A long day at work, followed by a short evening at home, often evolves into mindless and relaxing channel surfing. Love it. Hate it. I prefer working out, but I don’t always make it happen.
On a recent excursion into the depths of cable options, I stumbled onto a great show — “101 Best Gadgets of All Time.” They had me at “gadget.” The top 20 included the televi sion (Duh, I was watching it), computers and electricity. Can you guess what’s No. 1? I’ll save that for later. The fascinating gadgets got me thinking about how dramatically technology has changed our lives and how we conduct business.
Now consider your boating and marine organization. What fresh technologies or gadgets are you using and, even more important, what are you missing out on? Despite the economy’s lingering slump, innovation keeps forging ahead. Companies that endure are changing their business models and embracing technology at the same time. They’re using gadgets to help generate business benefits. The technologies you decide to tap should help promote one major goal: enhancing and better managing the customer experience (and the processes that support it). You also should be using technology to drive efficiency and cost savings.
Let’s look back on this subject to help you look ahead, as well as rate your technology use during the last year. At its ITxpo in Orlando in October 2010, Gartner projected the top 10 strategic technology trends for 2011. As you read this streamlined list, count the technologies you deployed in your marine business in the last 12 months and reflect on how these technologies improve customer interaction and reduce costs. Some of the trends might apply to larger companies, but all of them should get you thinking about making your business better.
1. Cloud computing: Cloud computing options include all applications and services available through the Internet. Think Hotmail, Gmail, SalesForce.com or backing up your business data to an online storage service. By 2012, large enterprises will have teams managing their use of cloud computing.
2. Mobile applications and media tablets: Gartner estimated that by the end of 2010, 1.2 billion people would be carrying mobile devices to enable Web mobility. Expansive use of the iPad, iPhone, and other tablets and smart phones means businesses that want to be competitive must be accessible through these gadgets.
3. Social communications and collaboration: Social media includes maintaining and managing a presence on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, YouTube and more. Managing feedback received through social media is likewise mandatory. Gartner predicted that social technologies will be integrated with most business applications by 2016, punctuating the importance of managing customer information received through these sources.
4. Video: The use of video in non-media companies is expanding exponentially. Video is all over the Web and viewed through smart phones and iPads. Gartner predicted that by 2013 more than 25 percent of the content that workers see each day will be dominated by pictures, video or audio.
5. Next-generation analytics: Increasing the capabilities of computers and mobile devices will enable running real-time simulations and models to predict outcomes and improve business decision making. The result will be higher and more competitive success rates for sales teams and decision makers.
6. Social analytics: Social network analysis means collecting social networking data from multiple sources, identifying relationships and evaluating the impact or effectiveness of a relationship. These data are then used to examine behavior patterns and better respond to customer needs. Yes, this is advanced stuff.
7. Context-aware computing: This involves taking user preferences and providing customized content, including product and service suggestions for each user. Amazon and others already do this when they suggest products based on your previous selections. Gartner predicted that by 2016 one-third of worldwide mobile consumer marketing will be context-awareness-based.
8. Storage class memory: Gartner projected big use in 2011 of flash memory in consumer devices, entertainment equipment and other embedded IT systems. Think solid state memory similar to what’s on a thumb drive and having it embedded in a consumer device.
9. Ubiquitous computing: Computing capabilities will be invisibly and expansively infused into the world in countless ways, including the abundance of personal computing devices for each person — smart phones, tablets, etc. More gadgets, more computing.
10. Fabric-based infrastructure and computers: Fabric-based computing is a modular form of computing in which a system can be aggregated from separate building blocks (processor, memory, software and so on) and connected over a fabric or switched backplane. Fabric-based infrastructures group resources into managed pools for greater efficiency.
How did you do? How many of the above technologies did you deploy in your marine business in 2011? Two or three would be a great start. If your score was zero, don’t worry, I have easy suggestions to kick your gadget and technology efforts into gear. Three words: mobile, social, video.
• Mobile: Look again at item No. 2 above. Is it easy for customers to find your products and services online and transact with you using mobile devices? Do you need to enable apps on your website to make this happen? Make sure your business is Web-mobilized.
• Social: How does your business look on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn? Not there yet? Get there. Nos. 3, 6 and 7 provide additional insight. Assign an employee to respond to social media interactions with customers. Investigate ways to analyze and track (through a simple spreadsheet or automatically, if possible) what consumers are saying and how it relates to behavioral trends, product and service preferences, and positioning future sales. By the way, Paul Mah, of SmallBusinessComputing.com, says many small companies are relying on laptops and smart phones to manage social media interactions as well as conduct business.
• Video: This one is easy (No. 4). Get on YouTube and post demo videos that are three to seven minutes long. Let customers see the great information you have to share. Content should be focused on value-driven best practices and how-to information, not a sales pitch. Push links to your YouTube posts through your website, e-mails and social media. Video is the competitive must-have for business visibility.
Channel surfing led me to the “101 Best Gadgets of All Time,” which in turn reminded me how incredibly important it is to keep up with technology trends. If you don’t, your competitors will. Pick and choose technologies that best serve your customers, satisfy business needs and drive down costs.
Oh yeah, what was the No. 1 gadget of all time? Drum roll please: It’s the smart phone. This little wonder combines the functionality of more than 15 devices, including a Web browser, an MP3 player and a video camera, not to mention it’s also a phone.
How will you manage gadgets and technology to improve the customer experience and advance your marine business? Ask your customers what they want. Listen and take it from there. Your future success is waiting.
This article originally appeared in the January 2012 issue.