A business plan, explicit or implicit, is the blueprint of your business. So it is different for each business. Below are some general questions to answer.
In my experience working with start-ups and existing businesses, I find the best place to start is to graphically represent the business as a business model. It is far easier for everyone to understand the business when viewed as a graphic, and to build on.
I like to use an adapted version of Gassman, Frankenberger, and Csik (2014) “magic triangle” framework (below) as it provides a simple, easy to understand graphic of the information needed to create a business plan and model with the focus on the view from your customer’s perspective of the value you provide.
Each corner of the triangle and the centre can be developed with more information as your research develops. The details can easily transfer into a business plan and an interesting pitch deck for those presentations to potential investors.
Simply fill in the four circles. Who is your target market, what value are you providing your target market, how will you provide it, at what cost, price, and mark-up (pricing model)?
Now build onto your initial answers for each circle providing much more detail as you progress. Detail comes from your knowledge of your business and experience. It also comes from thorough research and analysis. For example:
These are some of the questions to answer. Once answered add the information you accumulate to the different triangle circles. Show you know your business, market, and finances.
Now you can easily transfer the information from the graphic into a old format business plan with headings such as described by SmartAsset Top 10 Components of a Business Plan - SmartAsset
Mulgan (2007)  describes innovation as “new ideas that work”. Social innovation can refer to innovation in interactions and relationships. It can also refer to innovation aiming to overcome a social need rather than a market need. Here we focus on the latter.
Social innovation ecosystem can occur across a national, regional, global scale, across sectors, organisations, and entrepreneurs. As technologies advance, new opportunities for any individual, organisation, or company to innovate, to find new ways to do old things, arise, often providing solutions to social problems. And, of course, lets not forget that without society social innovation would not be required.
In recent times it has become very expensive for organisations to have their own in house R & D department. Technology has provided a platform for global collaboration. Together, innovation can happen faster and produce more effective innovations than any one company can produce. In addition, the availability of funding for innovation and product development is often directed at solving pressing social needs.
Here is one practical example of how innovation addresses social needs from The Alzheimer's Society:
Lewis’s grandmother Pat has reduced cognitive function as a result of Dementia. Pat forgets to drink, or does not enjoy, water throughout the day, as a result of the reduced cognitive function. The result is dehydration for which Pat needs to be hospitalised. How can dehydration be prevented, or at least reduced so that Pat can continue to live a full, independent life?
Possible social solution:
Because Pat enjoys sweets, Lewis has developed large sweets called JellyDrops that are 90% water. Pat can eat as many as she wants, whenever she wants. Pat can place jars of Jellydrops throughout the home in every room. The bright colours attract attention, look tasty, so encourage regular consumption. The more consumed the less chance of dehydration.
This solution can be easily distributed across society at low cost supporting everyone with a similar problem.
 Jelly Drops sweets to tackle dehydration in dementia
Most innovations are build on what already exists. Very few are inventions. The definition of innovation according to BIS (2012), is “innovation is the process by which new ideas are successfully exploited to create economic, social, and environmental value.”
In today’s business environment all businesses are developing the internal capabilities to innovate their products/services/processes dynamically and continuously. The capability is a necessity born out of the exponential growth of technological developments. New technologies are developed every 18 months (Moore’s Law). So most business are innovative. Those that have not adapted by developing this capability have closed, are closing, or have bought smaller, more innovative companies.
Here are a few household names who innovate services/products/processes since around 1995:
Air BnB (holiday accommodation),
IBM (their business model)
Procter and Gamble (their innovation business model)
Amazon (online books, Cloud services)
Elon Musk (space travel, electric cars)
Facebook, You Tube, Instagram, Snapchat, Whatsapp (social media apps)
Boston Dynamics - Google (robotics)
Google - (machine learning)
Ebay (online auction).
These are examples of how companies formed through skillful application of technologies to create new products/services/processes/business structures valuable to new and existing markets.
