The business world stayed pretty much the same for a century or so after the Industrial Revolution, but it's probably pretty safe to say that's never going to happen again. The exponential rate at which technology is developing, mutating, and adapting, especially throughout 2020, is so fast that you can't help but be swept away in a tidal wave of progress—whether you're ready for it or not.
You might not think we've come that far, but if you had access to a time machine and went back less than 10 years, you'd be shocked to see:
- A lack of centralized work communications to maximize efficiencies regardless of location (think Slack).
- The relative non-existence of new formats for marketing businesses like Instagram.
- No Internet of Things or voice searches for products and information.
- Non-usage of short-form video sharing for personal and business.
Technology has changed every aspect of the way any business operates, and never before in history has that change occurred so fast.
Below you’ll find eight ways in which technology has fundamentally changed business (for better or worse). And we’ve added two bonus technology changes too...
1. The Way We Communicate + Share Information
Communication and the sharing of information are critical for every business. Today's environment offers more ways than ever, and the technology available makes it faster, easier, and more efficient. With applications like Slack, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, social media platforms, chatbots, and more being leveraged daily, there are pros and cons for all of us. Sales enablement provides the ability to track buyer-seller conversations and receive analytics based on user behaviors. Deeper intelligence makes it easy to obtain customer information and use it to enhance the customer experience.
Communication is effective when technology digs into customer information to help us create personalized messaging. Automated communications using a variety of channels help businesses boost marketing productivity and reach customers, as well. But we need to be mindful that, taken too far, we could lose the ability to build customer relationships—and lose the human touch in our brands.
2. Mobile-First Business Environments
Mobile-First is here to stay. Smart devices or tablets with the right software allow for remote management of every aspect of your business. Everything from your sales enablement, content marketing, and customer relations through back-end processes like shipping and invoicing are all at the click of a button. But mobile isn't just for you—it's also for your consumers. With the rise of Generation Y (Millennials), more people are using mobile devices to buy, sell, shop, find local businesses, and share their retail experiences with friends, acquaintances, prospects, and Instagram strangers every day.
This new paradigm has rewritten the book on marketing to prospects. Technology has also increased the ease with which we can all stay in touch. Whether it's having your co-workers and employees available via text/video chat at a moment's notice or being able to send targeted promotional email blasts to prequalified customers when they're shopping at nearby businesses, the rise of mobile technology has blended almost seamlessly with communication software to create a hyper-real web of real-time information.
3. Enablement of Remote Working
Although remote work has grown steadily over the past 15 years, Covid-19 forced companies not already promoting a remote work environment to make the transition more quickly than expected. And it's likely a good thing that is here to stay:
Companies of all types—private, public, nonprofit, or startup—continue to recognize the bottom-line benefits of integrating remote work into their business strategies," said Sara Sutton, founder and CEO of FlexJobs. "With improvements to technology and increasing demands from employees in a tight labor market, we fully expect to see the momentum around this important workplace continue to grow," Sutton concluded.
Companies had to pivot quickly to ensure their teams had access to the right technology and infrastructure to support remote log-ins, the bandwidth to handle video conferencing, and project management tools so that teams could continue to work on projects and update status together. Instead of managing by hours spent in the office, leads had to shift to measuring employee output. There've been a lot of benefits to this new normal. Not only is it easier to attract and retain talent, but it's also increased productivity. One interesting two-year Stanford study showed an incredible productivity boost among remote workers equivalent to a full day's work each week! And there's more; it's saved high costs in real estate, cut back on carbon emissions, and makes companies more agile and scalable.
4. Use of AI
AI is reshaping the world in business and consumer markets and is a mainstream of daily living. This application of technology has changed business processes in nearly every industry and has become an imperative strategy for those wanting to maintain a competitive edge. There are many things AI can do, from machine learning (massive amounts of data are processed quickly and put into digestible context for people) to security, CRM, and even the financial and real estate sectors. In the sales enablement space, AI is used to track buyers and predict their intent to purchase by looking at their search patterns, what they view and open, and more. Some worry that AI could eventually force joblessness, but the general thinking is there will be a need for job creation and new roles emerging to facilitate the transition to this new environment. For example, as AI replaces long-standing workflows, people's need to integrate them will be a necessity. AI is coming along at lightning speed, and although the effect is unknown at this point, it will likely have a significant impact on the economy.
