Technology in Business, Society and Consumers
Technology includes the practices, skills, knowledge, methods and procedures that humans use in the production of goods and services, or to achieve a specific objective in a less complicated way. This chapter will explore technology and its relationship to the contemporary business world. The chapter will also analyse how technology shapes consumer behaviour and expectations as well as major technological developments within businesses and societies.
The current technological era (beginning in the 1970s) is called the ‘information’ or ‘digital’ age and is characterised by an economy based on the rapid transmission of large amounts of data and the growth of information-based industries. Technology has altered operations within large and small organisations as they look for ways to enhance their production and create more business. Computers now provide organisations with a way to increase efficiency within business operations and to secure confidential corporate information
Technology allows individuals to work from anywhere with electronic mail, video conferencing and chat groups enabling employees and employers to remain constantly connected. Critics of technology argue that as employees no longer have to be in the same physical location to be productive, this undermines personal relationships and ignores the skill exchange that would have been achieved when personnel worked in the same location.
Consumers are increasingly using online platforms to access products and services, conducting extensive research before making any purchases. Businesses gain good market access from this information gathering stage of the purchase process and as a result setup online stores which have lower operating costs when compared to more traditional operations. Crucially, online store increases the footprint of the business, enabling it to reach wider, more distant markets and critics argue that this gives such businesses an unfair advantage over high street stores.
Technology has allowed businesses to keep pace with the constantly changing needs and preferences of customers. Online tools such as product reviews, survey programmes, social media comments and instant messaging allow customers to provide their views and opinions to organisations with ease. This, in turn, provides vital business intelligence. However, the public/open nature of many of these comments can mean that negative feedback can be rapidly shared amongst consumers undermining business profitability. For example, poor feedback for United Airlines by one influential customer resulted in a 10% drop in stock price over four weeks (Carroll, 2012).
Technology applications such as barcodes supports the effective tracking of inventory. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), despite its high costs, is also used to provide more accurate real-time tracking for operators providing effective supply chain management information (Ajami & Carter, 2013). This visibility also supports outsourcing, allowing a company to focus on their perceived core activities whilst lowering overheads. However, outsourcing remains a controversial practice, particularly given the impact of using cheaper labour for overseas manufacturing on local communities. Variations in organisational and national cultures (such as those experienced by consumers using overseas call centres) introduce further complexities.
The pace/rate of change requires companies to heavily invest in costly training to maximise the potential returns that exist from technology adaption and not all employees (for example older workers) may be receptive to the changes required. Increased interconnectivity also exposes a business to risks such as data intrusion (spam), data loss or compromise (hacking) and exploitation (confidential corporate information being ransomed).
Businesses also need to consider how technology has changed consumer behaviours. Issues include:
- The preference for convenience. Customers prefer to pay a premium to have purchases delivered and technology such as video streaming reflects the drive for on-demand services (Morris & Currie, 2016).
- Social Media. Consumers have extensive online profiles and presence within a range of social platforms and businesses need to use these channels to engage their target audience(s). As consumers are more open in sharing their requirements and expectations, retailers are now expected to anticipate these needs. Digital tracking tools such as ‘cookies’ and internet search solutions based on browsing preferences support this effort.
Technology influences internal and external communication, business operations, the quality of talent within organisations, marketing and customer relationship management (CRM).
Communication involves the passing information from one individual to another. Technology has revolutionised these processes by supporting instant communication (e.g. through email and video conferencing). Digital media is now the preferred stakeholder engagement mechanism, although these methods do introduce new risks around information security which must also be addressed (at additional cost).
Technology has enabled businesses to automate operations such as record keeping, hiring, accounting, CRM and sales. Such automation save time, minimises input costs (such as labour) and minimises error rates. Whilst this increases business efficiency, social commentators have raised concerns over the impact on direct employment rates. However, technology solutions have helped to improve human resource management approaches, allowing a more accurate view of the corporate competence base and employee performance statistics to be taken. Recruitment and retention costs can also be minimised through the use of technology to support selection and development processes (e.g. personality and aptitude tests).
The advantages of technology within marketing operations through the use of digital engagement methods include lower costs, the immediate compilation of performance/effectiveness data (such as those viewing an online campaign), increased global exposure, access to direct consumer feedback and improved service levels. Technology provides a direct link between marketing efforts and CRM through mechanisms such as client portals on company websites and online newsletters. Customer services teams are able to constantly communicate with consumers, evaluate satisfaction levels and receive directed feedback. Modern CRM systems collect consumer data, creating client profiles that support the development of new services or improvements to existing products.
Whilst primary research is still a popular way to acquire data, technology has also made it easier for businesses to obtain the information they need. Numerous studies and reports are published online and these are often made available at little or no cost.
Recent research identified how more than 50% of respondents conducted purchase-related tasks through their mobile phones (Yasav, 2015). Online technology was often used to research and purchase products, with consumers often relying on only one website. Consequently, retailers need to consider appropriate strategies to engage the modern digital consumer.
