Is there such a thing as business as usual?

There was a time when we could start a business and run it for generations. Father trained son and so forth. The local blacksmith was a great example of a family business passed from father to son for generations.

Of course today he might be a welder or a fitter and turner or motor mechanic using a sophisticated computer to diagnose the car’s performance; the horse has well and truly bolted.

Today the jobs being created did not exist 30 years ago or in some cases three years ago and so the chain is broken. How is this changing business and how is this changing stress levels for business owners and staff alike?

We talk a lot about the pace of change and how technology innovation is forcing all of us to change. For thousands of years retail has been a safe investment. Buy or lease a store and find products people want to buy and you have a business that will hold its value for a long time.

I once had a mentor who was in retail and he said retail was a dynamic industry where one had to stay on ones toes to be ahead of the competition. Always finding a new way to attract customers into the store and finding new ways to tantalise the customer once they came into the store and ensure they left with as many products as possible.

Today technology is beginning to reduce the number of people who come into the store as we turn to online shopping. So our retailers need to turn to IT systems to compete with each other and the new generation of online vendors. Certainly this is keeping them on their toes if not up at night worrying about what to do next.

Retailers are fretting with rumours that the big supermarket chains are beginning to sell off their land banks because they think online shopping will require fewer local supermarkets, the threat of online shopping is relatively new but it is constantly in the news as the change of our generation.

Other industries have been changed forever by the introduction of technology. Graphic art was once a complex study learning the craft of reproduction of images. Today computers churn out the reproductions in no time at all and much of the art work itself is computer generated rather than hand drawn.

Accountants are under threat as a lot of their compliance work can be done by accounting applications and it is making the smart accountants look to more value-add services and business advisory services to remain valid to their clients and to maintain revenue.

The medical industry once kept paper records in large file rooms and kept the MIMS book on hand to reference the latest drugs being released so they could look them up to check for side effects and ensure they were not prescribing lethal cocktails of combined drugs. Today MIMS has the eMIMS for download and quicker updates directly into practice management software used by most GPs and specialists. They even have MIMs for Mobile so doctors can check drug information on the go. Patient records are now at the doctor’s finger tips and the front office no longer needs a files clerk.

In the past 10 years, lots of people started spending time blogging. What did all those people do before it was so easy to publish to the web? Talk to themselves?

Of course the whole world of search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimisation (SEO) did not exist a few years ago and who would believe you could make money flipping websites in a cyberspace virtual real-estate game. Did anyone grow up wanting to be a smartphone app developer?

My point here is that there are plenty of new jobs created to replace the old ones that have been removed but the rate of change is creating a high degree of stress in the SME community at the moment because no one knows where business is going. Are they in a “safe sector” or will what they do be the next gas-lamp lighter’s job: extinguished by a step forward in technology. Cloud computing is both a threat to server experts and an opportunity to those who adopt the service requirement of cloud.

There are still plenty of jobs to do but they are morphing faster than many of us can keep up. Loading this stress on top of uncertain global economic times is leading to a business culture where doing nothing to move forward feels like a safe bet but clearly is not. The indecisive are falling behind as new opportunities emerge. No wonder Gen Y don’t want to be like their parents’ generation or train for the same job.

If you have a business that can keep running “business as usual” you are in a fortunate position. If your margins are not being eroded by new forms of competition and your productivity does not need to improve to compete with overseas offerings at lower prices and technology has not evolved to replace chunks of what you do then you are indeed in a fortunate and comfortable position.

My observation is that more than ever it is a time to focus on what value your business offers your target market and how that aspect of your business will morph over time. You may need to expand your target market or attack a new geographical area or take on related products or services to maintain or grow revenue.

Clearly, removing non-core functions from your business through outsourcing and even offshoring will allow you to focus on your area of specialisation to be ahead of the game as change impacts your industry.

David Markus is the founder of Combo – the IT services company that ensures IT is never an impediment to growth.


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