Wednesday, August 25, 2010

What's Your 97 Year Old Technology?

This past week, the Long Island Railroad has had to cancel over 25% of their trains, causing hour long delays for their passengers. A rainstorm on Monday caused a 97 year old piece of technology to fail, the effect of which cascaded through the switching system of the Jamaica station.

Why am I blogging about this? Because it's a warning.

Was the LIRR surprised at what happened? I'll venture to say "No, they were not". At some point in the recent past, someone informed someone else that there was a critical system which was almost 100 years old. They knew the critical system was part of the switching system at their main junction and a failure would mean days of service delivery problems.

But the LIRR is lucky. They have no competition. No matter how much their service might suffer, commuters really don't have any other options (unless they want to drive the Long Island Expressway during rush hour). There are no other commuter companies that a disgruntled customer can go to, no matter how unhappy they are with the Railroad.

Unfortunately, the same isn't true of about your business and your customers. Unless you continually keep your customers happy, there's another company right next door just waiting to take their business.

So ask yourself two questions.

What would happen if you couldn't run 25% of your critical business functions for several days?
What is your "97 year old technology"?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Use Technology to Drive Revenue

Chase Bank released a great new app last month. With your iPhone and the QuickDeposit app, you can now snap a picture of an endorsed check and the check is deposited to your account. I'm old enough (just barely) to remember waiting on line at the bank and only during banking hours. When the ATM was introduced, we still had to go to the bank but we could at least do it on our own time. Now, you can make your deposits wherever you are and whenever you want.

This isn't some wildly creative, off the wall, earth shattering concept like the electric lightbulb or the iPod (remember when you had to carry a walkman and buy music at the record store). But it is a significant feature which, for now, sets Chase apart from their competition.

When most of use think of technology, we think of infrastructure and basics. Our network, our email, remote access, backup and disaster recovery and so on. Technology lowers our cost of doing business. It saves time and makes us more efficient.

But what about using technology to increase revenue? What about adding value for your clients? When was the last time you thought of your products and services and looked that them from the client's perspective? I'm not just talking about email newsletters and e-commerce stores. How can technology really set you apart and get you noticed? Chase's iPhone app doesn't advertise the services the bank offers or let clients check their balance while on the road. It goes right to the heart of how busy their clients are and makes their lives easier by saving them time. It adds value to the client in a way that no other bank yet does.

What can you do? Off the top of my head, here are some quick ideas:

Law firms - Create online collaborative workspaces which you and your clients can use for ease of information sharing. This would eliminate large email attachments, problems with not having the latest version of a document, waiting for FedEx, etc.

Architecture firms - same thing

Retail stores & Restaurants - Time sensitive promotions using social media, not only to drive traffic but also to create positive online buzz (bring over a netback and offer them free dessert if they post a review online while they're still sitting at the table)

Medical offices - Allow patients to schedule their own appointments using web based or smartphone appointment setting tools. Save both their time and your staff's time

Anyone in sales - slick iPad based demonstrations which you can show while at the client and web based tools to update and close the deal right then and there (As an aside, if you haven't tried the iPad yet you should. Call me and I'll bring one over. It's so intuitive, my 2 year old daughter figured out how to use it without anyone having to show her)

Not-for-profits - Web based applications to support your fund raising efforts (for example, broadcast a lecture live over the internet with links to "click her to donate and access special member-only material")

None of these are revolutionary. But they are all focused on the client and on driving revenue.

So where do you go from here? Set up a brain storming session with you trusted technology advisor (which would be CMIT, right?) and figure out how you can use technology to drive revenue. It's simpler than you think.