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How to Use Technology to Redefine Today’s Economy
Daniel Burrus
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Today we’re in an era of technology-driven transformation. That means you can attain higher profits when you use technology to redefine your products, your services, and/or how the industry in general works.

Unfortunately, most companies are using technology only one way – to lower costs and become more efficient. They view technology as a way to “do more with less,” “streamline the workflow,” and “trim expenses.” Sound familiar?

While that is certainly one good use of technology, you can also use it to redefine the marketplace as well as your products and services. In this case, technology becomes a tool of creation. You can create new products, new services, and entire new markets, which then creates new jobs and careers.

Why is this important? Currently the United States is digging out of the worst recession since the 1930s, and the global economy is suffering its worst setback in decades. The key to recovering is all about jobs and how to create them. You don’t create jobs by increasing productivity; you create jobs by creating new products, services, and markets. So even though we have a statistical recovery, we have a human recession. As such, recovery can’t be jobless.

The bottom line is that we can use technology to eliminate jobs or create them. It’s time for businesses to focus on redefining as a tool for job creation. If you’re ready to start redefining your company so you can grow your business and stay profitable as you create jobs for years to come, consider the following guidelines.

Know Where You’re Going
Look at your product, service, or industry and see how you can use technology to redefine it. The classic example is Amazon.com. When they first started the business, they used technology to redefine how people sell books. But they didn’t stop there. They then expanded to other products and redefined how nearly everything is sold. Then they redefined again. They developed a large IT, logistics, and warehouse system and they now rent out their enterprise IT platform and warehousing space to other companies. So they are not only redefining an industry; they’re also redefining themselves.

Another example is Apple. Back in early 2000, before they launched the iPod and iPhone, most people thought Apple was quickly going out of business. That’s when the company redefined themselves around music. Later they redefined again with the iPhone, which is telecommunications. Now they’re doing it again with the iPad, which will launch another revolution as they redefine ebook readers and media players. Like Amazon.com, Apple has redefined themselves as well as their industry.

So when it comes to your company and your industry, ask yourself some key questions, such as:

* What is growing and what is shrinking?
* Where is the direction of the future going based on technology? (For example, getting more energy efficient and going green are both long-term trends. Virtual marketing and social networking also represent long-term trends.)
* Based on where your customers and your industry are going, is there a way to use technology to create new opportunities?

Understand How Technology is Affecting Your Customers
Look at how technology is affecting your customers in your industry right now. But don’t just look at productivity. Look at the overall customer experience as well as who is buying your offerings. For example, in the late 1970s, when ultra light aviation was born, the first ultra light aircrafts were basically hang-gliders with engines. The FAA decided, due to the size and weight of the plane, people didn’t need a pilot’s license to fly an ultra light aircraft. As a result, the first ultra light manufacturers targeted that demographic – people who wanted to fly but who didn’t have the time or money to get a pilot’s license. One company, UltraSports, thought they could attract a better customer, so they asked, “Why not redefine the product, the customer, and the market?”

Rather than target those who wanted to fly but didn’t have a license or the income to afford buying an aircraft, UltraSports decided to target commercial jet pilots and flight instructors for their ultra light aircrafts. After all, these pilots were the best pilots, they loved to fly and they had money; however, because of their jobs, flying had become more automated and less fun. Then UltraSports went one step further and redefined the ultra light aircraft itself by adding a stick and rudder and instrument controls. They made the ultra light fly like an airplane rather than a hang-glider, which better appealed to their new target market. UltraSports went on to become a national leader in their first year, all because they redefined who their customer was and then made product changes accordingly.

So when it comes to your customers, ask yourself some key questions, such as:
* Is there a better customer? For example, maybe you’re selling to a customer who can only afford low-margin products and services.
* Who is your ideal customer?
* Is there a customer you don’t have but should have?
* Could you redefine your product and attract that customer?
* Is there a way to use technology to enhance your product or service in some way that opens up a market or creates a new market for you…and thus new jobs?

Take Competition Seriously
Look at the specific ways in which you compete in the marketplace as well as what makes you unique. Then decide how technology can redefine the way you compete. For example, when was the last time you bought something from the Polaroid Company? At one time, they were the king of instant photography. But then technology and digital photography changed their industry, and the way they competed (instant photography) changed…but Polaroid didn’t change with it. Instead, they made the mistake many businesses do: they used technology to get more efficient and lower their costs.

Similarly, the Kodak Company was failing for over a decade. Finally, they looked at how they competed in the past as well as what it would take to compete in the future. That’s when they embraced digital photography. And while they still have some traditional film labs across the country, it’s their digital products division that’s profitable today. The moral: The longer you wait to redefine how you compete, the harder it is to survive. However, when you pinpoint a way to use technology to create new products and services, you add new revenue streams and new jobs.

So when it comes to competing in a technology-driven age, ask yourself some key questions, such as:
* Is there a way you can use technology to redefine how you compete?
* Is there a way you can use technology to change your product or how you service people?
* Is there a way you can use technology to redefine your customer’s experience?

A (Re)Defining Moment
Staying ahead during a technology-driven transformation is indeed possible. It’s all about looking at where your customers are going rather than where they have been. It’s about looking at where technology is evolving and how it is shaping the market, not where it used to be. When you ask the right questions and take action on what the answers reveal, you can use technology to redefine your company, create new jobs, and experience higher profits than ever before.

The author is Technology forecaster and business strategist
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