makes it super easy to dash from showhouse to showhouse on a Sunday.

“From a client perspective, and according to the National Association of Realtors, in the United States—which has led the way technologically as far as the residential real estate industry in concerned – 90 percent of prospective buyers now begin their real estate journeys on the web. And we are seeing similar trends here in South Africa,” says Dr Andrew Golding, Chief Executive of Pam Golding Properties.

“These mobile tools and apps include adding efficiency and ease of use to almost every aspect of an estate agents’ life from canvassing, presentation apps, to listing processes, to marketing options, to transaction documentation including the entire mortgage process to conclusion of the sale and all the after sales processes. Estate agents’ lives are by and large on the move and increasing technological mobility dramatically increases the agent’s efficiency at all levels of any transaction. It is likely that these technological advances will continually be improved upon and streamlined.”

Property websites offer a perfect example of a value-added service that speeds up the process for buyers as most offer automatic affordability calculators, so you don’t have to contact a conveyancer to find out the hidden costs. They also allow you to link to mortgage originators to begin the process of buying the house before you’ve left their website. That’s what the customer of the future is going to expect as normal, and that requires building stronger business relationships with relevant suppliers, which in itself will help to make your business stronger.

Hardware stores, for instance, could offer online software to help you calculate (online or instore) how much paint you need for your wall, and how many (or which) type of brushes, and even suggest additional items relevant to your DIY that might be worthy of a place in your basket. Such product matching is out there, but at present they are usually biased based on what products a company wants to push for their bottom line. The future has less fat for profiteers to skim off, and customers are going to demand greater openness and authenticity. This is a potential strength of the online world, where user ratings can help to inform other users about their own purchase decisions, rather than being ‘advised’ by the company taking your money.

In response to increased crime rates, homeowners have an ever-rising fear of opening their door to tradesmen (plumbers, electricians, CCTV installers and so on). Tradesmen rely heavily on word-of-mouth recommendations, but for many tradesmen word-of-mouth doesn’t travel fast enough to make their business sustainable. To solve this problem, two South African entrepreneurs have created a mobile app called Honest Abe that allows homeowners to post jobs they need done at home. These jobs get matched to relevant tradesmen in the area who will quote for the work and homeowners then rate the tradesman’s work and reliability.

“From years of experience in the building industry, my partner and I know the difficulties facing local tradesmen. They arrive at a client to do a quote at the end of a long day, pull a piece of paper from their pocket, scratch some notes on that paper and hope they still have it when they sit down later to quote,” says Honest Abe co-founder James Mittan. The next phase of the app will enable tradesmen to make notes, message, quote and even invoice the client all from their smartphone, effectively turning it into a micro office.

Business success is not all high tech. Low tech can be relevant, as in the case of Pick n Pay’s SmartCard. Yes, it rewards you for buying this product over that product and it gives you cash back. That’s a good customer need, but at the launch of the card a few years ago one of the Pick n Pay team told me that the card’s great value was that it would help to inform the retailer about buying trends. Not only do they have the big data they need to send me a customised voucher offering based on my buying trends, there is an even bigger application that I’ve seen used instore over the past few years. Step One when you have a shop is to group all your products sensibly.

As a customer you know detergents and cleaners are probably followed by pet food, then personal hygiene products, and so on. This helps us to shop quicker. Pick n Pay’s SmartCard, however, gives the store an upper hand, as they know that X% of people buying Biscuit A are also buying Cream Cheese B (and why wouldn’t they? It’s delicious). Consumer knowledge like this gives them the power to make the shopping experience easier and better, as they now merchandise Cream Cheese B in the dairy section, but also include a rack of Cream Cheese B in the biscuit aisle, right alongside Biscuit A.

If you print it, they will read it

The property pages in the weekend paper will always be popular, but websites have proven to be the perfect marketing vehicle for the property industry. A good app, however, is even more powerful as it allows buyers to filter their searches and also makes it super easy to dash from showhouse to showhouse on a Sunday.

