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The importance of technology in future-proofing your business

Steve Byrne, CEO at Travel Counsellors, discusses how investing in technology is critical to long-term survival and future-proofing to produce success.
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Last month we announced our future-proofing plans to invest £21m in 2017 to support our growing network of Travel Counsellors and boost our digital infrastructure, as we aim to further enhance the customer experience. This investment will support new developments including the launch of a new rewards scheme: an advanced personalised marketing system, an updated, more user-friendly version of our in-house quote and booking system including a live chat feature; and bespoke training and development to support Travel Counsellors in becoming top performers.

I don’t think you invest in technology for investment’s sake and many businesses can’t afford to or believe the company can’t afford to do so. My opinion is that if you maintain a startup mentality, then the need to invest in technology naturally becomes fundamental to future-proofing and business success.

All businesses were originally created from the idea of an entrepreneur who had the bravado and belief to back themselves. Entrepreneurial behaviours drive an idea into a business of scale. As businesses grow though, they create a demand for process. Some process is good and some is bad, and your cultural manifesto should guide you on what process works best for you. The problem with “bad process” is that it creates bureaucracy and control that stifles entrepreneurism and controls rather than empowers people. As Charles Kettering so rightly said: “If you want to kill any idea in the world, get a committee working on it.”

Top talent wants empowerment and will leave the company if this is not fulfilled. As it is talent that drives innovation and growth, if the talent pool decreases then the entrepreneurial business will become slow over time.  The result? An entrepreneurial business that becomes staid at best, obsolete at worst.

So, for me, it is critical to long-term survival and ensuring we still enjoy what we do, that we constantly ask ourselves: “If we started all over again, how would we operate?” That question can be posed about the business model as a whole, or about parts of the process or function. Constantly self-challenging, being honest and being prepared to “start again” and innovate, protects the business from becoming a laggard with legacy thinking. In this digital age where startup systems, process, skills, scale and speed to market can progress rapidly potentially disrupting any business, threatening or undermining its existence, it is important to embrace this “startup thinking”.

Often critical to doing things differently or starting again is technology. Technology can quickly either make processes completely obsolete, or significantly more efficient and effective – for the established business this can be cumbersome but for the startup it’s second nature and scalable. In my experience, fundamental to being able to scale and change quickly is being in control of any technology that is essential to the front, mid and back-office processes in the business, and the sooner any legacy systems are brought in-house, the better and more cost-effective in the long run.

For those of us who have been in business for some time we will be very familiar with the need for constant evolution and future-proofing. In the words of the late Steven Covey: “If you don’t like change, you’ll like irrelevance even less.”  The development of big data, AI and robotics are the next wave of technological change that will have a major impact on all businesses. If properly researched, invested in, and embraced, they can complement your business strategy and be transformational, but also disruptive and dangerous if its implications are not thoroughly considered and adopted only when relevant.

So, developing an understanding of where technology is going and what it can do, and then investing where it makes sense to do so after carefully analysing where processes could be improved, is fundamental to future-proofing your business and driving success.

This article is part of a wider campaign called Founders Diaries, a section of Real Business that brings together 20 inspiring business builders to share their stories. Bringing together companies from a wide variety of sectors and geographies, each columnist produces a diary entry each month. Visit the Founders Diaries section to find out more.

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About Author

Steve Byrne

Steve Byrne joined Travel Counsellors as MD in 2004 and has led the growth of Travel Counsellors from a UK travel agency to an international travel company, which now operates in seven countries, with a turnover at the end of its last financial year of £416m. In October 2014 Steve led an MBO of the Company, backed by Equistone Partners Europe.

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