How best to harness new tech: pick the right tech at the right time

The marketing sector can be a complicated place as new marketing tools and techniques are launched, almost on a weekly basis. Powered by The Drum Network, this regular column invites The Drum Network's members to demystify the marketing trade and offer expert insight and opinion on what is happening in the marketing industry today that can help your business tomorrow.

Technologies like AR are undoubtedly exciting, but are they right for your business at the moment? / Image by Lucrezia Carnelos on Unsplash.

The allure of new and emerging technology can be incredibly beguiling to organisations, especially marketing departments. I’ve lost count of the number of times we’re received an enquiry from a new or returning client asking about the latest headline-grabbing technology - from artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, to virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR).

We get asked if we ‘do’ it, which we do. It’s exciting. As a software development consultancy, we love using technology to transform the way businesses operate and how our clients serve their customers and clients. Often this enquiry is followed by a ‘brief’. I use this term loosely here, as what we increasingly receive is an email asking: “can we do something with AI/VR/AR/some-other-next-big-thing-technology…?"

On more than one occasion, my response to this has been “What’s your problem?”

It’s a genuine question and one that businesses often don’t know the answer to. You see, we’re all excited about how machine learning, or VR or the Internet of Things might enhance our professional worlds. Everyone wants the cool new toy.

But do you need it? What actual business challenge does it solve? Will it give you the return on your investment?

Like magpies attracted to shiny things, it’s easy to be distracted from those very important questions. Let’s not forget also that investment into innovation doesn’t come cheaply. Especially not when it’s done well, with purpose and a clear, measurable intended outcome.

Too many businesses fall into the trap of getting caught up in the hype and jumping on the bandwagon. Brands want to be able to trumpet about being the first to apply ‘X’ in the ‘X sector’; to be seen as being on top of trends; as an innovator. What follows is usually a wave of imitations, gradually declining in success and interest.

The - perhaps boring - fact is, when looking at using technology in your own business, or when making recommendations for a client, you HAVE to start by identifying the problem you want to solve.

That’s where we start with our clients. Once we know that, we can use their knowledge of their sector or business and our technical expertise to identify the most impactful and cost-effective tech solution.

The answer might not be anything particularly exciting. It might use new tech - but then it might not. It most likely won’t be instantly newsworthy (sorry marketing bods). But what it could do is transform your business.

It could free up staff time by streamlining laborious admin processes. It could increase accuracy and reduce time spent on complaints or rectifying errors. It could help you grow your business.

That’s what the team at Mashbo has done for one of its clients, by completely automating the administrative processes of a busy student lettings agency. It’s not the sci-fi end of AI, but the process automation project has reduced the time spent on tenancy generation and contract signing for all of properties from three weeks to under an hour. The business has also had to recruit more staff to meet the demands of its rapidly growing portfolio.

So what would you or your client prefer? A flash-in-the-pan ‘first’ vanity headline or genuine, sustainable and impactful organisational growth? Isn’t that something you want to be shouting about?

When it comes to harnessing tech, businesses need to have their eye on the long game. Picking the right tech at the right time is an art. It requires thinking and planning, so you make the correct decision from the start.

My advice is to have fun with tech at home. Play with AI, VR, AR and whatever else comes along. Its time in your business will come. Read about it, be informed, but don’t let the allure of the ‘next big thing’ pull you away from solutions that will make a genuine impact on your organisation.”

Learn more about tackling organisational issues with tech in Mashbo’s 2019 report: “What’s Your Problem?”

Gavin Sherratt is the managing director at Mashbo.

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