Innovate Or Die

An article by: David Tan, Chief Technology Officer, CHIPS Technology Group
I don’t care what industry you are in, what type of business you run, how many people you have or how you work today, you are standing on the precipice of a virtual tsunami of change that threatens to drag your business under if you’re not prepared and thinking about the future.  It doesn’t matter what you’re doing today, it’s time to begin spending serious time and energy thinking about the coming changes, because I can promise you, your competition is, your future employees are, and your customers are, and if you don’t keep up, you get left behind.

What type of change am I talking about?  The buzzwords are everywhere – mobile, big data, cloud, internet of things, wearables, analytics, and the list goes on.  If you want to stay relevant in the next 5 years, you’re going to have to change how you interact with everyone from customers to partners to employees.  You’re going to have to communicate and collaborate in real time.  You also need to be quick and agile, capable of reacting to data that is coming at you at an ever increasing speed.  You need to do all this faster and cheaper than you ever have.

I thought it might be helpful to talk about some of the areas of technology you need to be thinking about as you grow and shape your business for the coming waves.  This is not meant to be a blueprint for change, more a roadmap to get you on your way.  Think of it as the foundation of thinking and planning you need to do to meet the challenges.  This is just your jumping off point – taking this information and molding it your business and industry will be crucial to success.

The first thing I want you to think about is communication.  Let’s face it, e-mail is slow and cumbersome.  It’s hard to believe when you’ve been working since before companies had e-mail systems, but it’s the stark reality.  One-to-one serial communications, which is basically what e-mail is, has given way to the likes of chat, group messaging, and inter-company collaboration tools.  People need good answers in real-time and can’t wait for the seemingly never-ending process that is an email thread to dig up the right solution.  If you’re not looking at enterprise chat applications like Yammer or Slack, you are already beginning to fall behind.

Cloud and mobile solutions are so obvious at this point that they almost don’t merit discussion, but it’s worth spending a little time.  Your company needs instant access to all data from anywhere at any time and on any platform.  You need simple tools in place for sharing data outside of company borders and firewalls.  You need to enable employees to perform 100% of their job on any device they have accessible, from wherever they may be.  There is no way to get this done if you’re not embracing a real cloud and mobile strategy across your entire organization.

Now let’s talk for a few minutes about some of the trendiest of buzz words I mentioned above – internet of things and big data.  No matter what industry you are in, from healthcare to hospitality, from finance to manufacturing, there are and will be connected devices that drive your business and your customer experience.  These devices will generate data that you need to capture, analyze, and act upon quickly.  This is the essence of IoT and big data.  For most people it’s hard to see the impacts of these technologies on their businesses at first blush, so let’s take a quick look at some practical applications and how they can impact a typical business.

The simplest way to think of IoT is as a series of sensors.  What do sensors do at their core?  They give us feedback.  Imagine a series of sensors tied to your production or manufacturing process that could give you insight in inefficiencies or potential disruptions.  Monitoring and analyzing this data could help you prevent these before they become a problem, or find interesting ways to gain efficiencies that you never knew were there.  How about healthcare?  The data coming from everything from watches to fitness trackers to passive health monitors can give you the insight you need to treat patients more proactively.  I promise you that if you’re not working with your patient to understand this health data, they will begin finding someone who will.  Customer experience will be driven by IoT in a lot of ways as well.  Finding ways to drive convenience and enhance interactions will be crucial for success.

Let’s take the sensors out of it for a minute and talk about big data in general.  Let me give you a scenario.  Pretend you run an insurance company, and you have to staff a claims call center.  What if you could do some simple historical research and find straightforward correlations between weather and claims – i.e. claims go up when the weather is bad, this seems pretty logical.  All the historical weather data you could want is available, it wouldn’t be a very difficult task to see that in my case above, claims volume is up for 3 days following a snowfall of more than 6 inches.  Well how great would it be to know you could just adjust staffing levels or move resources around after a snow storm and meet this demand proactively, instead of having to find a way to react.  This is a very simplified example of the power of big data and analytics.

I don’t want to come off as overly dramatic.  I’m sure traditional businesses will continue to operate smoothly for some time.  There is nothing saying you can’t continue business as usual and be just fine.  I’m not talking about being fine, I’m talking about evolving and flourishing.  A theme we have tried to pass along in the past rings true now more than ever.  Every business is a technology business.  You just need to embrace that, and understand how to internalize it to your company.  Like I said, now more than ever, innovate or die.