It’s likely that your business is not where it was when you started due to growth, changing goals, or evolutions in the marketplace. As things have changed, you adapted and evolved so, it makes sense that your technology will change and adapt as well.
Cognitively, we know that problems with technology can lead to frustrated employees, wasted time, and arrested growth. But sometimes it is easy to push it to the back burner when there are other more pressing matters. If you are in this guilty majority, read on to see if your software mistake makes the list.
1. Not having a mobile application when it makes sense to have one
There is no doubt that mobile apps are all the rage these days, and it’s easy to see why. Apps are a good top of mind strategy for your customers especially since many of us spend over four hours a day on our phones[i]. It’s also a great way to provide extra value to your customers and improve engagement.
But does every business need an app? It depends on your goals. Companies in all stages and industries sometimes get in a rush to develop an app because it’s trendy or because they think they will get lost in the marketplace if they don’t. But the reality is that for some small businesses it can be more economical to have an excellent mobile site.
When deciding if your business is a good candidate for a mobile app, consider your competition and your target market. We are not talking about a copycat strategy here. The main reason to create an app is to create a stream for customer engagement.
For an app to be a successful digital marketing channel, it must have a reason for existing—a purpose that is different than what a responsive mobile website can offer. How can your app add value to your business? You can approach this question in two ways: one, to increased brand recognition, or two, to provide a convenience factor for customers.
When it comes to increasing brand recognition apps are a great way to do this. The app can be used to drive loyalty and engagement by incorporating gaming into your marketing campaigns like Burger King did when it trolled McDonald's to get more users on their app[ii].
It also makes sense to have an app when the app leads to a great user experience. Apps that track loyalty rewards or utilize push notifications for special discounts can strengthen engagement with existing customers. Another feature growing in popularity for small business is mobile payments. Mobile payment apps for in-store purchases or ordering ahead allow customers to skip the lines, and the fumbling for change. Making life easier for your customers is a win-win for everybody.
2. Not fully automating your software and applications
Automation is a powerful way to deliver speed and accuracy. But automation rests on the integrity of your software and integrations. Failure to integrate your software and applications impact you in several ways, from time lost in getting to market, slow and expensive builds, degraded optimization, and negative customer experiences.
It used to be challenging to interface two applications together. It was especially problematic when the two applications were proprietary to the companies that owned them or if you are using old technology. With the advent of REST APIs[iii] and open programming languages, that problem has been alleviated. API stands for application programming interface. In English, that means a set of protocols that make it easy for developers to build things that work together across different platforms, software, hardware, and brands.
What does that mean for you? Using APIs, developers can create a communication path between applications without coding a single command via transitional software such as Zapier[iv]. With Zapier’s library of 1000+ apps you can create automation for just about any of your programs and software with a few mouse clicks. Dropbox is a good example. You can back up your notes in Evernote to Dropbox or connect your Gmail account to notify you when files are added to your Dropbox folder.
Another good example for automation is the project management tool, Trello. A simple API integration can connect Trello to an application like Slack, allowing you to work seamlessly across both tools. That’s the power behind APIs. They were built to work with multiple users and the cloud, making it easier to connect objects, systems, and people for a great user experience and to capture the data that will lead to bigger and better things. Especially as more and more of our devices, and household objects get sucked into the internet of things.
The good news is that you don’t need to tear out all your legacy systems to achieve automation (although we make a case for upgrading your old tech next) but instead, use an API integration to connect data and devices to keep your competitive edge and grow your company.
3. Not updating old tech to new tech
Old technology comes in many forms. Sometimes your systems are no longer being supported, or a new version by a different company made them obsolete. Sometimes your stuff is just slow due to age. If you’ve ever thought that keeping your old systems in place is a smart move for your budget, it can be, but that shouldn’t be your only focus.
Your technology strategy should start with an audit of what you currently have, and a discussion of complaints that employees or customers have with your technology. One common complaint is slow computers. Slow computers aren’t just annoying to your staff, they lead to longer wait times for customers and vendors. If you find yourself facing this complaint, it might be time to think about processor upgrades or new hardware. If data storage is an issue, you may need to invest in external storage or make the move to cloud storage for secure backups.
