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SMBs must leverage new technology and take cues from successful leaders to thrive today

For those entrepreneurs who envision their business as the next big thing, it will pay dividends to take cues from forward-thinking leaders, such as Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk, and surround themselves with inspirational peers. 

Likewise, it’s incumbent on entrepreneurs seeking to both disrupt the market and avoid being disrupted to continually leverage – or at the very least trial –  new, emerging and potentially transformative technologies. For example, 3D printing is enabling manufacturers to develop and test prototypes quickly and customise products on demand while virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are being trialled by businesses, including retailers, to create unique, immersive customer experiences.

Meanwhile, the Internet of Things (IoT) is enabling businesses to generate efficiencies via a network of interconnected devices, where data is shared and exchanged. Myriota, 2017 Telstra South Australian New Business Award winner, has developed a satellite IoT communications platform that is enabling businesses across a range of industries, including agriculture, logistics, maritime and defence, to transmit small amounts of data from most locations, globally, between assets and devices remotely.

“With our low-cost, low-power satellite technology we’re addressing a major roadblock to numerous industries taking advantage of the fourth industrial revolution – namely, cost-effective communications infrastructure for small amounts of data,” Tom Rayner, Myriota’s Business Development manager told Dynamic Business.

“For example, we provide connectivity that allows a farmer to monitor a remote asset, such as a water tank in outback Australia, from any location on earth. We enable them to do this through the use of small, low-cost transmitters, which communicate directly with low earth orbit satellites. These satellites then relay data back down to Earth, where we decode messages and send them to the end user. In the past, tasks such as monitoring a water tank have been very manual due to the fact that a vast majority of Australia’s agricultural land is outside of existing communications infrastructure range.”

“It’s going to become a competitive disadvantage for companies in some industries if they are NOT exploiting IoT. In many industries, IoT will effectively become a ‘license to operate’ as it will enable businesses to prove their practices are ethical and sustainable, which is what consumers will demand in the long-term. In food production and agriculture, you’ll be able to provide assurance that the food you are selling is what you say it is, is being produced where you’re saying it is and it’s being produced in line with your stated practices. That’s because IoT enables the sharing of data from the paddock right through to the plate.”

While IoT, VR, AR and 3D printing are some of the hottest emerging technologies right now, businesses mustn’t overlook other technologies with the potential to facilitate significant process innovation.

According to Holly Cardew, founder and CEO of Pixc – an image optimisation service for e-commerce businesses – business owners must not be afraid to trial new technology, especially if the alternative is missing out on efficiency gains and new customers. The Telstra’s muru-D accelerator graduate gave the example of Square’s point of sale solutions, noting the company’s POS app is empowering retailers to better engage with their customers.

“The app allows you to take payment from customers, yes, but it also allows you to add their details, including their email, at the point of sale, which means you can retarget them with content such as a newsletter or Facebook advertising,” she told Dynamic Business. “With a traditional POS system, the business would have no idea who their customers are – once the customer’s card has been swiped, and they’ve walked out, the credit card company has all their details, and the business has nothing. Businesses can use technologies, like Square’s, to know who their customers are and retarget them.”

Asked what technologies she employs in her own business, Pixc, to generate efficiencies, Cardew – who operates between San Francisco and Brisbane – identified software solutions that enable her geographically-dispersed team of more than twenty staff to communicate and collaborate effectively.

“The team is distributed across multiple countries so, as a result of not being in the same place at the same time, we’ve had to rely on a key suite of technologies,” she explained. “We use online communication tools as well as a file-sharing and cloud storage service  and software that enables us to comment on and update shared documents in near real-time. This is crucial due to the central role of documentation collaboration in Pixc. We make sure we do everything in the cloud, so that nothing gets lost, shared files remain up-to-date and everyone in the team has access to the documents they need to access.”

Given the rapid pace of technological change, it’s understandable that businesses might have a tough time determining exactly which technologies will have application in their business. Cardew’s advice is for businesses to research relevant technologies and contact vendors whose tools are not just within their budget but are likely to provide the best, long-term value. As part of this exercise, Cardew said a business owner might ask a software company, for example, about the features they have on their product roadmap, to determine if their future solutions will enable the business to scale. She commented, “If they don’t have the features you need right now, it’s always worth asking what is on their product road map to determine whether they can, potentially, scale with you. If they don’t currently have the features or capabilities you’ll need down the line, perhaps they can grow with you.”

Noting that small businesses cannot afford to spend a lot of money on implementing technologies that might not create internal efficiencies or resonate with customers, Cardew said businesses can turn to ‘scrappy’ ways of trialling technology. She explained, “By ‘scrappy’, I mean that when you implement a new technology, it doesn’t always need to be done perfectly. Try it quickly to determine what works and what doesn’t.” Furthermore, as technology futurist Dr Jeffrey Cole has pointed out, being an early adopter isn’t necessarily as expensive an undertaking as it once was, meaning business owners must not be afraid to play with new technologies to determine the potential application in their business, especially if their core mission is to do what they do better than anybody else – in perpetuity.

Just as ambitious business owners must leverage new technologies, so too should they seek to leverage the strategies, wisdom and attitudes of successful leaders.

“At Myriota, we admire Elon Musk because he gets things done that haven’t been done before and he thinks outside the square,” Rayner revealed. “Not being constrained by pre-conceived ideas about what can and can’t be done, and thus not settling for ‘no’, is one of his qualities we seek to emulate – this is especially important when it comes to innovation because there aren’t any precedents. We like to think that, with our communications platform, we’re solving IoT problems in the same way that Musk, in the case of both Tesla and SpaceX, is driving change in transportation.”

While looking to the stars and cherry-picking their best qualities is a good habit, Cardew said business owners should also seek to surround themselves with like-minded go-getters who’ve been around the block and can stretch them to achieve their goals while offering valuable counsel.

“The great thing about being part of the startup community in the San Francisco Bay Area is that it’s populated by people who consider no problem too big to tackle,” she said. “If you have a big, seemingly crazy idea, such as mining minerals on the moon (FYI – Moon Express), you won’t be shutdown, you’ll be supported to realise it. Having this sort of community behind you also helps provide clarity. If you’re going through a challenging period, for instance, it’s assuring to have a like-minded founder say, ‘I’ve been there, it’s normal’. It’s also useful when you’re able to learn from the mistakes of other founders or leverage their industry connections as this helps you fast-track what you’re setting out to achieve. It pays to surround yourself with inspirational people, whether it’s in a co-working space or by attending events, as opposed to operating in isolation.”

The spectrum device and ™ are trade marks and ® are registered trade marks of Telstra Corporation Limited ABN 33 051 775 556.

Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of Telstra or its staff.

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James Harkness

James Harkness

James Harnkess previous editor at Dynamic Business

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