5. Decreasing Cost/Increasing Functionality
Two things have come together to create a "buyer's market" when it comes to software solutions for your business. First, the hardware and software necessary to develop these software solutions have become increasingly easy to use and afford. Secondly, the number of tech-savvy and entrepreneurial minds who can exploit such crumbling barriers has multiplied exponentially. A back-end inventory system that once took a multi-million-dollar company a year to create in the not-too-distant past takes a couple of weeks for a few recent college graduates to put together. These solutions are offered at affordable rates and are often simple enough to use that businesses don't need to hire dedicated employees or sign long-term service contracts to make use of them.
6. Buyer Enablement
With buyers spending the first 60+% of their buying journey on their own with a magnitude of content and stakeholders and decision-makers multiplied in different business groups, buying in today's world has become complicated. The newer approach of buyer enablement, if done correctly, allows the buyer to be a champion of the product inside the organization. This requires the seller to partner alongside the buyer to help them determine the ultimate business problem that needs solving and to offer up the most relevant information at precisely the right time. If sellers keep their buyers' needs as their top priority throughout the buying journey and position themselves as a trusted advisor, they are nailing buyer enablement.
7. Increased Collaboration
The inability to chat in the break room, walk down the hall to a co-worker's office, or even gather together in a meeting room in front of a whiteboard has drastically increased the need for collaboration. A McKinsey Global Institutes Report found that over 60% of work time is spent collaborating, gathering information, or responding to emails. With this in mind, there is no shortage of collaboration tools that companies have glommed on to like Google Drive/Docs, Slack, Microsoft SharePoint, and OneDrive, Monday.com, and many, many more. These simplify how we can work together for team discussions, file sharing, project collaboration, tasks, and storage. Alignment of people and goals is the primary responsibility for these tools, and they are here to help provide real-time insight into projects and help us become more efficient.
8. Cloud Computing + Digital Transformation
The rate of change is accelerating faster than ever before. Digital Transformation "drives foundational change in how an organization operates, optimizes internal resources, and delivers value to customers. Cloud technologies provide the foundation for becoming more agile, collaborative and customer-focused". Cloud computing allows businesses to move some of their operations to third-party servers accessible via Internet connectivity. This allows for variable data packages and rapid (on-demand) expansion and mobility without the fear of downtime, crashes, or permanently lost data. Companies adopting the cloud can innovate quickly, scale efficiently and even bring new market capabilities more quickly. This has allowed small to medium-sized businesses access to resources that would have been cost-prohibitive for them in the past and evened the playing field when competing against corporations with far more funding.
Bonus #1: Increase in Business Ops Productivity
Teams are working more closely together toward the common goals of meeting or exceeding growth targets. Through the alignment of service, sales, marketing, and IT, business operations evolve and implement more streamlined business processes to bridge organizational gaps. As mentioned above, digital transformation has been critical to increasing a business' productivity. Adding new tech to the stack helps decrease costs through time savings, speed to market, inventory management, and reduced production costs have helped businesses optimize to bring value to the enterprise and generate revenue. Forbes says:
The companies that do invest in this function (Business Operations) can make better use of automation technology and increase their efficiency and engender happier, more inspired employees as they're safeguarding themselves with greater adaptivity. Those who aren't are only taking on more risk."
Bonus #2: Decreased Downtime
The rise of technology does have downsides. It seems like there isn't any downtime for individuals to recuperate anymore. Even the coveted American tradition of vacation has become a thing of the past. We always have access to email, text messages, or "work" via laptops or tablets. And while your intention may be to get away from things for a while, it's more likely than not that you'll succumb to the temptation of "checking in" at least once. And when you do, it's over.
Technology is a Wave: You Can Either Ride or Wipe Out
Regardless of your personal opinion—Luddite or technophile—the rapid advance of technology will not slow any time soon. More and more businesses that fail to adapt will find themselves left behind, while the savvy ones who learn to keep up will reap the rewards. You don't have to rebuild your business from the ground up—there's some kernel of merit that's allowed you to enjoy success thus far. You have to understand how technology affects your business (for better or worse) and how to apply advancements to play them to your advantage.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published in December 2013, and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.