I am constantly being asked by executives of mid-sized companies whether they should introduce any arbitrary technology “X” into their business or use that technology in their existing processes. Most of the time I can't give them an unequivocal answer. However, I am basically of the opinion that – from a business perspective – it isn't worth being an early technology adopter. At least not most of the time. Find out why in the following post.
A lot of new technology is available. Convincing, sophisticated, or technology barely on the radar screen and still in early development. Much of it can already be used in companies, some of it only with enormous costs, some of it for an astonishingly low-cost investment. If you employ inquisitive and flexible employees, and I hope you do, then, on occasion, you will be confronted by ideas from this corner of your business. How do you decide which technology is to be more closely examined and used in your enterprise? Do you check to see if your competitors are also using the technology in question? Do you integrate it because it's new, even if you aren't sure of its potential – or even if you think it has none? Or do you wait until you have no choice but to use it? I think that none of these approaches are very promising. If you look at the impact of digital transformation, then it becomes obvious: You should use new technology whenever it is adapted by your customers.
Use new technology in your business when more than 50 percent of your customers has already adapted it – not when the technology becomes available.
To be an early bird requires courage. It reflects a pioneering spirit and, personally, I consider it extremely exciting. From a business perspective, though, it is first and foremost risky and rarely pays off. After all, the majority of new technology is never adopted by the customers. In reality it is a small percentage that is used by society in the manner in which it was originally intended.
We can observe this effect by examining some excellent examples at Apple – albeit rather large ones. Contrary to popular opinion, Apple neither invented nor developed the basic technology for the digital music player (IXI, 1979), the smart phone (IBM, 1992) or the tablet PC (Dynabook, 1970 and Microsoft, 2001). In fact these products were all available some years earlier – and the technology for the most part had been in existence for decades. Apple, however, exhibited perfect timing by using the adaptation behavior of its (potential) customers as a guideline and developing a product that fulfills or fulfilled the needs of its customers, rather than a product that utilized every single technological option that was possible.
Proper timing therefore is essential. And it is not dependent on a “gut feeling”; rather, it develops through the constant dialog with the customer. As you know from my previous posts, I consider the continuous interaction with customers to be a crucial element in handling digital transformation. In this sense your customers will simply tell you then the time has come. All you have to do is listen. Your customers will for example show you an (early-adopter) competitor who has already implemented something that is technologically innovative. This might be painful at first – but make no mistake: This early adopter has already invested vast sums of money and is operating in a market not yet ready. You, on the other hand, can implement existing best practices relatively easily and continue to develop the technological model. You just have to avoid missing the proper moment to jump on the bandwagon.