The Art of Being Tech-Savvy

The Art of Being Tech-Savvy

You can be tech-savvy without knowing how to code, fix a computer or build a website. Find out how to apply this skill as a business owner.

As an IoT consultant, I’m passionate about the idea of more business owners becoming tech-savvy.

Before we get into it, let me tell you, it's not all about the tech. What it's really about is understanding how your business operates and discovering how you can apply technology and other systems and processes to that business to make it run more effectively.

You'd be surprised by the number of organisations out there which try to do this but don't really succeed. They spend hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars putting in a system that really doesn't address the needs of their business. After launch, the team doesn’t really use it, they use probably about five percent of the technology and generally things don’t work from a profit-building perspective.

A lot of large multinational organisations resort to using platforms like Microsoft Excel to run sales pipelines and understand how their business actually operates to the point that there are critical business systems that are reliant on Excel or Microsoft Access. When it works, it is fine but while these platforms have their place, using them can be risky.

Now, don't get me wrong, Excel is a really powerful tool. But it can mislead you in terms of how things work. And it's also a personal tool that doesn't scale well. When you wish to share all that information within the context of a larger organisation, this is where things get messy.

Sure, there are options to share content via platforms like Office 365, but this is only point-in-time data and having multiple people making updates starts to get challenging. You have to go to extreme lengths to ensure everyone has the current version or you resort to a shared workbook which is highly susceptible to data corruption. It’s not a great situation to be in when you are dealing with the mission-critical data that is used to run your business.

The other issue occurs when this spreadsheet is customised with a whole bunch of macros, formulas and other smarts to drive your business processes and decisions. What happens if the genius who created this tool leaves your business? Not only is it likely you'll find it difficult to make updates, but you run the risk of locking your business into a certain set of processes that become too hard to change.

Solving this problem, and others, in order to improve business productivity, reduce complexity, remove critical points of failure, will give you back one of the most valuable, yet rare commodities in business--TIME.

Can’t code? You can still be tech-savvy

If you don’t know your way around a modem or a piece of HTML code, don’t worry.

It is regaining time that is the real purpose of becoming tech-savvy.

The strange thing is that achieving this and transforming into a tech-savvy business isn't really about the tech. It is important, of course, but there is no need to become the next Bill Gates, Elon Musk, or Steve Jobs. These guys are unicorns and people like this do not come along often. Their stories are edge cases, they're the people who are really specialists in their fields.

For everyone else, well, we just need to understand a little bit more about knowing one end of a smartphone from the other or how we could leverage the technology that makes apps to solve a simple problem.

How being tech-savvy makes a difference

I just dropped my daughter off at school care. The sign-in sheets are still paper. With a very simple app, they could make it even easier. Touch a few buttons, put in a pin number...boom, you signed someone in and the carers are saved from transcribing those enrolment details to send off to the government because it's already logged in the system.

From there, the daycare centre could tie that into some sort of dashboarding system or back-end database, which is where things can start to get really clever.

With the right software, they can create little triggers to do something else when a certain piece of data is present. It’s a simple "if this, then do that" piece of automation. This could be virtually anything; send an email, post a comment on Facebook, turn on some lights, play some music or update another system.

So when these conditions happen, we can start to connect everything in. This is what it's about, to become tech-savvy.

The daycare team doesn’t need to know how to build an app. They just need to be clear on how an app can help them achieve their goals of a more efficient, better-organised operation.

Finding tech solutions: It’s all about OUTCOMES

You’ll notice I haven't talked about how you do that from a technical perspective. That's not actually so relevant if you’re a business owner. What you need to do instead is understand your business processes and how you can map them against various systems or various outcomes which will give you the advantage.

That's the critical thing here. Whenever you go and talk to a consultant or a vendor, the very first thing they are going to ask you is what you want. But most business owners don’t know, or they want a better version of what they have rather than seeking opportunities to grow and transform.

And there's nine-tenths of the problem. If you don't know what's possible, you don't know how to explain what you really need.

When you're answering a vendor or consultant’s requirements questions, most of the people are asking and looking for your technical parameters. They want to know how many buttons you want on the screen, or what fields you want. 

