Back in 2008, when Apple’s Steve Jobs said Blu-ray was a “bag of hurt” everyone assumed he was referring to Sony’s complex licensing issues that would cause grief for manufacturers and customers alike.
But they were wrong. Jobs was referring to the imminent digital revolution which would change everything.
He had long since realised that physical media would be surpassed by digital media. For Apple, new products would be predicated on customers eventually abandoning physical media – think videos, CDs, DVDs – for digital downloadable alternatives. Apple Mac’s would no longer be equipped with disk drives and purchasing physical media would be the stuff of tech history. Jobs was so convinced he was right on this that owners of Apple Mac’s weren’t even able to buy an add-on drive to read Blu-ray discs because the operating system would not support them.
As most customers at the time bought or rented movies on DVD and listened to music on CDs, many were dismayed at Apple’s (read Jobs’) intransigence. But within 10 years almost everyone now streams their entertainment via Netflix, YouTube, iTunes, Spotify, HBO, Amazon Prime and the like. Indeed, for generation Z users the idea of watching movies on Blu-ray or listening to music on CDs is as unthinkable as using a public phone box to call friends.
Transforming the customer experience
Jobs was a thought leader who spent much of his life working out how to transform customer experience. His philosophy was that you start with customer experience and then work backwards to the technology. Interestingly, when looking for a quality benchmark he chose the Ritz-Carlton Hotel chain, not another tech or even retail company. For Jobs it was always about customer experience.
When adopting new technology, most organisations tend to make the same mistake again and again. They fail to understand that customer preferences change and that their business models need to evolve or sometimes (as in the case of physical versus digital media) radically break with the past. Failure to allow for this disruption will often result in a fatally broken business model.
Agility and critical thinking
Technology is changing at such a rapid pace that organisations have to build agility into their processes, using iterative ways of working, often through dogged trial and error. For many chief executives, this can be difficult to understand when they’re used to the certainties of the old-fashioned business models of plan-execute-evaluate. The business planning of the past has been replaced by fast iteration, agility and critical thinking.
Furthermore, business leaders need to understand that shiny new technology is probably not going to make the big difference with immediate effect. By its nature AI, for example, is always going to be a risky venture, and the adoption of that technology has to be thoroughly understood. With the advent of the cloud, data lakes, machine learning, AI etc, implementing technology roadmaps in the traditional sense is almost impossible without an iterative approach.
Another misconception for organisations is to assume that technology is the sole preserve of the IT department. Technology underpins the customer experience and so needs to be approached as a business opportunity – and risk – rather than a technology solution. If organisations adopt a risk-based approach, their business processes will adapt accordingly.
What customers need, not what they want
At Too Many Clouds our role is to understand customer needs and expectations and bring to life these technologies, working closely with customers to understand the context of their organisations. We identify what customers need rather than what they want. To uncover the underlying needs or problems we then look at innovative ways to solve those problems or meet those needs.
Above all, we’re asking our customers to take a leap of faith not to the next technology but to an approach that completely negates the need for that next technology. And that sums up what our innovation group is all about. For us, the customer is at the centre of every decision, the opposite of the top-down “build it and they will come” approach.
The point is: don’t make guesses about what your customers want or need. Don’t introduce a service or product unless it has been reverse-engineered to solve a specific problem.
An iterative approach to technology
You have to test the product, and maybe even rebuild it – and then rebuild it again. Research and development is never straight forward or cheap. It takes time, expertise and money to get the process right.
For every proposed product design, we map it out and get immediate customer feedback. We ask people how it makes them feel and if it seems like a good solution to their problems.
Our customers demand change and we helps them achieve that. We can help them innovate and accelerate their capabilities, but technology is no quick fix solution, it takes time.
To be a great disruptor or technologist, you need to thoroughly understand the customer experience – so you can identify their needs, possibly before they do.
Jobs himself was ambivalent about technology, but he was visionary when it came to customer experience. While he was busy ripping up the rule book and disrupting older business models, the brains behind the iPhone never carried and seldom used one himself.