I’ve been a Tech London Advocate (TLA) for a year or two now and it’s allowed me to make contact with the thousands of other advocates that have joined this loose network of people interested in technology. There are dozens of working groups from RetailTech to LawTech, HealthTech and EdTech to Fintech, and country groups including TLA China, India, Africa, Russia and Nordic. Each celebrate and connect companies and individuals involved in these burgeoning sectors.
We’re all looking forward to The Tech World Tour in November. This is a huge conference in London where our 5,000-strong community will be debating the latest advances and wandering through the ‘marketplace’ of startups and scaleups. If the last one is anything to go by, it will be impossible to leave the presentations and networking without feeling invigorated by the ambition, ideas, investment and sheer technical advances at work.
At the moment, no other industry is faster-growing, more disruptive, innovative, profitable or volatile. But it doesn’t exist in isolation, the developments can be applied and integrated into many other industries, not least manufacturing, retail or the service sectors. Perhaps all of us should spend some time working in tech, or sending some of our colleagues to get a better understanding of how the learnings could be applied in our own businesses.
Every tech company seems to reinvent itself every so often, or die. This way of thinking is known as “pivoting” in the digital world and is accepted as a way of life. Tech’s industrial cycles are on speed compared with others. It feels as if nothing endures and everything is possible. BrainLabs, a digital agency grew by 8,255% in 2016 and GoCardless, the direct debit provider, by 6,661%. On the other hand yesterday’s highly-profitable heroes, such as Kodak or BlackBerry, suddenly become today’s lame ducks. Apple calls any product more than five years old “vintage”.
In the tech world, old-fashioned corporates can quickly be overtaken by brilliant upstarts that have found a quicker, more productive and cost-effective way to do things. The whole business is a giant research and development cauldron. The key though, is that they innovate, but look to fail quickly if it’s necessary. That is, they try new things regularly, but if they don’t work they quickly shut them down and move on to the next thing. No worries about blaming anyone for the lack of success or moaning about the waste of time or effort involved. To them it’s a fact of life that R&D or process improvements don’t always work; it’s trying them that counts and moving on quickly if they don’t.
As has been pointed out many times, the big winners in digital are almost asset-free. So Uber, the world’s biggest taxi company, owns no cars; Airbnb, the world’s biggest provider of accommodation, owns no buildings; and Facebook and Google, the world’s most popular media companies, create no content of their own.
The tech world seems so volatile and flimsy in comparison to the bricks and mortar operations of a shop or factory, but there are learnings which could help us all immeasurably. In particular, there are two areas that business owners should consider to ensure their company is future proofed.
First, I’m always impressed by the sheer innovation of women in business, who juggle, flex and solve problems every single day. Unfortunately, because it’s so commonplace and inherent in the role, it’s never described as innovation or development. But it is! More companies should recognise that actually they’re really rather good at it and embrace it more. They should push the boundaries further and try some of the tech developments as part of the daily problem solving they already undertake. Don’t be afraid – you don’t need to understand tech, just be able to harness it. I don’t know how my car works, but I know how to drive it. Similarly, I have no clue how my mobile phone works either, but I use it almost every hour to manage my work life, leisure time and finances.
Secondly, back end processes can so often be improved in every sector. It’s difficult enough getting new business and satisfying increasingly demanding clients, but if purchasing, invoicing and credit control processes are sluggish or manually intensive, cashflow can take a fatal hit even if the order book is full or you have a steady flow of customers. New end-to-end IT systems have transformed many businesses and made transactions quicker and more transparent. Internet banking, online ordering, customer delivery tracking is all standard not just in industry but in our personal lives too. If we’re all so used to doing business this way, companies that are not planning to allow customers to interact seamlessly are going to struggle against competitors that have.
So… embrace your natural ability to innovate and tame technology to transform your business back end. You won’t regret it!
Sue Nelson MBA, FIoD
CEO and Founder Breakthrough Funding
Founder | FoodTech, Tech London Advocates
Founder and Presenter The FoodTalk Show and The TechTalk Show