How to deal with the next 20 years of change

Last week broadcaster Tony Delroy celebrated 20 years of hosting the ABC’s Nightlife spot. The Gadget Guy, Peter Blasina and myself joined Tony to look at where technology has changed over the 20 years he’s been on air.

One of the things that stood out was how the business world has changed radically; today’s workers have all the tools at their fingertips that once only the biggest organisations could afford. The amazing thing is the change has only just begun. Most of us are still running our businesses the way our parents did in the age of telex machines and snail mail.

We may have got away with this for the last 20 years, but the rate of change is accelerating and smarter businesses are figuring out how to best use the existing tools while adopting new technologies. Here are five ideas on how to keep up with our evolving economy.

Train your staff

Last Monday I met a lady who cuts and pastes in the old way, with scissors and glue, because she’s “hopeless with computers”. She’s in her early-30s.

One area we have really dropped the ball in the last 20 yeas is with training, we don’t train our staff sufficiently. For example, simply giving your staff touch-typing lessons will improve office productivity out of sight.

Sending the technophobic workers onto an “introduction to computers” course run by most community colleges will have an immediate return on investment, you’ll also probably find the luddites will become your most enthusiastic staff when picking up new technology.

Be curious

We all know people who had to be dragged into the new era, those owners and managers who swore they would never need a fax, mobile phone, a computer or an internet connection. By not being one of them, you’re ahead of the pack.

Markets are also changing — mobile internet, social media, higher energy prices and the Global Financial Crisis are all reshaping customer behaviour. A good example is with Yellow Pages where many consumers have stopped using paper directories and now search online. You need to understand where these changes are affecting your business.

Don’t be on the bleeding edge

Early adopters are great for the tech industry as they pay full price and are the crash test dummies for the support sector. As we’ve discussed previously, being on the bleeding edge might be trendy and fun, however it’s also expensive and can lead you down some blind alleys.

Sitting back and letting the overhyped version 1.0 of any technology allows you to learn the lessons from others.

Be sceptical

One of the big topics Tony and Peter discussed was the Y2K hysteria. While the rollover presented real risks and the IT industry did a fantastic job of mitigating them, there were a lot of snake oil merchants spreading panic to peddle their wares.

A lot of these people moved on to other technological waves like search engine optimisation and social media marketing, so have a healthy dose of scepticism when you’re told the world will change unless you buy a certain tech product.

Understand sunk costs

That 486 server or Nokia Banana Phone might have served you well for 10 years but it’s crippling your business. It’s time to move on. Similarly any of those bleeding edge technology purchases that turned out to not be so great need to be dumped.

Basically, any technology older than five years should be retired unless there’s a compelling business case for retaining it.

Don’t be afraid of failure

As the price of hardware and internet access falls, so too do the costs of getting ideas, services and products to market. Don’t be afraid of testing new lines.

The key is to “fail fast”, that is to cut your losses as soon as it becomes apparent an idea isn’t working. The sunk cost rule applies here; regardless of how much you’ve spent on an idea, if it doesn’t meet expectations cut it fast and move on.

Technology has now matured to a point where people don’t even notice they are using it, coupled with other changes to society we are going to see our market rapidly change over the next 20 years. That makes it a time of great opportunity for entrepreneurs.

Understanding those changes and having a team who can react to them will separate the successes from the others.

For more Tech Talk blogs, click here.

Paul Wallbank is a writer, speaker and broadcaster on technology issues. He founded national support organisation PC Rescue in 1995 and has spent over 14 years helping businesses get the most from their IT investment. His PC Rescue and IT Queries websites provide free advice to business computer users and his monthly newsletter has over 3,000 subscribers.

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