Carol A. Daly, Business Consultant
© November, 2014
I participated in a professional discussion group recently where the point was painfully made that it’s still not completely understood that technology and entrepreneurship are no longer exclusive of one another. At this point and forever into the future, business development, technology production, and app development will be joined for better or worse, and we cannot deny that. You don’t go backwards from technological progress – it’s just not an option. If you’re going to be competitive in business you need to embrace what will certainly be commonplace in every field in the near future; and you need to include planning to keep up with technology trends in your long-term business plan. Facts to be considered:
In the field of healthcare: Technology is now being used routinely to keep doctors connected in order to better refer patients for specialized care; to optimize care coordination and medical results between various healthcare providers; medical diagnoses are available online through video conferencing; artificial skin is being developed through the creation of laser stem cells in 3D printers; and in at least one case I’ve heard about, a doctor has utilized technology in a way that even Google may not have foreseen, using the Google Glass while in surgery. While some see Google Glass as an expensive “toy,” this doctor saw a window of opportunity.
In the restaurant field: Many restaurants now offer customers the opportunity to order take-out online for delivery or pick-up; some also offer an app for your cell phone to make reservations quickly and easily; upscale restaurants in large metropolitan areas offer touch screen digital menus at each table that allow you to order, request your bill, pay the bill and even fill in a review of your dining experience right there at your table with no assistance from a waiter. All of that is for the convenience of the customer. The benefit for the restaurant owner is also being noted as they’re able to program their technology with up-sell opportunities like making appetizer and dessert recommendations complete with hard-to-resist photos, and provide a better over-all experience for diners, creating more word-of-mouth referrals and better reviews.
In the grocery/retail industry: It would be difficult not to notice the changes that have taken place in the retail environment already, although the changes have come about incrementally so as not to overwhelm shoppers. And customers have embraced them completely for the most part. From the customers’ perspective, it started with branded in-store discount cards, then moved on to easy debit/credit card payment options, then on to email marketing and newsletters offering coupons based on those items you buy regularly (which they identify through the use of your in-store discount card). They have not only identified a target market through technology, but taken it right down to targeting individuals’ personal shopping habits. For the past 15 years at least, retailers have been selling online and shipping all over the world. That’s not even news anymore. And more recently, customers also have the option of ordering specialty groceries online for shipment by the case; or ordering from some local stores online for pick up on the way home. It doesn’t get much easier than that.
In the world of baking and confections: Changes are made in this industry every day, but most go unnoticed by the end users of the products. Bakery giants can point out new equipment that speeds production or allows for longer-lasting freshness; or advances in producing specialty products for ethnic and foreign markets. But something that really caught my attention recently was the use of a new piece of equipment … the Sugar Lab from 3D Systems. This is an actual printer designed to create ornate three-dimensional sugar designs for cake toppers, unusual sugar cube designs, and other sweet confections, sour candies and geometric peppermints that satisfy both the sweet tooth and the eye. Some of these candy samples are now available in limited quantities through Cubify.com, which sells a variety of 3D printers to create everything from foods to toys.
In agriculture: Coming to a farm near you soon! Business Insider reports that big changes are underway in this crucially important industry.
- Air & soil sensors are being introduced in 2015 to enable a real time monitoring of farm, forest or body of water conditions;
- Equipment telematics are expected to go mainstream in 2016 and be financially viable in 2017. This will allow mechanical farm equipment (such as tractors) to send a warning that a failure is likely to occur soon.
- Livestock biometrics means that collars with GPS, RFID and biometrics can automatically identify and relay vital information about livestock in real time. This is still in a developmental stage, but is expected to be mainstreamed and financially viable by 2020.
- Crop sensors: This high-resolution sensor can inform application equipment of the correct amounts of fertilizer needed for conditions. Optical sensors or drones are able to identify crop health across the field (i.e.: using infra-red light). These will be scientifically viable in 2015, mainstream in 2018; and be financially viable in 2019.
- Infrastructure health sensors: Can be used for monitoring vibrations and material conditions in buildings, bridges, factories, farms and other infrastructure. Coupled with an intelligent network, these sensors will feed crucial information back to maintenance crews or robots.
Dozens of other technologies like robotic farm swarms, vertical farms, and precision farming to name a few, are being fine-tuned and scheduled for wide-scale implementation far into the next decade.
I could go on to touch every business-type, but hopefully this is enough to awaken the disbelievers or those who simply haven't given the role of technology in our lives much thought. If you are among those, I encourage you to to embrace technology in its many forms. If you are starting a new business, or looking to expand sales and production in an existing business, don’t ignore the writing on the wall. Technology is here to stay, and you can learn about, use it, and reap its benefits, or you may have to face an awful truth within the next decade, and realize that you've missed your opportunity to ride your industry’s boat into a very profitable future!