Technology is often thought of as the antidote to business woes. Once you get the right tech in place, the thinking goes, you’ll start doing whatever it is you do much faster, better and more efficiently. The thing about technology, though, is that new advancements hit the market daily.
Just think about how much artificial intelligence has advanced in a very short period of time. We went from Microsoft’s now-iconic Clippy to Google unveiling a chatbot with humanlike tendencies, Apple releasing an augmented reality upgrade to counter smartphone addiction and researchers from Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania developing an autonomous robot that can complete high-level tasks by sensing its surroundings.
Innovations such as these aren’t just fueling competition in the tech industry. They’ve made many companies question their relevance. Some would argue that they’ve led to a full-blown fear of missing out on the latest tech.
So not only are the options near endless (Harvard Business School professor Clay Christensen estimates that upward of 30,000 products launch each year), but the pressure can also be so strong that you might invest in a solution that isn’t a great fit. And when you’re lacking the underlying strategy that ensures technology adds value, you have no real way to tell whether it was worth the investment at all.
An ounce of cure?
Even when you do pull the trigger on tech, the right choice may not stabilize the business like you thought it would. Sure, chatbots can provide 24/7 customer service, even using a caller’s preferences and past order history to inform interactions. But if you often have to engage in complicated, nuanced conversations with your customers, a chatbot probably won’t be able to deliver.
Similarly, smart devices can provide companies with real-time data. If you were to install sensors in your brick-and-mortar store, for instance, you could track customer traffic patterns to determine the best locations to place displays. But at the same time, employing them opens you up to risk. Should sensitive information in your system fall prey to hackers, you could be looking at a class-action lawsuit.
All that’s to say: If you’re going to chase technology, you must ensure that it’s not only a good fit for your business needs, but also that you fully understand the risks and rewards. This, then, leads to the question: How do you choose and use tech advancements to move your startup forward? The following tips are a good place to start:
1. Go full Sherlock on the competition.
Competitive analyses have been around for decades, but even still, few companies widen the scope beyond potential threats, barriers and vulnerabilities. If you already monitor rivals, why not see what technology they’re leveraging? AI has a way of making all things equal and allows a startup to go head-to-head with its Moriarty. Besides, more than 50 percent of business and tech professionals are considering implementing AI, according to Forrester Research. But again, invest only in technology that fills a hole or makes business sense.
2. Seek validation from your VIPs.
You know your customers. Most marketing, communication and product development decisions are already based on what appeals to them. But these customer insights can also help prioritize your technology needs and shed light on where to improve the user experience.
For instance, statistics from Kik reveal that chatbots have a fairly limited audience, with 60 percent of users being in their teens and the majority (81 percent) living in the United States. So if you speak to an older audience, chatbots might not be the best fit. Think long and hard about your product and audience before investing in any technology.
3. Make your money matter.
Choosing tech is like any other business decision: You need to do your due diligence. Yet research from the Queensland University of Technology published in The Conversation has shown company leaders often make poor decisions when it comes to technology because they don’t accurately weigh the benefits with the costs. You’ll be bound to your investment — and it’ll be an investment — for years to come. So consider what you gain by choosing one thing over another. Will it free up time to focus on other priorities? Or is it just a novelty with a short shelf life?
4. Don’t assume your job is finished after implementation.
Many advanced technologies require more than a financial investment; they demand your time. You can’t rely on technology to take over completely. When machines are left to generate tailored messaging from customer data, for example, there’s definitely room for error. Remember when Microsoft’s AI chatbot set off a racist tweet storm?
To avoid such a mistake, you must add a human component to all interactions and constantly do A/B tests to determine the best options. According to the previously mentioned research from the Queensland University of Technology in The Conversation, businesses grow when technology and human capabilities come together to meet consumer needs.
Trying to be on the cutting edge of technology is a great ambition for any business — big or small. But as you sleuth out your options, make sure to spend some time actually evaluating whether this tech will move your company forward.
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