“From a client perspective, and according to the National Association of Realtors, in the United States—which has led the way technologically as far as the residential real estate industry in concerned – 90 percent of prospective buyers now begin their real estate journeys on the web. And we are seeing similar trends here in South Africa,” says Dr Andrew Golding, Chief Executive of Pam Golding Properties.

“These mobile tools and apps include adding efficiency and ease of use to almost every aspect of an estate agents’ life from canvassing, presentation apps, to listing processes, to marketing options, to transaction documentation including the entire mortgage process to conclusion of the sale and all the after sales processes. Estate agents’ lives are by and large on the move and increasing technological mobility dramatically increases the agent’s efficiency at all levels of any transaction. It is likely that these technological advances will continually be improved upon and streamlined.”

Property websites offer a perfect example of a value-added service that speeds up the process for buyers as most offer automatic affordability calculators, so you don’t have to contact a conveyancer to find out the hidden costs. They also allow you to link to mortgage originators to begin the process of buying the house before you’ve left their website. That’s what the customer of the future is going to expect as normal, and that requires building stronger business relationships with relevant suppliers, which in itself will help to make your business stronger.

Hardware stores, for instance, could offer online software to help you calculate (online or instore) how much paint you need for your wall, and how many (or which) type of brushes, and even suggest additional items relevant to your DIY that might be worthy of a place in your basket. Such product matching is out there, but at present they are usually biased based on what products a company wants to push for their bottom line. The future has less fat for profiteers to skim off, and customers are going to demand greater openness and authenticity. This is a potential strength of the online world, where user ratings can help to inform other users about their own purchase decisions, rather than being ‘advised’ by the company taking your money.

In response to increased crime rates, homeowners have an ever-rising fear of opening their door to tradesmen (plumbers, electricians, CCTV installers and so on). Tradesmen rely heavily on word-of-mouth recommendations, but for many tradesmen word-of-mouth doesn’t travel fast enough to make their business sustainable. To solve this problem, two South African entrepreneurs have created a mobile app called Honest Abe that allows homeowners to post jobs they need done at home. These jobs get matched to relevant tradesmen in the area who will quote for the work and homeowners then rate the tradesman’s work and reliability.

“From years of experience in the building industry, my partner and I know the difficulties facing local tradesmen. They arrive at a client to do a quote at the end of a long day, pull a piece of paper from their pocket, scratch some notes on that paper and hope they still have it when they sit down later to quote,” says Honest Abe co-founder James Mittan. The next phase of the app will enable tradesmen to make notes, message, quote and even invoice the client all from their smartphone, effectively turning it into a micro office.

Business success is not all high tech. Low tech can be relevant, as in the case of Pick n Pay’s SmartCard. Yes, it rewards you for buying this product over that product and it gives you cash back. That’s a good customer need, but at the launch of the card a few years ago one of the Pick n Pay team told me that the card’s great value was that it would help to inform the retailer about buying trends. Not only do they have the big data they need to send me a customised voucher offering based on my buying trends, there is an even bigger application that I’ve seen used instore over the past few years. Step One when you have a shop is to group all your products sensibly.

As a customer you know detergents and cleaners are probably followed by pet food, then personal hygiene products, and so on. This helps us to shop quicker. Pick n Pay’s SmartCard, however, gives the store an upper hand, as they know that X% of people buying Biscuit A are also buying Cream Cheese B (and why wouldn’t they? It’s delicious). Consumer knowledge like this gives them the power to make the shopping experience easier and better, as they now merchandise Cream Cheese B in the dairy section, but also include a rack of Cream Cheese B in the biscuit aisle, right alongside Biscuit A.

Retail is the leader in terms of innovation, no doubt because more customers are telling (often angrily) retailers when they experience a problem. For non-retailers, however, there is a need to dig into your customers’ needs to unearth those questions.