The short answer is that until the start of widespread technology adoption around 2008, small businesses had the upper hand in many ways. Examples are:
To survive businesses have employed skilled CTO’s over 10 years to adapt their business. Here are a few:
The question implies you are a business owner trying to adapt your business to Google Sites.
Try approaching this question the other way around.
In other words, start by working out the optimum workflow and processes from your customers perspective. Then adapt Google sites (or any other software) to your business. If Google sites can’t be adapted, choose another app that can.
Doing it this way around provides all the answers you need.
The definition of innovation, according to BIS (2012), is “innovation is the process by which new ideas are successfully exploited to create economic, social, and environmental value.”
So the new idea/innovation is not enough on its own. Rather it is part of a much larger process that contributes to the innovation being successfully adopted by users.
In fact, the innovation is the outcome of things such as:
Regardless of the size of business, every business has a culture. Some cultures are explicit while others are implicit. Today, business cultures are very relevant as they are used as a competitive advantage tool. So, developing a strong culture and communicating it effectively is vital, especially if your competitors are already expressing their cultures in a strong way.
Developing a culture is different for each company and changing a culture requires special skills. As a general guide and starting point, here are two simple, yet highly effective, actions that can be taken towards developing a strong culture relevant to any business.
1. Take a close look at your business model.
If you have not written one down, I strongly suggest you use one of the many free templates available online and write it down. Business models are powerful tools as they not only focus management decision-making, they are a graphic representation of a business plan that is needed for business funding, and it also communicates the business purpose in a clear, precise way.
Does your business model have a strong value proposition that focuses on the value you provide customers? Is it something like – “Rides in minutes” (Lyft), or, “Light. Years ahead” (MacBook), or, “CTO as a service” (ToodGlobal), “Deliver on time every time” (unknown).
The value proposition is the core of why you are in business (purpose), how you deliver it, who you deliver to, and the quality. A workforce that is focused on a clear value proposition act develop a culture aligned with company focus and values.
2. Another area to take a close look at is the leadership approach of the business.
Is it hierarchical and bureaucratic or is it horizontal where there are no management levels as such but teams with everyone playing a vital part in the success of the business?
For example, in your sales office, do you tell staff how they fall short each day or is there a suggestion box/daily meeting for the sales team to share customer comments, complaints, requirements with suggested solutions to those in the room?
The horizontal approach supports your company in accumulating valuable intel about your customers that informs decision-making and keeps you up to date with your customers changing needs and expectations. In terms of culture, staff feel an “ownership” of the business as their contributions are considered and are valuable to the company.
As mentioned previously, culture identification, development, change is a highly specialist skill, however, the two points above should provide some insight into where to start.
From a CTO Technology Management perspective, companies are looking at ways to change their business to survive and thrive in a dynamic business market and to recover from the effects of COVID 19.
Technological advancements have changed the way we live and work from available devices and products, how we communicate, how business is managed and conducted, the way services are delivered, business structures, and what makes a business competitive, for example.
Therefore, companies are looking to innovate from within.
In particular, areas within the business that can be easily adapted to these changes, not once, but continuously, alongside ongoing technology advancements. Business models, service delivery, pricing models, knowledge, culture, technologies, management approaches, are some of the areas within an organisation that can be adapted for stronger competitive advantage. Without adapting in this way a business lags behind others in their sector, the worst case scenario being closure.
Here is the example in action.
The explosion of surveys and reviews companies are asking their customers to fill in over the past few years is collated, analysed, and decisions are made on what to adapt within the business. This is one simple example of how companies are capturing and using internal knowledge to inform their next move, a move that puts them ahead of competitors. As customers evolve and buying habits change, so, too, will the company’s products, service delivery, and product range, etc, because of the knowledge accumulated from these surveys and reviews.
As Ginni Rometty, ex-CEO of IBM said "You've got to keep reinventing. You'll have new competitors. You'll have new customers all around you."
One way business owners and leaders are adapting to COVID 19 is by changing the way they manage their business.
