Years of experience with customers of different sizes and with different business models yields what should be a truism in the business of technology: Putting technology before business context is putting the cart before the horse. Too many technologists conceive of business as something that should be “formed” by technology; in reality, technology must serve and enhance the business and in that sense must be built in its image.
This is not to say that technology cannot have a dynamic and constructive role in re-fashioning businesses. In fact, progressive organizations think of business and technology as twin helices that wrap into the DNA of sustainable organizational life. Eventually these helices converge into a singularity, each inflecting the other.
This is the essence of “Digital Transformation.” Businesses—whether conducted over the ether or in the physical world, whether producing digital products and services or physical goods—must continue to adapt. But adaptation does not mean wholesale transformation. A brick company can continue to make bricks but transform itself digitally to, perhaps, find efficiencies in production, source better inputs, engage customers and partners, reduce inventory cycles, or a whole host of other “additions.” Similarly, a digitally “native” company can find new products and services, ingest data and innovate, or, again, develop a whole host of additions or enhancements without changing its core business competence. Digital Transformation runs the gamut from incremental enhancement to fundamental disruption. The idea must be shorn of value judgment—the business context determines which route, and how deep, to go. There is such a thing as too much or too little.
Key to these decisions and processes is data. Data. Data. Data.
Businesses of all kinds are hit with inputs and feedback thousands of times a day. The ability to assimilate these in a structural manner is key to success. Put in a different way, data is important and harnessing data is key.
Depending on their Go-To-Market strategy, different businesses gather data in fundamentally different ways. One imagines that a company like Amazon gets data largely through the online habits of its customers and, as such, receives the data via the web and in real-time. An ice cream parlor, on the other hand, likely receives data via physical customer conversations. Different modality but still in real-time.
Other types of businesses gather data asynchronously. Take the movie business for instance—rarely do people walk out of an on-going film and ask for a refund; instead, they pan the movie online; this data has an effect but an asynchronous one.
Without a doubt, the former is better. Real-time feedback allows the organization to make adjustments within the decision time-frame.
Let that sink in. Data can be assimilated while the window for customer satisfaction or customer capture is still open.
Enter Field Services companies: those that rely on a roving band of “doers” who also can be the single best point of data collection and, if they can act on the data, of ambassadorship.
Let’s examine a few examples:
1. Real-Estate Appraisers and Home Services companies—Imagine a scenario in which Real Estate services and Home improvement/fix-it services can be real points of engagement, perhaps opening vistas for new business as against being a terminus for existing business. The sheer amount of information a rep can gather when entering the portal of the home and finding customers in situ is incredible; more incredible would be turning that information into services the customer benefits from (and pays for.)
2. Field Sales businesses—Companies in which sales representatives are roving and make calls on their customers regularly are amazing sites for data collection for innovation. To see customers in their own context using products and services in real-time is the best input any rep can get to assess what’s working and what isn’t.
These two examples can be extrapolated from, for any business model that includes Field Services and adds an element of technology-led automation so as to collect, aggregate, and action-orient the data gathered by employees in the field.
This data is real-time. The question remains for companies to build the right infrastructure and culture to be able to use this real-time data to become proactive. Is it possible, for instance, to make calls on customers before something goes wrong (in the case of home services) or before they embark on a friction-laden learning curve to deploy your products or services (in the case of field sales businesses)?
Field Services Automation and Data are twins. Their combination—if done right—can truly create transformation within the business context of your choosing. Investing now is a good step to creating true data-driven resiliency in your business.