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If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change

Technology is always advancing, but in recent years the speed of change has become giddying – and its effects nothing less than revolutionary. Advances in artificial intelligence, robotics, machine learning, analytics (to mention only a few) are transforming some industries and killing others; they are creating new job roles, while consigning long-established careers to the scrapheap of history.

History shows that burying your head in the sand won’t help you survive: we all need to face, and embrace change if our future is to be equally or more successful than our past.

Evolve or die

You only have to look at the recent past to find examples of the hopelessness of the first option. Businesses such as Blockbuster Video, which went bust by struggling along with an outdated business model, when a bit of imagination and evolution could have created a company fit for the 21st century. Even businesses once considered revolutionary just a few years ago, such as Yahoo and Blackberry, are just shadows of their former selves.

Compare that to the great survivor of the technology industry, IBM. The company went from selling “international business machines”, such as cash registers, to becoming the world’s biggest PC manufacturer. When its leaders took their eye off the ball, competitors hungrily devoured its market share.

Of course, IBM rose, phoenix-like, from the ashes because it understood and adapted to the wider trends in IT, such as cloud computing. Today, thanks to intelligent acquisitions, diversification and innovation, Big Blue is the world’s biggest vendor – not of PCs, but of enterprise servers.

Mind the generation gap

There’s no better example of the futility of fighting change than the experience of welcoming new generations into the workplace. These digital natives have completely different expectations for how they want to work and communicate, and which tools they want to use.

While IT managers might wonder why these youngsters prefer platforms like Slack and WhatsApp for collaborating and communicating instead of good old email, efforts to impose rigid corporate policies on technology are doomed to failure. The growth of Shadow IT provides the perfect example: the IT department have as much chance of preventing younger generations from using the technology of their choice as Canute had of holding back the tide.

The earlier that businesses embrace these new technologies, the more control they will have over their use (the old principle of change being necessary to keep things the same!), and they are also much likelier to benefit from new ways of working than if they had reluctantly tolerated them. They will also have a much better chance of retaining these talented young workers, in whose hands the business’ future lies.

Remaining relevant

It’s easy to become obsessed with the great internal impact that technological change will have on an organisation, but businesses should not forget about their most important stakeholders – their customers.

The reason why so many companies have disrupted industries is because they use technology to deliver new, better experiences to their customers. Amazon turned the world of retail upside down by making it easy to buy more or less anything with a few clicks; Uber is doing the same for the private hire market with its app-based approach.

Technologies such as virtual assistants, chat bots, connected devices, alternative payments are all in their infancy, yet customers are quickly coming to expect these services almost as standard.

Business must remain relevant to their customers to have any hope of surviving in the future; it’s even inspired a whole new technology discipline: “customer experience”, or CX.

But the customer experience teaches us an important lesson: businesses don’t have to change beyond recognition to remain relevant. The most successful companies change not out of fear, but from hope: because they recognise the opportunities that new technologies will bring, from better customer engagement to better collaboration and more efficient operations.

Every business must therefore be open to change, and adapt to it – while remembering and retaining the things that made them successful in the first place.