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How is your company adapting and innovating? Responding or reacting?

By Sean Worker
Edited from an original publication for HoCoSo

 

In 2020, customers, consumers, clients, guests and users’ expectations changed, forever. Many of us have been plunged into becoming YouTube-taught tech support experts. If you wanted to have any contact with business associates, family, and friends you learned fast – imposed lockdowns and work from home (WFH) rules saw to that. The fundamental use and knowledge of technology has accelerated at such a scale that businesses in all categories are under immense pressure to deliver a much higher baseline of (digital/virtual?) User experience to simply compete. Food delivery is the new going out, tours of your favourite cities are online, all being consumed, if not from home, then from your newly found safe serviced apartment. The user now expects that “the box” will show up from Amazon with everything right, every time – and that your services and products will perform equally to expectation. This baseline is now up there with running water and a well-functioning loo! How is your business going to handle that expectation? React or respond?

This is the evolving age of experience and connection, as highlighted in our recent book, The Adapters. This 4th Age of Change is seeing individuals and companies of all sizes being pushed to emerge from the pandemic in altered forms with employees’ and customers’ expectations being elevated. The accelerated table stakes to operate has evolved more in 10 months than in the last 10 years, and maybe the previous 50 years before that. We are living in an exponential time of learning, adapting, and innovating – all required to simply function. How a business responds in the next eighteen months may determine its long-term relevance.

A possible new social phenomenon may be developing – vaccine envy is starting to creep in; my brother got the vaccine, when will I get mine? Users of technology tend to compare products and experience in a similar way. They have a cool app, what do I need to do to get mine? (think iPhone version envy). Technology-lead, highly complicated supply chains with crazy algorithms have enabled us to have hope. The consumer is kind of reacting in a “vaccine envy” way to goods and services; if a pandemic vaccine that used to take 10-12 years to develop can be produced in less than one year, why can’t all the other companies that I use pick up the same pace? Retail and hospitality, fix my check-out speed in a store or my check-in experience at a hotel. That’s easy, right? Business and the relationship with your customer have changed forever. Thank C-19 for that. Many gurus have been screaming for years that “it’s all about the customer”! Note to all, new benchmark! Now it really is!

Many clients are asking “What tech do I need to change/adapt and/or innovate coming out Covid? Could you send me the list of hardware and software for my company to be connected?” Please hit pause now. Adding Keyless Entry, an updated APP, or hunting for the next Property Management System upgrade is merely dealing with symptoms rather than the underlying cause of the problem. If your customers are giving you feedback that they want a ‘seamless/easy” experience, they want this to happen from the moment they discover your business through a Google search –  not at the “end” of the journey, when they are standing outside a hotel room door while waiving their phone at a reader.

It’s about the customer and now more than ever, you and your company have to understand your Stakeholders and how they buy, use and think. This principal also applies to those that interact with your company such as your employees, suppliers, investors and, of course, your customers (Users) that drive your revenue stream. All users have a view on tech because they are, in fact, active users of it! While writing The Adapters, it became clear that companies, much as they would love to simply buy the latest shiny tech gadget or enterprise resource planning (ERP) tools, need to start with, and design to, the customer/user needs. You as a CEO/CTO are being challenged to not simply deal with current trends and problems but anticipate the needs of the Customer – at times when they do not even know what they need. The challenge during these times is to build a technology stack that has optionality and scalability for future unknowns in order to stay relevant, regardless of the sector you operate in. We would argue that User tolerances for poor end-to-end experience and service is the challenge for most companies. Again, trust and transparency of service offering in a secure environment has become a fundamental expectation – and its delivery is essential to business survival.

So, how do we even begin the thought process on our approach to choosing the right technology stack of hardware and applications that fit for your business?

How about a little four step roadmap to guide you on your journey?

Step 1. User Centric Design (USC): Start with the essential first step of embracing user centric or enabled design (UCD). This is a practical way of determining what adaption and/or innovation is the one to bring to market or fix existing underlying problems.

