The speed at which technology is evolving has created a business landscape that’s perhaps more volatile than ever before. Whether you’re a startup founder or a decision maker at a Fortune 100 company, you can’t afford to ignore the constant stream of digital tools and applications that make work more efficient, collaborative, and productive. The moment you get complacent is the moment your competitors gain an edge.
But staying competitive doesn’t mean impulsively adopting new technologies — you need to act with care. Otherwise, you risk overinvesting time and resources in tools that slow you down.
There are a number of strategies that will stand the test of time and help your company stay relevant, no matter how fast the technology evolves. Here are three:
1. Know what’s out there.
Make sure someone on your team is staying abreast of new technologies and announcements. Keeping regular tabs on Product Hunt, LAUNCH Ticker, or any other emerging technology newsletter will ensure your team is at least aware of new options, even if they don’t end up being the right options for your business.
Listen to your employees. With technology choices in the workplace increasingly coming from the bottom up, you can stay relevant simply by asking your team members what they’ve been reading about or want to use.
Find out what competitors are using. Through word of mouth, signing up for demos, or subscribing to email lists and browsing newsletters, it’s often fairly easy to figure out what platforms a company is using. Again, this ensures you’re at least aware of and knowledgeable about the available tools.
And don’t invest too much in longer-term technologies — things change quickly. If a vendor is trying to lock you into a SaaS solution for more than a year, chances are it’s offering is not cutting-edge.
2. Stay laser-focused on new product lines.
Smart companies create teams and spaces dedicated to wholly new innovation. From an initial technology and cost standpoint, the barriers to market entry are smaller than ever, and large enterprises can’t afford to move slowly when it comes to providing new offerings that meet market needs. Teams and opportunities focusing solely on innovation guarantee swiftness.
We saw this in Google’s '20% time' policy, which allowed employees to take one day out of their workweek to concentrate on side projects. Although it recently floundered, the policy gave rise to AdSense, which grew to account for 25% of Google’s revenue at one point.
Procter & Gamble’s focus on innovation may have saved it entirely. After seeing its stock tank by more than half in 2000, the company carefully retooled its approach to innovation, actively engaging with outside developers to get fresh ideas into its product pipeline. As a result, P&G discovered what is now its top-selling skin care item, revenues and profits have grown, and 42% of its products include an externally sourced component.
Of course, innovation is much easier said than done. Google’s '20% time' has evaporated as employees find themselves overextended at work, and many enterprises’ optimistically named 'innovation labs' fail due to bureaucratic red tape, a lack of dedication in practice, or stale internal ideation.
One solution is to look outside the company for ideation and motivation, either in the form of a partnership with a company that specializes in enterprise innovation, such as BCG Digital Ventures or Originate, or by sourcing and incubating internal concepts like Proctor & Gamble did through its Connect + Develop program. These tactics help companies avoid one-track thinking and ensure those responsible for innovation are focused on just that.
3. Solicit feedback from your current customer base (and act on it).
Too often, companies focus significantly more on new business to the detriment of their existing customers. Even worse, they try to improve existing products with limited or incorrect information.
This can result in alienating current customers with unwanted product changes or losing business to competitors that are listening and providing the features that customers actually want. Passively providing customers with opportunities to offer perspective is not enough. Companies must ask — and ask again.
SnackNation and Xero are two companies that do this very well. Both maintain a constant feedback loop with customers through a variety of channels and act on the feedback they receive. By frequently and rapidly integrating customer feedback into their products, they encourage customers to continue offering insights.
Tools That Work
When you’re ready to adopt new technology, you’ll find tools that were built to solve your company’s pain points.
Many newer team communication tools (e.g., Slack and Asana) consider fun and friendliness in addition to organization and team efficiency. They can help build social ties between employees in different locations and allow for humor and camaraderie that will strengthen team working relationships.
Innovation in the HR platform space has been exciting to watch as well. Zenefits (legal issues aside) and Gusto are doing some amazing things when it comes to UX improvements in an area that greatly needs it, from consolidating HR management into one simple platform to giving employees freedom and control over all things HR.
Sophisticated employee rewards platforms have also emerged in the past few years. These programs offer unique, fun, and often social perks to a company’s team. Blueboard and AnyPerk let companies award special discounts and experiences that can’t be found anywhere else.
Embrace the chaos. Experiment with new technologies, and decide what works for your business. Know the landscape, and you’re more likely to survive in it.