As we roll into 2017, it appears that technology is entering a new golden era, especially for individuals, entertainment, and better time management. Facebook, with over 1 billion users, represents a larger population than all but two countries, is the juggernaut of online interaction, news, and engagement. Other high profile technology companies include Twitter, Pinterest, and increasingly, Snapchat.
That said, even in the face of each of these continued advances and innovations, successfully integrating technology into business operations and processes remains a challenge for businesses large and small. Whether the issue is simply that employees are on Facebook while on company time, or more serious issues related to cybersecurity, phishing, and data integrity, the underlying issue is the same. Technology has the ability to significantly improve productivity, efficiency, and increase the value delivered to internal and external users. That said, it is also important to recognize the reality that technology can detract from business productivity, employee attentiveness, and accuracy of products and services delivered to the customers and clients of the organization. A challenge, therefore, as we move into 2017 is the following: how can organizations and management professionals make the best use of technology for their businesses?
The first place to start, from a business perspective, is to evaluate the online presence of the business – do you have a web presence? Even a relatively fundamental presence will provide the business with multiple opportunities to not only conduct analysis with current data, but to develop additional platforms moving forward. Especially in terms of attracting new business in general, and particularly important for millennial and Gen-Z clientele the importance of having a web presence cannot be overstated. Without a quality online presence, the business might, to a large subset of customers, not exist. While there is clearly a technological aspect to building an online business profile, it is important to not get overwhelmed or confused by the number of options that are available out there.
Like everything else, competition and increased consumer demand have resulted in lower costs and more variety of services that both individuals and businesses can use to establish an online presence. A few of the options for webhosting include, but are certainly not limited to, WordPress.com, Wix, and GoDaddy.com – by the time you are reading this, there are certainly going to be other options available to you – always be sure to comparison shop and make the decision that makes the most sense for you and your business. Social media, of course, is an excellent platform from which you can contact and engage with your customers, but a high quality website forms the cornerstone of an online presence and online strategy. Even as mobile shopping and monetization increases, a solid place to start and build out the online skills of your business is an easy-to-use, and easy-to-purchase from, website. The other, mobile-first and socially-oriented platforms can always be added later.
Another great insight and benefit from utilizing technology, especially for small to medium size businesses, is the information and possibility for analytics that arise from better use of technology. Stated simply, the possibility for data analytics is increasingly within reach for businesses of all sizes and industries. The ability to scale online information, gather more accurate in-person data from storefronts, and interact with customers online provides a nearly unlimited number of options for data gathering and analysis. For example, a medium size food business that is trying to monitor the effect that an online advertisement has on foot traffic during peak weekday lunch hours might set implement something the following.
- Develop an app that customers can download, and this can be beta tested among loyal customers, or customers that have already signed up for an email list or other types of company information.
- For a smaller business, you could simply install a motion sensor that could coordinate with existing security cameras to generate an approximate foot traffic count.
- Cross reference the number of customers who walked past the business during the day with the number of visitors, either in-person or online.
- In-person visits can be determined by either purchases made in store, or a simple count taken from motion sensor data.
- Online information can be tracked, much like YouTube videos track views, or blogs monitor daily visits.
- Based on the data gathered either from an in-person or online resources, the business can, with quantitative data, actually validate or disprove the value of an advertising campaign, product launch, or introduction of a new service line.
Data analytics, social media, and building out an online web presence can be words that are both intimidating and exciting for business managers and entrepreneurs. Obviously the core concerns of running a business – attracting new business, developing new products and services, and expanding into new markets – remain unchanged. What technology, online tools, and data analytics can do is provide business owners new streams of information, insights into customer habits and opportunities, and a roadmap to help develop new business ideas. Technology and analytics can help a business operate more efficiently, identify new customers, and develop better service for existing customers – and that is technology that makes sense.