UCD enables you to identify your stakeholders or enterprise participants; namely employees (by discipline and cultural experience), investors, suppliers, customers, and internal departments

This is both a tedious and a fun process. It encourages a data-oriented learning culture to inspire and translate into specific actions to deliver an amazing user experience. Caution! This means more than focus groups. It’s understanding the needs and desired outcomes of the stakeholders. Envision a wheel that rotates around a hub where the stakeholders are the spokes. When all are in sync, they enable the power transfer to the rim of the wheel and power forward! However –  no design, no testing, no learning – no wheel! Many companies tend to assign user experience projects to siloed internal departments like operations or marketing which may not have a coordinated product development and delivery plan. Without those fundamental elements, focus may shift dangerously to image and end stage experience without including how to leverage the Stakeholder group.

Step2: Business Process Architecture (BPA)

BPA in its broad sense maps the desired outcomes and experiences that the business is seeking to address and deliver. User Centric Design consultation and diligence informs your business on how your customer thinks and buys. Ignore it at your peril. Now it’s about taking these key UCD learnings and building the blueprint.

Business Architecture visualizes and “workflow” tests those desired outcomes and user experience pathing (websites, ERPs, etc.) in a theoretical environment (think playing “connect the dots” on a white board). This phase incorporates the go-to-market and stakeholder imperatives. BPA demands that you seek the most efficient way to deliver your product or experience to all the stakeholders. This is where you visualize how you want to build and live in your “house,” while planning for lots of guests to show up.

Step 3 Business Intelligence – grabbing the data is a natural outcome of patient and well-designed BPA. Methodically capturing well defined data and expressing it in easy to digest visuals for the stakeholders is an art as much as it is science. Customer, supplier and employee insights, in addition to digital security, analytics (operational and financial) to name a few, are achievable and critical. The optimum outcome is that the company builds systems that have flexibility, insight with predictive analytical tools, and makes it widely accessible to its stakeholders. Many of these modules are available off the shelf and then “glued” together to create your bespoke platform.  This phase maps the management of data flow, so that all the stakeholders can iterate and learn. There is a reason why there are usually only 5-7 data dials on a car dashboard. It’s about all we can handle without running off the road! So those dials better matter! No journey is a straight line and using data allows you to course correct and adjust the BPA to stay relevant, adapt and or innovate. We caution against change for change sake.

Step 4 – The fun bit – tech solution selection.  Now that the first three steps have largely been tackled, your tech needs, gaps and wants should have presented themselves. Ideally, the company should complete, at least at a high level, the first three stages prior to going on a purchasing/leasing/renting/building tech stack spree. Much the same as trying to build a house without engaging an architect first, skipping a step may well leave you with an outcome that you won’t much like and that is not the right fit. Replacing tech, adding tech, or building tech is more complicated than ever as there are so many choices. We strongly suggest that where you can, engage an independent professional to assist your CTO/CIO to source and assist in the architecture of the tech stack.  If you do not have a systems and services flow chart, now is great time to do that. Then please revert to Step 1. Ask yourself this question: “Are you a pure play tech company like AltoVita, Rentals United and others, or are you a highly tech-enabled company like Marriott?” Simply understanding that will help advance your value proposition, save some capital, and avoid losing sight of what is most valued by your customers – the product promise!

The “box” has to show up on time, with what I ordered, every time!

Tips and Takes.

  • Customers expect transparency and delivery of the promise. The same applies to employees, suppliers, and investors. Trust, Security and Transparency are the new currency.
  • User Centric Design (UCD) is table stakes for companies to be relevant in the C-19 recovery era and beyond.
  • Test, test and test again your stakeholder experiences and leverage that data to initiate and pivot your experience/product offering.
  • Define your image by your product. If you are a pure play tech company, be If you are a highly tech-enabled product/experience company, choose your path. Pick your lane and watch for on-coming traffic!
  • Complete steps 1-3 before choosing a technology stack that delivers a fit-for-purpose experience that has scalability and resilience.

As you would expect, steps 2 and 3 should run currently in an existing company, whereas a start-up has a blank screen to work from. However, even the most promising start-ups often times commence with product design and coding, occasionally forgetting rigorous user testing.

The Pandemic Recovery Period, (PRP) as we projected in The Adapters, could be better than the roaring 1920s. Welcome to the RAVING 2020s! Everyone wants to travel, meet friends, laugh, make up for lost time and do business. Are you teched-up to handle the demand and give your stakeholders what they want? Then rave on!