(Editor's Note: It doesn't matter whether you are involved with a for-profit business or not-for profit organization, figuring out ways to stay relevant to your customers is crucial. Our friends at Hewlett Packard have written this as a way to take a look into the future from a technology orientation.)
If there’s one constant in business, it’s change.
Knowing what your business will look like in five or ten years is important, but your long-term goals should never detract from your short-term objectives. If you don’t have specific, measurable, action-oriented and—most importantly—realistic short-term objectives in place, your business may not have much of a future.
One technique that businesses can utilize when looking to the future is called “flash foresight.” This way of thinking allows businesses to look forward and unearth previously invisible opportunities, as well as transform their findings into a model that they can use to solve any problems. By knowing what to expect down the road, businesses can future-proof their technology and staffing needs accordingly, ensuring they’re prepared for any obstacles they may encounter.
Here are ten things you should consider when preparing to future-proof your organization:
1. Outline your needs
Take a look at your business’s main functions and growth plans for the next few years. By doing this, you will reveal what your needs are and how your current technological priorities will line up with them.
2. Use hard trends to see what’s coming
Seeing trends before they happen can often be invaluable to your business. For instance, HP was able to foresee trends of accelerating smartphone usage amongst businesses and was able to successfully utilize that knowledge to create options like HP ePrint for most of their new printers. On the other hand, companies like GM failed to recognize certain trends like rising gas prices, resulting in the discontinuation of many of their larger automobiles.
Being able to differentiate between cyclical changes (stock market) and linear changes (population growth), and hard trends (aging baby boomers) and soft trends (not enough doctors to treat aging baby boomers), will help your company make accurate predictions.
3. Past strategies may fail to engage new customers
Has your business been around for more than five years? Do you still rely on print campaigns, direct mail, or newspaper and magazine advertising? Are you getting the same return on investment from these strategies? If so, it might be time to try something new. Don’t hesitate to put emerging technology like social media and mobile applications to use.
4. Use cloud-based services
Rather than purchasing expensive hardware and software that quickly becomes outdated, investigate cloud-based technology. By utilizing cloud computing, your company can get rid of bulky on-site servers and have virtual access to all types of documents. Employees can even access important files while on the road by using any computer or smartphone with an Internet connection. (Ed - this isn't a fit for all organizations. We're here to help you navigate the cloud world.)
5. Take advantage of new technology
Whether it’s a new PC or a smartphone, what you buy today can technically be obsolete tomorrow. For a long time businesses have just accepted this, but it is possible to avoid it altogether. Online systems incorporate all the major tools you need next year—not just today—for a fraction of the cost of replacing old PCs.
6. Don’t depend on one part of your business for complete success
What worked for you last year might not work for you this year. If you have a service or product that has been working for you over the last three to six months? Perhaps it’s time to shift your focus to that service or product to see what it can do for your business.
7. Go against the competition
Have you ever stopped to look at what your competition is doing? Have you ever thought about doing the exact opposite? Surprisingly, sometimes that’s the best thing to do.
8. Maintain service contracts
Think of your IT systems as the engine that runs your business. If you don’t maintain the engine, the business will stop running smoothly. That’s why it’s important to maintain all of your service contracts that cover your hardware, software, and peripheral devices. Oftentimes, these contracts can be renewed remotely, making it easy for businesses to reduce business disruption.
9. Ease into new strategies or marketing platforms
Are you implementing a strategy or service that is no longer making you money? Don’t do it anymore. The money and time you invest in something that isn’t producing results can be better spent elsewhere. Consider investing that time and money into an emerging platform such as mobile advertising and see what happens.
10. Undertake constant research and remain vigilant
Businesses are always being watched and copied by others who are interested in improving upon your ideas and techniques. Your business is not immune from this. It’s just a matter of time until someone with a cheaper or better product hits the market, and the only way to protect yourself is to remain constantly proactive.
Understanding what long-term goals mean to your business on a daily basis will help you establish your short-term objectives. Your company’s goals will only be effective if you have a clear vision of what you want to achieve and how you want to do it.