Florist assisting customer with her purchase using a tablet computer

Developing a Competitive Edge

20 Dec 2016 by Scott Jamison

This article originally appeared in Volume 1, Issue 1 of <theScript> Quarterly digital magazine.

The nature of business is changing. Gaining a competitive edge often relies on the successful use of intelligent technology to transform how a business operates. Some clear examples are Uber using technology to become the new de facto transportation service, Netflix using technology to defeat Blockbuster, and Amazon disrupting the traditional retail store.

Even businesses that don’t seem to need modern technology, such as restaurants or manufacturing facilities, have used it to improve customer service, employee productivity and operational procedures. Let’s take a look at several approaches for enhancing your business with technology.

Customer engagement

In order to engage with your customers more deeply, you should look at the market factors driving behavioral change. First, customers are more tech-savvy and connected than ever. They’re armed with better information, making market competition stiffer. Second, customers expect digital engagement. For example, if you’re in product sales and not offering an interactive, mobile-ready online catalog and combining that with proactive marketing, you’re likely falling behind to a competitor who is.

Clients are making more and more buying decisions online before they ever talk to a sales team, so building customer loyalty by providing intelligent digital customer endpoints is critical to your future success. Other industries, such as the restaurant industry, are using digital menu boards that can be tailored to time of day, holidays and customer demographics to drive better sales and customer satisfaction. Combining that with a mobile app can further deepen customer engagement.

Workforce enablement

Another area where you can gain a competitive edge is through your workforce. Market drivers include the domination of millennial employees, where dynamic mobile apps and social collaboration tools are expected in the workplace. In addition, the sharing economy is spinning an everyone-is-a-freelancer culture, which means competition for the best workers — who have no inherent loyalty to your organization — is stronger than ever.

Putting modern workforce applications in place that enable team members to do their best work is imperative. If you don’t, you risk losing the best workers to your competition. If you do, you’ll likely bolster your competitive edge. A positive side effect is often an improved customer experience.

Infrastructure optimization

You’ll notice the aforementioned focus areas rely on a technology investment. In the past, that meant racks of servers and an army of staff to manage it all. These days, cloud subscriptions enable you to scale dynamically to provide the technology infrastructure to support your business. The agility provided by the cloud offers two major benefits: 1) shifting capex to opex, freeing capital for other investments, and 2) increased business agility, enabling you to scale up or down to accommodate business demand.

Operational excellence

Finally, running an efficient business is key to maintaining a competitive edge. Removing inefficiencies enables you to save money, be more predictable to your customers and employees, and scale without losing performance. But where do you start?

Efficiency can apply to your standard operating procedures, workforce training, management discipline or technology infrastructure. We’re mainly talking about two specific trends: the accelerating pace of change and outsourcing noncore functions. Each of these enables your business to run efficiently without needlessly expanding internal IT resources.

No matter which path you take, it’s important to make investments that will reap rewards. 

Scott Jamison is vice president, application services at Insight and co-founder and former CEO at BlueMetal, an Insight company.

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