Innovation is the creation of a new idea or a new way of doing things. Product innovation brings new ideas into the market by creating new products or improving on existing offerings. This product innovation can be tangible (e.g. personal computers) or intangible (e.g. computer software and mobile applications).In parallel, process innovation considers new ways of conducting business (e.g. online booking of travel)
Innovation is inherently novel. It is distinct from invention which is the initial conception of an idea and the first introduction or creation of a product or process. Innovation introduces invention to the market, commercialising the idea and potentially improving on the original concept.
The profitability and success of any new product depends upon the value of the product and the availability of substitutes. If highly valued and has no close substitutes businesses will seek establish their intellectual property rights to build a monopoly and protect higher returns. Such competition drives both invention and innovation and those best able to adopt and adapt new technologies to their business are likely to sustain a competitive advantage. This further reinforces the importance of patents and associated intellectual property protections, as these help to recoup initial investment costs through fees and royalties. Those businesses best able to create a culture of constant challenge and innovation are also more likely to cope with unforeseen incidents or contingencies (Ngo & O'Cass, 2013).
Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations Theory (2010) considers a number of issues around innovation such as when it is no longer innovation but imitation and how it is shared.
It is argued that innovations are communicated across societies through a process called diffusion which is influenced by:
- The innovation context. A European innovation may not be seen as such in Asia.
- Time. Technology adoption is rarely spontaneous.
- Social systems (such as media, governance structures, cultures and beliefs) influence innovation adoption.
- Communication methods.
- The adopters i.e. innovators (financially able, risk tolerant, high social standing and in close contact with innovations), early adopters (more critical of innovations with a relatively high financial wealth, status and education), early majority (average education, status and wealth, taking longer to adopt new ideas), late majority (sceptical of new ideas, only adopting an innovation after the majority), and laggards (innovation-averse, often with the lowest wealth and status with little to no contact with innovators).
Rogers (2010) suggests a five-step adoption process - knowledge, persuasion, decision, implementation and confirmation. The individual becomes aware of an innovation, actively seeks information regarding the innovation, considers the cost-benefits of the new technology, tests the usefulness of the innovation and seeks further information. Eventually, the individual or organisation confirms the continued application of the new idea. To improve the rate of adoption, innovators often apply the new idea to a group of people that have the technical know-how.
Criticisms of this theory include the difficulty of measuring diffusion due to the complexity of social systems. It also assumes that all innovations are beneficial and worthy of wide adoption, but it can conflict with established cultures, beliefs and traditions. Crucially, the theory does not particularly consider the two-way flow of information in the modern technology age. Despite this the theory has been used to not only consider the diffusion of business ideas but also activities such as government policies, health care systems and education approaches.
The internet and the world-wide web are perhaps the greatest inventions of the 20th Century. In just over 15 years, the internet has grown to connect over one-third of the human population. The internet allows users to access the World Wide Web (Web) where resources such as documents and videos are located and identified using Uniform Resource Locators (URLs). In the corporate world, businesses constantly use the Web and the richest companies in the world are internet-based. Wireless Fidelity (Wi-Fi) also allows businesses and individuals with electronic devices to access a Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN). Corporations have extensively invested in Wi-Fi solutions, but it is less secure when compared to wired connections.
Technology also supports a range of office solutions such as spreadsheets, word processing, database management and business presentations. Much corporate and personal data is now stored within the ‘cloud’ (an internet-based network of servers), which supports more flexible data storage and access solutions. Data storage is also made more efficient through media file compression approaches.
Technology developments also introduce the challenge of obsolescence management, illustrated through rapidly dating concepts such as physical data storage (e.g. digital optical disks). Those businesses unable to adapt quickly lose their competitive position in the market and can even go out of business. The challenges faced by film rental businesses (such as Blockbuster) in the era of cable/satellite networks and video streaming provide a clear indication of the need to keep pace with both technology and how it influences consumer preferences. Companies must aim to avoid the physical trap of technology (previous equipment investment making change expensive), the psychological trap (focussing on own corporate success whilst ignoring new technology threats presented by competitors) and the strategic trap (losing future focus by concentrating on the current business environment).
Imagining a business world without the internet, personal computers, IT servers, cloud computing, electronic mail, Wi-Fi, among many other technologies employed by businesses today, is challenging. Technology has positively impacted business operations ranging from customer servicing to back office operations. Whilst critics argue that technology has resulted job losses, in reality researchers have discovered that technology creates more employment. Technology is also influencing customer behaviour and expectations and businesses have to keep up with the changing preferences to remain relevant.
Ajami, S., Carter, M. W. (2013). The advantages and disadvantages of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) in Health-care Centers; approach in Emergency Room (ER). Pak J Med Sci, 29(1) Suppl: pp. 443-448.
Carroll, D. (2012). United breaks guitars. Carlsbad: Hay House, Inc.
Morris, S. E., Currie, L. H. (2016). To Stream or Not to Stream? New Library World, 117(7/8).
Rogers, E. M. (2010). Diffusion of innovations. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Yasav, S. (2015). The impact of digital technology on consumer purchase behaviour. Journal of Financial Perspectives, 3(3), pp. 166-170.
Chesbrough, H. (2013). Open business models: How to thrive in the new innovation landscape. Massachusetts: Harvard Business Press.
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