Working in the margin

First published on BizCampBelfast 2010-07-09

For more than six decades now we have been using technology, specifically computer-based technology, to drive costs out of the business. Quaint hardly describes those now sepia pictures of serried hoards of clerks, stamping, signing and sorting multi-part documents in vast open-plan offices. Typewriters on every desk but phones only on the manager’s. And over the last 60 years we have slowly replaced those jobs with technology solutions and those people have moved their skills into different fields. Maybe you are one of them.

Today there is not much automation that is left to be done. Indeed most people in the computer business spend their time trying to replace the systems they put in 10 or 20 years ago  and we are even replacing systems we put in only one or two years ago. And we are doing this now because we are desperately trying to drive cost out of IT.

With the way the economy has been for the past 10 years everyone is completely focused on cost containment.

But that is not the only way to keep increasing the margins in your business. Mr. Micawber once reflected; “Annual income £20, annual expenditure £19 19s 6d, result happiness. Annual income £20, annual expenditure £20 0s 6d, result misery.” Profit is the difference between income and expenditure. We have already driven out all the significant and unnecessary expenditure we can: the pips are squeaking, there is no more juice in the lemon!

Businesses that can turn technology to their commercial advantage will be the Glaxo’s, the BP’s, the British Airways, the Sainsbury’s of the future. It used to be, in 1935, that if you made it to the Fortune list of top companies you’d be on that list for 90 years. Today companies on the list last only 15 years there on average.

Look at FaceBook, Microsoft bought by a 1.5% stake for $250mn, or Amazon, worth over $50bn, these are companies that could not exist without technology to create markets,  create products and deliver revenues.

So what does this mean for your business? Look to turn technology into a way of creating new revenue.

Maybe you can deliver your product and services to your customers through technology that gets it there faster, cheaper, safer. Do kids want to go shopping in the High Street? No, they want to surf the web, from their iPhone and get a package on their doorstep the next day. And kids have a lot of money these days.

Can technology help you understand your customers better? Help you with detecting trends, buying behavior? Can technology help you discover why customers don’t buy from you? Or why they start to buy and then stop.

Is the customer experience with your company better because of technology or worse? What can you do to make your customers become your best sales team because your technology makes them love doing business with you? What can you do to make your competitors look un-cool, out of date, not in tune with the customer?

If you have an idea for changing your business model does your technology allow you make those changes? Or does it hold back and force you to do things the old way? Can you model what effect your ideas might have if you implement them? Or do you have jump and hope?

How do you know that you are being successful? Does your technology tell you, give you feedback on how you are running your business? Does your technology monitor your competitors?

There are as many ways of turning technology into a competitive advantage as there are business people with ideas.

In this series of postings I want to explore ideas on how we start to use technology to drive sales, how we enable business owners to run their businesses proactively and how we Empower Change that increases the margins in your business.

Tell me how you turn technology into a competitive advantage.

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