Tech = Art + Science

Driving in my classic car, listening to Grover Washington Jr on cassette tape (honestly, after all this car is 30 years old), I marvelled at how reliable this car is and how little tech was involved all those years ago in these machines, but mixing old thoughts with new, I realised just how technology is both art and science today. It is worth a post.

I think the biggest opportunities lie where technology is able to span both; let me explain why and how with education in mind.

Tech is science: one of the greatest opportunities in education is where technology can create a market segment of one: the individual. Where tech can help us create personalised learning so that students can learn at their own pace and level, and achieve goals and qualifications that are unique to their requirements, career aspirations and future. Tailored learning to suit a unique need at one point in time.

Tech is art: I experienced this a second time with air travel recently, where the entire check-in process was automated and I, as the traveller, had to self-serve. This is a masterstroke. Companies putting technology in place to allow customers to check-in themselves, print out their own documents, weigh their own luggage, print their own tags and calling it improved customer service – while saving costs all along the journey. How can technology help and even encourage people to learn, test and credential themselves, consuming small modules to achieve a goal, then move on to the next one? How can we utilise technology to predict, based on past learnings, what we need to do next?

I assembled the idea for this post sitting in traffic. I wonder as we get older whether we start going back to the old days, where we can be creative and have time to think, and not worry about the InBox.

The ultimate in convenience

Westin-Gear-Lending-New-Bal Move WellI don’t normally talk about one product or brand but this deserves a mention, even though I have learned it’s not that new. Staying at a Westin in Chicago last week, I noticed the room keys had a small advert promoting their Stay Well campaign.

For just $5 you can borrow a complete set of New Balance running gear including training shoes, so you don’t have to pack your own each time you travel – this is very smart. I didn’t take up the offer as I had my gear with me, but in future…

That is real innovation in thinking and also the ultimate in convenience to the customer.

So let’s loop technology into this – it is a great example of how technology needs to be serving us, integrating with and re-imagining business processes, offering customers choice and making it easy for them to purchase from or partner with us.

Plus, if we exercise in the morning and have to hand back the kit before check-out, it leaves that extra little bit of time for email and online activity later in the day…or is that counterproductive? Either way, I am impressed.

Technology and impatience

Girl magazine iPadWe are losing patience with technology and it is putting pressure on companies to provide services at record speeds, yet it seems as though it is never enough.

I always felt one of the greatest wonders of technological change was how organisations put services into the hands of the customer and we marvelled at this as great service – for example, checking ourselves in for a flight and printing our own boarding passes. They made us do the work and we thanked them for it.

I use a 10-second video to make my case of a young girl less than a year old who is given a copy of a magazine to keep her occupied. Within moments she is swiping the magazine because she thinks it operates like an iPad and when the magazine shows no sign of responding, the girl is crawling away having lost interest.

Today, the tables are turning on technology and we are becoming ever more unsatisfied – I thought technology was supposed to be the next utility but when Wifi was down for a while at the house this weekend it caused much consternation and one of kids declared they “couldn’t function.” When networks are down, we criticise the technology, when a store runs out of a product, we complain that they haven’t mastered big data and when online banking is not available we ask why they couldn’t update their systems when we are asleep.

I have seen “internet”, “wifi” and “phone battery” all added to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and it isn’t always in jest. It is one thing technology progressing leaps and bounds to give us new ways of working and shopping and learning – but can it match our ever-increasing standards?

Technology 1-0 Humans

In the spirit of the European Championships, my headline represents a football scoreline. Yes, technology has edged ahead in the customer service stakes. Here are two examples.

As my picture shows, the Heathrow car park-to-terminal electric pod is in full swing. It is wonderful. Park your car, go to pod A or B and follow the simplest of instructions to transport yourself to the terminal in exactly 5 minutes. No waiting for buses or queues and every detail has been accounted for in the interaction with the passenger.

