by Stephanie Atkinson

5 ways to kick-start your business automation and technology plans

May 03, 2017
Internet of Things

Here are recommendations for kick-starting your technology planning and automating your operations and workforce.

business buildings clouds
Credit: Thinkstock

The first quarter has ended, yet your company has yet to get its arms around how to leverage technology to compete, remain in business and improve the customer experience. Let’s explore some key recommendations that all businesses should be considering as they embark on the ever-changing business technology landscape.

Here are five ways to kick-start your thinking, along with recommendations to help you automate your company operations and workforce.

1. Technology planning

Technology plans should focus on at least these three core areas: customers, workforce and operations.

Customers always come first and, of course, some technology areas will definitely overlap (i.e. operations and customers). While you are preparing or evaluating your core technology or IT budget, you must lead with the “why” and the “who” first, making sure you are covering all of your technology bases.

Customer technology may include online and in-store systems, through partners and third parties, and through distributors or wholesale. Each technology path through these channels must be explored in depth: What is working? What isn’t? What can be automated? What can be improved? And how does this impact the customer experience (CX)?

As you explore the customer experience, keep in mind the ways customers are being touched by your company, your brand, your products and services, and the news. Social media is now being used as a marketing pull method, marketing through consumer channels may even be important for your B2B brand or B2B2C brand.

Operations are critical to technology plans, including both the IT (information technology) and the OT (operational technology) used for processes, business activities, delivery, etc. In some cases it makes sense to integrate IT and OT; in others, it does not — due to security concerns.

Operations include any and all activities being performed to design, develop, produce, and deliver the goods or products to the end customer. Technology plays a vital role throughout the supply chain, and exploring areas to automate, improve and leverage technology to provide for more efficiencies and better experiences are key drivers.

Working closely with a neutral third party or technology partner may also be recommended, as technology decisions are being made and identified. Of course, you may find working closely with vendors or technology partners is helpful, but remember that they may not always be thinking of your budget and may be biased to their own products or services.

2. Exploring automation

Businesses must continue to leverage technology (cloud, mobile, IoT, robotics, AR/VR, connectivity, e-commerce, wearables, mobile devices, displays, video, virtualization) in ways to further automate the supply chain and the delivery of goods and services to customers. As you explore IT and OT throughout your company, developing an ecosystem map of your own company and locations will provide better visuals. This ecosystem map should include touchpoints, suppliers, channels, applications, core systems, etc. It will provide visualizations as to where automation might be implemented and help you prioritize.

3. Don’t forget content

Content in the form of video, information, intelligent data and live supply chain intelligence should be part of your technology road map. Companies continue to collect and store customer, product and process/operational information but struggle to properly analyze and use the data in meaningful ways. Collecting the right data to improve business processes and integrate with decision-support systems is where the industry is moving. Content that enhances the customer experience is expected to be a higher priority for enterprises, especially those that provide consumer=facing products and services.

4. Evaluations and moving fast

As you evaluate plans for systems that are currently working or being implemented, it is best to have periodic evaluations and check-ins to see what is working and what is not, providing direct improvements to the business. Instead of continued investments in areas that are not producing, it is important to step in early to change the course and make adjustments as needed. Technology is changing rapidly, and so is competition. It is not smart to stick with a plan for the year that is not expected to produce results. Check in, and check often!

5. Fitting IoT in your business

If you are not implementing internet of things (IoT) technologies into your business, you will not be able to compete in the long run. That sounds harsh, but it is what we are seeing today, and technology is being used more and more as the tool to differentiate and automate.

The market is speaking loudly, as many retailers close down and the financial markets tighten. This has many businesses focusing on internal operations to further improve quality, expand efficiencies and enhance the customer experience. Sensor networks and connected machines combined with a secure network and data stored and computed to change the way business is performed today is true differentiation. Businesses not exploring the use of IoT technologies within their operations as a way to provide excellence in the customer experience will not be able to compete, because others in the market will either change business models or launch something new and exciting that distracts your bottom line.

Consumers of products and services are impatient, want it now, expect flawless customer services, and want to use technology to do business with you. Business that react may be too late in the game to survive!