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Leverage the Internet to Own Your Growth

December 07, 2018

To remain competitive, learn to anticipate technology change so that it happens for your business, not to your business.

1. Overall Guide

A 2013 study by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project found that 57 percent of U.S. adults went online via their phones—a percentage that had doubled since 2009. For 2018, the organization’s Mobile Fact Sheet finds that 77 percent of people in the U.S. use smart phones, and 53 percent own a tablet. The figures represent a sea change in the way your customers and prospects expect to connect with your company. Those shifts put the onus on your company to keep its mobile accessibility up to date. It’s not just about a mobile-friendly website. To compete, your operations must integrate apps, the ascendance of the Internet of Things (IoT), and adoption of other technology tools. Here’s how to scale with the web:

  • Build a “smart” operation from the ground up. What do digital operations look like? They blend information and operational technologies to strengthen business performance, according to Smart Operations and the Internet of Things: Digital Impacts on Business Strategy. In this business model, connectivity matters more than physical presence. From accounting and finance to communication, cloud and app pipelines are delivering a continual stream of new tools for managing your business digitally, remotely, and productively.
  • Create a customer experience that’s a competitive edge. If you’re operating with a small staff, one key is to target the social media, technology, and tools to which your customers are most responsive. Don’t try to be everywhere. Be where your customers want and need to find you. For example, if they agree to sign up for text messages about flash sales and news, you may not need to duplicate those messages on Twitter and get them to follow you there.
  • Don’t be daunted by AI and machine learning—they keep it all secure. Advances in AI and machine learning are moving us toward the ability to create proactive, intelligent systems that stop hackers before they start. At the same time, the more connected the components of your system are, the more connected the threats to your system can be. That means personal security hygiene is more important than ever—and its impact extends to devices that you likely haven’t considered in your data security planning.

Understanding these issues will help you scale quickly enough to keep pace with the speed of change that the internet will undergo in the coming five years.

2. Building the Smart Operation from the Ground Up

In a “smart” business model, connectivity matters more than physical presence, which is becoming obsolete as a prerequisite for collaborating, making decisions, and acting swiftly on opportunities. From accounting and finance to communication, and from data mining and analysis to enterprise resource planning, the cloud and app pipelines are delivering a continual stream of new tools for managing your business digitally, remotely, and productively. The Internet of Things (IoT) can help you get there. Here’s how:

  • Offering transparency. IoT sensors, for example, can track your inventory. They’ll identify flaws or untapped opportunities in your production, fulfillment, and distribution systems. And for the first time, they make “solutions in search of a problem” a good thing: by detecting operational issues and tracking commonalities that precede breakdowns or defects, they enable you to resolve problems before they actually arise. Once you’ve made a sale, they can provide data about how your products are used. Armed with that data, you have a head start on refining future product generations to better match changing requirements and improve the customer experience.
  • Giving you “actionable” information. All this information keeps everyone involved in your business connected and gives that connection greater purpose. Your company’s operations, processes, and the pursuit of continuous business improvement are informed and empowered by real-time input from throughout the organization. The result is decision-making that’s not just faster, but also smarter, better targeted, and more closely aligned with your productivity and profitability targets.
  • Improved operating efficiency. These efficiency-oriented IoT tools enable you to delegate a variety of tasks, from keeping your doors properly locked and monitored to maintaining your thermostats at optimal temperatures. And you may be surprised to learn that shipping trackers and RFID merchandise tags are now affordable and practical at small business scale.

Smart digital operations are far more than just a platform for visibility into operations. They provide a means for “developing and exploiting applications made possible by the Internet of Things to create value.”

3. Customer Experience as Competitive Edge

Small companies have traditionally competed on the strength of their customer relationships. Owners of very small businesses know their customers—their frustrations and challenges, their expectations and preferences—in a way that until recently big business could not. Now social media and internal digital review platforms give bigger businesses access to this information and the ability to impersonate the one-on-one relationships that small business owners cultivate. Here’s how to do it:

  • Optimize analytics. “Analytics are definitely increasing the ability of large organizations to target the needs of smaller groups of customers,” says Bruce Temkin, Managing Partner and Customer Experience Transformist at The Temkin Group. But small businesses can combine that computing power with their own capacity for sustaining meaningful relationships. “The issue is not whether companies should use advanced technologies or human beings. It’s when, where, and how to combine the power of both.” 
  • Lean into your customers. If you’re operating with a small staff, target the social media, technology, and tools to which your customers are most responsive. Don’t try to be everywhere. Be where your customers want and need to find you. For example, if they agree to sign up for text messages about flash sales and news, you may not need to duplicate those messages on Twitter and get them to follow you there.
  • And then learn some more. “Focus on technologies that your key customers are using to select, buy, use, and service your products and services,” Temkin adds. “Companies need to make it as easy as possible for their key customers to work with them. Take your lead from your customers. Listen to them and adjust what you’re doing to meet their needs. At least for the time being, humans are better than technology at listening.”

And listening—via whichever platforms or styles of communication prove most productive in your business—will help shape the customer experience that keeps your customers loyal.

4. AI, Machine Learning, and Connected Security

Advances in AI and machine learning are moving us toward the ability to create proactive, intelligent systems that stop hackers before they start. At the same time, the more connected the components of your system are, the more connected the threats to your system can be. That means personal security hygiene is more important than ever—and its impact extends to devices that you likely haven’t considered in your data security planning. Keeping secure in this new environment entails:

  • Being aware of how you’re accessing the web—no matter where you are. Even if you and your employees aren’t yet telecommuting, you’ve probably accessed work email from home. And there’s a good chance that one of you has read work email on a smartphone that also houses an app for managing something completely unrelated to work, like an IoT baby monitor or push notifications from your daily newspaper. And because they’re completely unrelated to work and your life is complicated enough already, you probably don’t have particularly secure passwords for those apps, because who cares if someone hacks into them, right?
  • Getting familiar with deception technologies. While we need to remain vigilant about a growing number of devices, AI is giving us new means of fighting cyber threats by outsmarting them. If you’re not familiar with deception technologies, it’s time to get up to speed. Gartner explains that these tools use “deceits and/or tricks designed to thwart, or throw off, an attacker’s cognitive processes, disrupt an attacker’s automation tools, delay an attacker’s activities, or disrupt breach progression.” The company included it in its list of Top Technologies for Security in 2017.
  • Going with a cloud you know. Cloud storage is not new, but it’s still a key component of any security plan today. Use a well-known, highly regarded provider so you don’t have to spend time completing due diligence on a smaller provider’s compliance with industry standards. One way to avoid that process, and make sure you’re asking the right questions and getting them answered is to just opt for the big boys. Their prices tend to be better, anyway, because they have that aggregated mass effect.

By staying current with these security trends and resources and integrating the relevant ones into your plans, you can develop a stronger five-year roadmap for your company’s growth.

Read the Leverage the Internet to Own Your Future Growth guide to learn more about how taking the right security steps can protect your business in an increasingly connected environment.

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