Is automation & technology taking away ALL our jobs? Maybe, maybe not. What we know instead is that there is another problem that is equally daunting but more real. It is 2021, why are only some companies “technology companies” in the world? Why isn’t every business, irrespective of its size, equipped to work as efficiently as a tech company?
20 years after the dot-com boom, it is reasonable to expect world-class software to be affordable for every business. In a world with the Internet and millions of developers, shouldn’t there be a large enough supply of software for every startup and small business to scale? Why are workers in businesses still spending 94% of their time on repetitive and time-consuming tasks? More than 75% of SMBs admit facing barriers to increase the use of digital tools.
This problem became even more critical because of the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 70% SMBs will need to adopt hybrid models by the end of 2021, which requires working remotely and on-site. The need for the right software has never been more important.
Note: Above stats are based on studies conducted in the USA as I couldn’t find anything relevant for other countries. We can assume that the numbers are worse for developing countries like India.
But what about thousands of online software products that are at the disposal of these businesses?
There is no denying that there are many new, inventive software products. But at the same time, many legacy products are targeted to SMBs and badly need an overhaul. This article is not to point out what these products are. Instead, it shares a framework to identify good software and further use it to explain why there is a deficit of such good software amongst small businesses.
Framework - How to identify good software?
The following qualities can be used to choose good software for a business. Depending on the stage and type of company, the weightage of each quality varies. These are loosely based on a study published by Forrester, we tweaked them from our learnings at Utilize so that they are more relevant for SMBs and startups.
- Flexibility: can the software be customized to fit the company’s processes?
- Ease of use: how easy it will be for your teams, partners, or customers to use?
- Go-live time: how quickly can the software be built or customized to their needs?
- Affordability: how economical is it to buy and maintain the software?
- Scalability: will the software work well even when a company grows?
- Privacy: does the software ensure confidentiality and integrity of data?
- Integrability: how does the software integrate with other software in the company?
Some sample use cases,
If a pre-product startup needs CRM/sales software, qualities like scalability, ease of use, and privacy become less important when compared to go-live time and affordability. A simple spreadsheet solves the requirements.
If a large FMCG brand wants to manage orders and inventory across the country, all qualities are important except affordability and go-live time. They won't hesitate to spend time and resources by hiring a tech agency to custom develop the software.
Why isn’t good software accessible to ALL businesses?
Automation has been replacing the jobs of workers at a rapid pace since the industrial revolution. Power loom replaced weavers, farming equipment replaced human labor, machines replaced factory workers. While we move into the future, self-driving vehicles will take away the jobs of drivers, chatbots will work on behalf of support executives, Amazon Go stores will have no cashiers. A common characteristic of these jobs is they are all based on manual or skilled labor, which is easy to be replaced.
On the other hand, there are millions of knowledge workers whose jobs include thinking and taking decisions frequently. For these jobs, the pain point is almost never “will I lose my job to automation?”, rather it is “how do I use software to do more with less?”. Growing software products (like Shopify, Zapier, or Airtable) address this pain point by solving for all the qualities in the above framework, even the challenging ones like flexibility and integrability.
Similarly, a software product can be considered unsuitable if it misses some of the qualities that the business needs. This is more prevalent for internal and ERP-like use cases, and most software products in that market do not make the cut. Though it is technically challenging, internal software has to be flexible with less go-live time and easily integrable with other systems. To solve this, larger businesses and enterprises invest in IT resources to build and deploy customized software. But SMBs do not have that privilege - they use spreadsheets, free productivity tools like Trello/Asana, and even resort to paperwork or email updates. Their next best solution is to buy off-the-shelf software and force-fit it to their processes.
Some examples of knowledge workers in SMBs and their need for good software,
Software & automation replacing ALL jobs still sounds like a dystopian plot of a sci-fi film and less like a concern. But every knowledge worker being the most productive with the help of software sure sounds like the utopia we all deserve!
Good software & automation is a necessity for any SMB or startup to thrive. With some great software products (unicorns is the word?) leading the way, the future is already here. But the problem is not completely solved yet. Like the Internet is best utilized when it penetrates every corner of the world, the right software has to be accessible and affordable to businesses of all sizes and industries.
Feel free to share this with knowledge workers or businesses whom you know and deserve better software. We'd love to learn what they think about this problem. You can also tell us your thoughts by commenting below. Even better, ping me or firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss it more extensively.
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- Christin Hume on Unsplash