Tech Talk
Driving Your Business with Technology / by Mike E. Duffy / March, 2018

I just looked at the “10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2018” from Gartner (formerly the less-impressive-sounding Gartner Group), who makes their money by being smart about technology for big companies who can afford their subscriptions and consulting services.

Gartner identifies three big tech trend areas: Intelligence (the process of using AI to make applications and devices smarter, as well as to perform better-than-human analysis of data); Digital, which is a catchall for cryptic ideas like "digital twins" and "cloud to the edge" (even I didn't know what those meant); and Mesh, where -- among other things—they call out blockchain technology. (See my last three columns.)

As with most expensive consultants, they specialize in naming things dramatically, so you have to get them to explain what those things mean, and then pay them to help you take advantage of the dramatically-named thing in your business. Of course, there are no guarantees of your success.

The U.S. Census Bureau indicates that 99.7 percent of the nearly 6 million businesses in the United States have fewer than 500 employees. And 89.4 percent of those businesses have fewer than 20 employees (2014 data, in both cases). So, it’s a pretty safe bet that if you’re reading this, you own or work at a small company. It’s also a safe bet that you (or the owner) doesn’t have a strategy for using any of these trends to advance their businesses. (And there’s no money to pay Gartner to help either.)

Do any of these 10 trends matter? Well, it’s pretty clear that “intelligence”—or more accurately, machine learning, sensors, and robotics—is going to play a larger and larger role in business and the world at large. But right now, there aren’t any ways for a company with a couple of dozen employees to take advantage of it. It’s not available as a product or a service tailored to a small business. And this applies to the other trend groupings as well. Sure, there will be small companies—startups—that are focused on these trends as their core business, perhaps even here in the North Bay. But if you make wine, grow cannabis, run a professional practice, build houses, own a restaurant, or manage a shop, these trends will have nearly zero impact on you in 2018.

To the extent that you, my long-suffering reader, are interested in technology at all, it’s because it has the potential to either increase your revenues, or decrease your expenses. If it can’t predictably do one of those two things (and ideally, both), technology is a non-starter. But to get to that point, it has to be much more than a trend. It has to be an understandable, affordable product or service with a pretty clear ROI, on a timeframe measured in months, not years. In a privately-held company, every dollar spent on technology (or anything else for that matter) is a dollar out of the owner’s pocket. What advice can I offer you that will increase your revenues or decrease your expenses via technology?

Let me make a suggestion: technology-wise, the most important steps you can do for your business this year is to find a trusted technology advisor. It has to be someone who isn’t trying to sell you a particular technology, but who has knowledge of the range of technologies being applied in businesses similar to yours. One of the problems you face is that you have a business to run, and you probably don’t have a lot of time to look around at what competitors might be doing, or research what new approaches exist for your type of business. I’d love to say that finding such an advisor is a matter of opening the Yellow Pages, or doing a Google search. Alas, it is not.

You might expect me to recommend making it easier for mobile users to order products or services from you, given the growing popularity of mobile devices. Or, perhaps you think I’ll tout the use of social media to spread awareness of your product or service, or be more responsive to customers. While these strategies might make sense for your business, it’s hard to say. I see small businesses like Santa Rosa’s The Whole Pie (a pie shop that sells both sweet and savory pies) or Sebastopol’s Screamin’ Mimi’s successfully promoting their businesses on social media. And yet, there are lots of companies that are floundering or failing with access to the same tools.

For some types of business, making an effort to rank in Google search results might be the right answer to driving additional business. Maybe you have a unique product that would benefit from online ordering via an ecommerce-enabled website. Perhaps you should look at new technology-driven services, which allow you to identify the most likely prospects for your product or service. The problem is every business is a bit different, and no one knows your business like you do.

I’ll write more about the challenge of finding tech advice for your business next month. In the meantime, if you’ve been successful with using tech to drive your business, I’d love to hear about it at