The evolution of technology and the impact on business

Date: 13 Sep 2018

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While a massive advocate for technology, Gary Turner, Xero Accounting’s MD, and self-professed robot vigilante, believes that the recipe for success in business today should be a good mix of technology - and positive human attitude. 

On the subject of ‘Disruptive Technology’ at September’s quarterly MK Business Leaders Partnership (MKBLP) Dinner, Gary addressed the rapid pace of technology and the affect this has had on businesses over the last three decades. 

At the helm of a global company which planted its UK roots in Milton Keynes just six years ago, Gary was particularly keen to put the technology subject into context for small businesses, who make up a large proportion of Xero’s customer base. While Xero fundamentally sells a ‘rather ordinary’ category of software, accounting, the impact it has on its 5 million UK customers underpins the company’s over-riding objective which is to help small businesses succeed.  

As the 3rd most influential person in UK finance, Gary has witnessed first hand the growth of technology and the effect it has had on businesses, from transforming the efficiency of an individual, by giving them computing tools, to the era of CRM software, which provides businesses with a platform to improve productivity, and the internet itself, which has re-shaped entire industries. But, as Gary points out, “we all have a responsibility to harness technology within our businesses, as the implications of it are enormous, and we have all seen businesses come and go as a result.” 

The advent of the internet means that there is no hiding place for businesses today. One negative online review can significantly damage a business, so much so that customer service has moved on from three decades ago and we, as a society, have much higher expectations as a result. 

During his speech Gary cited three key technology points which irrevocably disrupted the way we do business today. For instance, the onset of telecommunications brought the death of distance and, for someone who started the UK arm of a firm which began on the other side of the world, Gary is more experienced than most on this subject. “Where you are is no longer an impediment in business and we no longer rely on physicality. For instance, the best search engine for finding out about Milton Keynes just happens to be in California.”

Likening technology to science, Gary also referenced Metcalfe's Law, which states that a network's impact is the square of the number of those within that network. “That principle is being applied to software, and the ability to do this digitally, the more the product is used, the more productive the value.” 

Whether a business is in retail or service, they are increasingly becoming more systemised and technology is being used as a science, decisions are being made through real data and success is being measured through pay per clips. “Science is incredibly prevalent in our business. There are a group of scientists entering the working world today, they are younger, they talk a new language and, through them, there is a new world of business emerging.” No longer are we solely relying on human instinct in business today, but, Gary points out, mixing this with the technical tools we have available today is a winning recipe for success. 

The final part of his speech focused on the arrival of Artificial Intelligence (AI) who, according to sensationalising media are on the cusp of wiping out our jobs. “I believe we are a long way off from the generalisation of AI.” Gary commented, as he regaled the audience with his own experience of rescuing a tipped over, self-driving delivery robot in the Centre of Milton Keynes, which was captured on social media and immediately went viral. “This only goes to reinforce the fact that, without the human element, we are not ready for this level of disruption.”

“We still need people to do jobs, and you can not digitalise the human capacity for ingenuity. People today are working for a sense of purpose, a meaningful way of life, and not just a job. The companies who succeed over the next couple of decades will be those who harness digitalisation, minimise the disruption and embrace humanisation. People are going to want to work with a company who does good, helps businesses and makes their staff happy - and that isn’t going to be run off the road by digital disruption.”