There are many reasons for upgrading new systems. But number one on the list? Security. Old technology is vulnerable for many reasons—it’s not compatible with current antivirus software, it has holes that are easy to exploit, and it was not designed to be part of the patchwork of your newer systems. Not only does this lead to security issues, but it slows you down and makes it near impossible to scale up.
Keeping old technology for budget reasons can be tempting. But it is better to have a plan in place for knowing what needs to go when, and how to prepare for upgrades before a vital system craps out. Besides, vintage only counts for cars and baseball cards. The rest is just dad sneakers. (sorry dads)
3. Using off-the-shelf software as is
No matter how you are trying to rationalize things right now, the truth is that off-the-shelf software was made for your business, but it was not made for your business. Essentially these types of software either come out of the box solving 80% of your needs, or you need it to do something specific that will need some customization.
It is common for companies to purchase or license off-the-shelf software because it looks like a good deal at the time, only to discover that while it fits some needs, there are essential aspects that just are not there. In this instance combining it with custom software to specifically meet your needs leverages a cost-effective solution with more powerful additions.
If you’re going to stick with off-the-shelf software, consider custom development as a way to get exactly what you need out of the system, whether it’s data, reporting, or additional functionality.
5. Sticking your head in the sand a.k.a. not innovating
Are you unintentionally holding your business back? Innovation is not just for the Bezoses and Musks of the world. Despite what all those pop culture rags are peddling it’s not about the magical unicorns either. You don’t have to wait for a huge breakthrough to find the innovation in your business that will lead to greater success. Innovation can come from simply taking a step back and thinking about how your current solutions can be applied in different ways.
For instance, holding an internal Hackathon or work hack day[v] to discover new ways to solve old problems. It’s a chance for teams in all departments to step back from their regular work and engage in a pet project or create something new. Even if the projects never make it off the ground, it is a nice break that can breathe new life and creativity into employees’ regular projects.
Or, if you can’t give up a whole day, you can create a policy of 15-percent-time, like that pioneered at 3M[vi], which encourages employees to spend a percentage of their time on creative projects or experiments. It may seem scary to encourage employees to “goof off” during the workday, but this approach is credited as part of the catalyst behind the major innovation at 3M and Google. (As a bonus, it’s a better use of time than cat videos and Minecraft)
Exploring innovation could be as simple as looking for ways to streamline your processes or eliminate bottlenecks. Employees, vendors, and customers can provide you with a wealth of information in this department. Are your customers voicing requests or pain points that are not being solved in the marketplace? At the very least, asking your customers and vendors about areas where you are failing to deliver excellent service can open your eyes to gaps in market offerings and areas for opportunity. Share these openly with your team, trust them to make suggestions, to try things and break things – bake this into your culture. You never know what clever solution could be lurking around the corner.
When you started your business, you probably had a plan for how you would create a service or product to solve a need, deliver it in a way that makes sense, and capture revenue. These objectives are interdependent and should also guide how you approach your technology.
It is easy to put investing in upgrades, replacements, and applications on the back burner while everything is “working.” But what happens when it quits or fails to deliver? You can save yourself the headache by continually investing in the solutions that help you run your business. In the long run, better systems help you reduce costs, increase productivity, and prepare you for what’s next.
Learn the business impact CarGo experienced after innovating their software!
[i] Are You On Your Phone Too Much? The Average Person Spends This Many Hours On It Every Day https://www.inc.com/melanie-curtin/are-you-on-your-phone-too-much-average-person-spends-this-many-hours-on-it-every-day.html
[ii] Burger King trolls McDonald’s with 1 cent burger promotion https://www.cnn.com/2018/12/05/business/burger-king-1-cent-burger/index.html
[v] The Event You Should Plan for Your Team—ASAP https://www.themuse.com/advice/the-event-you-should-plan-for-your-teamasap
[vi] How the 15% Rule Became a Stepping stone for 3M’s Innovation https://articles.marketrealist.com/2016/06/15-rule-became-stepping-stone-3ms-innovation/