Avoiding the hype of new technologies

Being slow to adopt new and exciting technologies like augmented reality (AR), machine learning, the Internet of Things (IoT) and blockchain could give competitors the upper hand. However, jumping in too soon can distract teams from more immediate business objectives, impede forward progress, harm the customer experience or worse. The best way to choose when to implement new tech is to have a well-established decision-making process that centres on business needs.

While many technologies appear at first blush to be revolutionary, upon closer examination they aren’t always a fit for their customers or industry. Below are some tips for deciding what’s right for your business.

Don’t underestimate the human element

Revolutionary new technologies are often seen as a means to cut labour costs. Although this may end up being the final result, it should not be the most important objective. For example, the biggest benefit to technology like machine learning is not to replace employees, but rather to help them do their jobs better.

In the mass customisation industry, for example, customers design their own work such as T-shirts, water bottles or invitations, so artistic judgment is an important part of the process. While machine learning may be used to help reduce errors in the production process, an employee’s understanding of what customers want is what ensures the algorithms are working properly. Machine learning helps make processes more efficient, but it is only as effective as the employees implementing them.

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Develop for differentiation

Many companies are faced with the dilemma of choosing between buying existing technologies or building them internally. This decision can be especially difficult to make when dealing with new technologies because the tradeoffs may not be clear quite yet. For example, there are countless AR, machine learning and blockchain solutions already available on the market. But, if these solutions are also readily available to your competitors can they set your business apart?

As a general rule of thumb, businesses should only build technologies that can add unique value to their business. If there is an opportunity to utilise internal development efforts to truly differentiate the business from its competitors, then they should consider exploring that approach. Otherwise, businesses should turn to existing solutions to get the job done to save time, money and resources for those unique internal development opportunities. Buying off the shelf also works well for a business that wants to quickly test solutions and determine their fit before committing to building a customised solution internally.

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Balance scepticism and enthusiasm

When considering new technologies, it can be tempting for technology enthusiasts to want to jump right in. However, this can frustrate business leaders who are more interested in proven approaches with quicker returns on investment. It’s important to keep in mind that technology transformations often require significant changes and time before they generate returns. This is especially true with machine learning because it requires so much data, and if that data isn’t being recorded or readily available elsewhere, the algorithms themselves will be useless.

The tension between the sceptics and enthusiasts may seem counterproductive, but in reality, considering both opinions is crucial to making the best decision in the end. Striking the right balance of enthusiasm and scepticism can be difficult; going too far in either direction can harm the business and its customers. Ultimately, there will always be cool new technologies out there, but only some will be the right fit for your business.

Written by Eugene Hsu, VP, platform strategy, Cimpress Technology

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