As usual, it got Alan and I talking!
Covid-19 has become the accelerator for one of the greatest workplace transformations in generations. How we work, exercise, shop, learn and communicate has changed, possibly forever. But one of the constants of the last two years is the role that digital technology- and the wider tech sector-has played for businesses. From enabling the transition to remote working, to helping small businesses pivot and reach new customers, technology has become integral to almost every business on the planet. It certainly is for mine.
The acceleration over the last two years have been massive but go back even just 10 years and pick any business in any industry and look at what software, systems and technology they were using and see just how much it has changed. It’s mad to think that we now have more power in our pocket on an iPhone than they had when they put men on the moon in the sixties.
Technology as a disrupter
We support a number of Estate Agents and the disruption in the property market caused by the launch of on-line estate agencies like Purple Bricks or Sarah Beeny’s Tepilo has been massive. They have completely flattened the market. From traditional questions about how a property would be marketed; would there be a leaflet drop, would there be a photo in the centre of the shop window; where was the shop window and did it have high footfall? Nowadays it’s far more straightforward; everyone uses Right Move or Zoopla and – as long as they are prepared to pay the prices -90% of Estate Agents use these same tech platforms and even post almost exactly the same listing details. It means it’s much harder to stand out.
What’s interesting though is that the on-line agency hasn’t completely removed the need for humans – far from it. People want to see the listing on Right Move, for sure, but, for what is usually the largest purchase in someone’s life, they want the comfort blanket of dealing with a person.
When we set up Cypher, we knew that we wanted to base the business around Xero so we tested different software systems that support the product that we deliver; the accounts, the tax, the VAT returns and this is now all driven by Xero directly or via systems that integrate to Xero.
Our mantra is that we never enter data more than once and having chosen Xero we then spent time understanding what we could do to speed up the non-product side of our business. We now have four distinct platforms; a CRM system, a bookkeeping system, a proposal system and a direct debit system that all talk to each other, which means that when a new client signs a proposal it creates jobs in our CRM system, which creates tasks in our diaries, clients are invited into our portal with a nice email that also requests anti money laundering information and then triggers the direct debit mandate.
The key to all of this is integration. Systems working in isolation will – at some point- hold you back.
The Rise of Big Data
In a world of big data it’s quite scary how much information is available on every individual and business in the public domain if you know where to look. We work with a company that scrapes about 300 bits of data from prospects, while they are filling in a contact form, to determine whether they are a good match for their product or not. They only want to work with businesses of a certain size, with a certain amount of web traffic, that have a top brand position and operate in certain countries. If a prospect answers yes to these criteria they throw the kitchen sink at you – if you’re a no for whatever reason they put you down a different path.
Businesses that can leverage data about their customers or potential clients will be part of the next big advance.
We work with a chain of cafes and via an I-phone the business owner has instant access to up-to-the-minute daily sales information. They know who’s in their shop and what the spend is across sites. They can be anywhere in the world and as long as they’ve got internet connection they’ve got that visibility. Technology has flattened the playing surface to some extent and now a small independent can compete with a global retailer.
Risk v Reward
Of course, a reliance on tech can cause greater risks – ones we didn’t see 10 years ago. If say Boots had an issue with a server, it could potentially knock out a number of connected sites in a way that years ago wouldn’t have been possible. When I was at Halfords in my youth, if the card machines went down, no one batted an eye lid because customers carried cash and kept on spending. Nowadays, I don’t even take my wallet out; generally I take my phone and use Apple pay; that is how much the world has fundamentally shifted. But it means if your till system, or your card machines go down, you are in trouble.
Tech as a threat or opportunity
As business owners or entrepreneurs there is no doubt we need to get more tech savvy. Do we see advances in technology as a threat or an opportunity? What elements of any business could be improved significantly by technology? Technology has been a great leveller for business; anyone with a laptop and a Wi-Fi connection can now compete with huge multi-national businesses. Platforms like Amazon, E-bay, Etsy and Not on the High Street have offered every type of business, from garden fencing to a side hustle an opportunity to go global. Technology is growing – humans need to understand it and take advantage of it.
The Human Element
The genie is definitely out of the bottle; technology gives new businesses with new offerings a fresh opportunity to consider which technology platform and what technology advantages they want to bring in with their new ideas.
Tech has enabled a shift; it’s enabled wider choice, it’s opened the curtains on the windows to many business models, but so much is still driven by the human element and it will continue to be driven by the human element because so many consumers are not ready for that next step.
Advances in technology have meant that every business in every industry is fundamentally different to what it was 15 years ago. However, if I ran a business 15 years ago, I would say nine out of 10 of the conversations that I still have with clients today would be the same.
Whatever the business, the issues business owners face; not having enough time, not having enough cash flow, stress with people, none of that has changed. Businesses maybe more complex but every business owner is still wants more time back, still wants to make more money. So the human element in business is still as important as it ever was.