On the return journey from my trip, at the terminal in Dubai in the middle of the night, I approached a very quiet Emirates check-in area with no other people around. I checked myself in, printed my boarding card then my luggage tag, weighed my bag, saw it shuffle back and forth as its weight was verified, and finally watched it disappear down the conveyor belt. I marvelled at how easy this was. In fact, I came home and shared how excellent the customer service experience was and yet there was not a human being in sight. I even created a slide for my presentation around this story. This is technology at its best and the place we are heading.

Was I pleased with my experiences because there were no other people around? I don’t think so. I was satisfied because they were easy, I didn’t have to wait and there was no negotiation involved. In a world where there is too much to absorb in too little time, this is what we look for in our daily interactions. What does this mean for us humans? We really have to find other ways to add value.

It’s down to the people again

I was closely watching the exchange in the US over the debt issues and President Obama supported the Gang of Six plan to reduce trillions of debt over 10 years. In a news debate on TV, the panelists claimed it was led by somebody with whom the President had a close relationship over the years. No surprise.

Now apply this to technology and to every walk of life. Despite the new platforms and tools now at our disposal, doesn’t business still get done when people make a connection with each other and find a situation that benefits both parties? Hasn’t it always been the case, and will it not always be that way? I think so.

I do enjoy the US – such good service and huge choice of everything you care to buy. Little wonder that so much innovation stems from there. It seems to have this knack of combining ideas and people to create some of the most innovative and forward thinking applications of technology.

Look at the image above. In a Brookstone store, I found this cushion; it was a remote control embedded within the softest material. Tacky in some respects, ingenious in others, but it sells! The US has such a willingness to try things, to embrace failure as a step in the right direction; as one leading author claimed, “By failing in a project or task, that is one less mistake that can’t happen next time.”

I enjoyed being a part of the Service 800 event where the theme was excelling in customer service. I had a chance to present to the group and engaged in some interesting conversations with individuals from 3M, GE Healthcare, Lexmark, Siemens and others, as well as some quite brilliant personalities from CompuCom. Some of these great people were kind enough to share a testimonial for me (see the tab above). Europe can benefit so much by watching and learning from these service experts.

Dubai experience

Spent most of this week in Dubai, working with a new reseller partner to help grow the region. Only two blog posts ago, I talked about companies’ ‘secret weapons’ and this team is impressive. They surrounded us with a circle of dynamic and motivated individuals who are chomping at the bit to make a difference. I sense this partnership will do well, they are keen to succeed. I also had the most pleasant check-in experience via Emirates Airlines. I checked-in myself, printed my own luggage tag and boarding card, all at a kiosk and weigh-in counter utilising the latest technology – quick, effortless and impressive. We can all learn from this experience – I felt it was the best customer service, I had to do it all myself, yet it was more satisfying when it worked.

Indian Adventure

Co-hosted three TechKnowledge evening seminars in Bangalore, Chennai and Delhi this week. Whirlwhind tour but well worth it. Hosted more than 180 delegates, where we discussed creating a competitive difference through skills and talent. A common thread is emerging, and when you look at changing demographics, the median ages of key global markets and India’s investment in education, it is poised to become the world’s largest supplier of
well-educated workers. People are our number one asset, and India recognises that.

The future and convenience

How we consume is changing very quickly. In our non-stop world, with barely time to think, let alone face-to-face interaction, there is an opportunity. Digital content is expected for free in the modern internet era, and yet there is a lot of cash in the consumer pocket up for grabs – how, by enhancing our personal convenience. Save us time, make difficult choices easy, give us what we want, when and where we want it, and fast – make our lives easy and you could reap some real rewards.

Babies & Beer

Research was carried out by a leading supermarket to establish connections between products. It was discovered that beer is often purchased at the same time as baby products, in the early evening. This tells me that guys are sent out to buy necessities for a newborn baby and pick up a six-pack preparing for the long night ahead. What it really tells me is that we must use technology to slice and dice the customer database and data at our disposal in ways that are not obvious, to find new connections and alternative collabrations.