Buying alcohol is not a matter of life and death (unless, of course, you decide to drive under the influence), but the industry has been given a shot in the arm by being able to stay open later on weekdays and to open on Sundays. Forget the Woolworths mint sauce for your Christmas lamb? No problem. Now you can nip out to Woolworths on Christmas morning after the presents have been opened, and pick it up.

With longer working hours during the day, retailers know that to capture their share of the market they need to be open later, on weekends and public holidays.

Slide rules

Douglas Kruger is an award-winning speaker and the author of ‘50 Ways to Make Your Point Without PowerPoint’ (Penguin Random House). As something of an international globetrotter he also knows enough about technology to know how to choose and use the latest tech… but his best advice comes in the field of what not to use!

“One of the great blessings and curses of tech is the dreaded PowerPoint presentation,” says Kruger. “Research by groups like NASA and the US army increasingly shows that plain, old fashioned ’public speaking skills’ can often dramatically outstrip the staccato rhythms and tedious charts and graphs of a narrated slide show. They argue that language is actually more agile than slides in getting an idea across accurately, and that forcing a concept through the internal language of PowerPoint can corrupt it in slight, but important, ways.

It certainly takes the pressure off not having to worry if your laptop or PowerPoint will be compatible with the audio-visual system at your speaking venue and that all the right wires will connect.

“What if you were able to simply walk into a room, unhindered and uncluttered, and engage and persuade hearts and minds? Clem Sunter does it. Many of the world’s leading professional speakers do it too,” he says.

Having invested in expensive AV systems, many conference convenors might put a bit of pressure you to dish up a PowerPoint for them to plug in, but Kruger is having none of that. He believes you have to fight new tech with old tech – and some street smarts

“Send them a cover-slide ahead of the day. They can put it up in the background, showing your branding, contact details and the topic of your talk. But there is simply no ‘slide number two.’ In this way, you’ve freed yourself up from one of the odd downsides to mobile technology.”

Of course, there are times and places when PowerPoint works like magic, but Kruger’s credo holds fast: stay true to your mission.

Is it time to upgrade?

A major concern for organisations is the need to upgrade legacy software and systems in order to access this brave new digital world.

“For businesses still using legacy software, making the transition to new hardware quickly becomes problematic. In most cases, newer hardware requires upgrading the operating system which can prohibit the running of older applications,” says Bob Hall, Executive Director of redPanda Software, who adds that every business, no matter its size, will require new hardware and more sophisticated technology at some point. That point is often when a new competitor enters the market and does so with a clean slate.

No longer are there barriers to entry for startups—with all the freeware, open-source software for a start, they are able to become competitive quickly. A decade ago anyone wanting to start their own business would have inner turmoil to rival Dr Jekyll when it comes to the unsavoury task of paying a fortune up front for buying legal software.

In days gone buy this could represent a significant investment, whereas today the trend has shifted from buying and owning your software to rather renting it.

You effectively pay more in the long terms, but it removes the barrier to entry and allows your new enterprise to get up and running quicker. This applies equally to all your business hardware, particularly so in this age of rapid technological advances.

“Companies and business owners are stuck in this legacy mindset that when they buy office equipment they want to own it. I don’t know why because that technology will be outdated within a few years. It’s something you don’t need to own tomorrow – you want to use it today,” says Peter France, founder and Eastern Cape director of The Rental Company.

“Instead of investing a large amount on key equipment that requires an upfront payment, renting equipment allows the business to write the monthly rental cost off to operating expenses, which are tax deductible monthly, plus, you have the option to upgrade the equipment to the latest technology at any time during the agreement, without having to suffer costly write offs.”

In the final analysis, it doesn’t matter how good the technology is, what matters is how you use it, and how your bottom-line reads. It’s great to have all the high tech keys at your disposal, but if you don’t know where the door is that you want to open, you’ll be better off just using your tech toys to get you to the next level of Candy Crush.

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