Many business owners simply want this stuff all to work like magic, or at least the way the demo system does as presented by the sales team. They want the promise without the pain of building everything to deliver a specific outcome. So instead of starting with requirements, why don't we start with that outcome?

Who to delegate to for a tech-savvy business

Many business leaders delegate the details of providing requirements to consultants to a subject matter expert, an SME—the person or persons already doing the job.

The problem here is that now you are asking someone who is not really invested in the business. It's not their business. Now they may be great at their job and how they do things. They also probably like working there and getting paid. But the net result is that you end up getting a bunch of responses that really on tweak what they are doing now in order to a) keep their job, and b) get rid of some annoying parts. This may be exactly what you want, but does it really transform your business? Probably not.

The problem is one of context. Any answers most people from your business will provide will be based on what they know today. The answers are based on their current status. So they're anchoring their knowledge and their experience on everything they do now. Their current context. And not on your future state. Your future context.

These two perspectives are very, very different.

Looking forward, not sideways

I like to have this little mental sort of image of picking up this anchor and throwing it out like a big skyhook onto the future.

If you anchor your requirements and everything's based on the outcome, aka the future state where you wish to be, you can work backwards from there and use other factors to help you achieve this result.

Another method I like to use is to anchor your requirements based on your user or the intended recipient of whatever it is you're doing. This helps us build a list of needs.

For example; Your customers might need a nice little website where they can actually log in and view all their services and appointments or some of the things that they have to do with you. Maybe it's a list of all the things they bought from you so they can actually understand from a warranty perspective.

Now we've got this customer need. They want to see all the things they bought from you, so we work back from there.

Lay out the needs. You probably need a website, and hosting for that website. You need someone to develop that, it might need a shopping cart, and all those little aspects and features and things we need from that. Then the hosting system probably needs sort of a database in the back end of that to store all that records. Then you may need administrative software to manage those records, and so on.

Now we've got a basic chain of needs. We can then work out how and where we go to build or acquire all of this stuff.

As we look at every element within our chain, we start to position things on an evolutionary scale from left to right. On the left, we have things that are novel and new and the right we position things that have been commoditised. This is how systems evolve.

Power started out as a parathion battery and now we have massive power companies that generate this stuff for us and deliver it into our homes and businesses. We just have to sign up for a service and we have power. The same has happened with water. We can rent office space with little effort, we can provision servers with nothing more than a credit card, and the list goes on.

On the other side, we have things like artificial intelligence, machine learning, quantum computing, and other emerging technology. And in the middle is all the stuff that is halfway through this evolution. Now we have begun to map up what we need to build, what we need to configure and manage, and what we just get as a service or outsource.

The challenge of being tech-savvy is not understanding the tech, but being able to communicate all the elements you need to craft your thing or process and then determine what approach is best to acquire all of those components.

Where you really need to get dirty with all of that tech is making sure it actually works well. This can sometimes be the hardest part but it is where the magic happens. This is where you can realise that dream of making the right IT solutions work for your business.

By undertaking a user-focused tech wish-list exercise, you will have a wonderful map that describes what it is your business does. This map will describe the components in basic terms and start to determine the evolutionary stage of all of these all these things.

You don’t have to be a technologist to do this and your map doesn't even need to be right, it just needs to describe what you are trying to achieve. Add missing bits, move things around, expand some components, remove others. Then collaboratively craft a picture of how you want things to work based on the future state you want.

The best part is that most of the things you need to actually build a tech-savvy business require little more to obtain than a web browser and a credit card. Armed with these simple tools, you are now on your way to becoming that incredibly tech-savvy business.

Now you can start hooking this service into other services via systems that execute processes based on specific criteria. Suddenly, you are saving lots of time and you have gone from an organisation or a business that relies on paper forms and maybe a dinky little website to this Uber tech-savvy organization that your competitors envy and your customers love because doing business with you is easy.

Being tech-savvy is being smart with how you can apply your technology and the systems that are available, understanding your needs, mapping those out, and then working out what's the best way to go achieve that. Some solutions may be complex, others incredibly simple.

Technology is simply a tool that helps you achieve outcomes in a more effective manner. It is not some magic voodoo that requires a lifetime of study to master. The art of being a tech-savvy business is mastering how to properly and clearly describe the things you want to do and get others to build it.

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