Managing a business under the COVID 19 situation as the traditional, linear, project-like approach commerce favours cannot produce a successful outcome. Why?
1. Because there is no history or experience of this kind of situation to inform the business how to progress. In other words, there is no safe ‘blueprint’ to follow for a successful outcome. Everyone is learning as the situation unfolds.
2. There are so many people involved, each experiencing different emotions that will explode if a decision is made that makes them feel more uncertain.
3. Everyone has different needs. If these needs are not addressed, riots can break out and civil unrest.
So, a different management approach is needed, one that considers everyone’s emotions and needs within legislation and using technologies effectively and safely so that outcomes are favourable (not necessarily ideal) for everyone.
The different management approach is a systemic approach, one that embraces change, uncertainty, is always acutely on the ball with the needs and emotions of their workers, customers, shareholders, legislation, technologies, and are insightful about the impact their decisions will have on all these factors.
To do this successfully organisations are continuously capturing feedback from these groups, and the wider society, capturing what they are learning along the way as the situation unfolds. This collective knowledge informs the business owner/leaders what steps to take going forward. That is one reason why governments and bosses provide updates around once a week because they need to learn as the situation unfolds before making the next decisions going forward.
A contemporary technology management perspective.
Most people understand the meaning of technology to be ‘things’ such as mobile phones, websites, apps, computers, to name a few. These are not technology per se, rather they are the outcomes of technologies applied to solve a particular problem.
For example, a mobile phone (an outcome) satisfies the need for receiving and making calls while away from a desk for delivering a better customer service.
To drill a little further, technology is actually scientific knowledge applied to overcome a practical problem. So it is the scientific knowledge applied to harness radio waves, create each component to act in a specific way, and put together in a palm sized, easy to use, device, that allows us to make and receive calls on the move.
So managing scientific knowledge for overcoming problems is vital. Here are a few examples of the importance of technology management.
1. Problems: There are so many problems to be solved, they cannot all be addressed. Some sort of selection criteria and process needs to exist which requires the skills of a technology manager. For example, medical problems could be more important to overcome than waste disposal.
2. Money: Organisation have an annual budget for applying scientific knowledge to resolve problems. Those problems that are too expensive, or there is no outside funding available, cannot be undertaken. For example, government may offer additional funding for resolving certain medical issues but not for developing wind turbines for domestic use.
3. Time: Not all problems can be focused on at one time. There isn't the time or budget for it so there must be some scientific selection process and criteria. The organisation may also need time to develop the additional capabilities before being able to solve the problem. Developing a solution to a problem may take too long where the market no longer requires it. These are all skills of a technology manager.
4. Profit: Some projects, regardless of how useful the problem is that is being solved, simply will not be profitable either because there will be too few buyers of the end product, it will be too expensive to develop, or it will go to market too late.
5. Ethics: Scientists are professionals who are accountable for their actions, behaviours, and solutions created for solving problems. For example, there is a big divide between countries, regions, and societal groups in levels of e-skills, and access to technologies. It is the scientist responsibility to not make the gap bigger when finding solutions to problems.
6. Competitive advantage: Of greatest importance is managing technologies for competitive advantage. By staying up to date with emerging technologies a technology manager, or CTO, can identify new opportunities aligned with the organisations goals ahead of the competition, implement the new opportunity, and generate significant income for the organisation before anyone else goes to market with something similar. For example, Apple identified consumers desire to share music files and to have their music player wherever they went, even at the risk of virus infections and poor quality audio. Apple developed the IPod to solve all of those problems, made it cheap enough for everyone to purchase, small to carry around, and easy to use.
Overall, technology management is about formulating effective, strong strategies that drive the company’s competitive advantage, using road maps to show product/service/opportunity development and forecasting its potential, while managing a project portfolio.
In the current business environment, the best way to deal with customers who can’t afford your service is to be creative with your pricing model and come up with a solution that they can afford or at least a win-win situation.
Here is an example.
Netflix offers a subscription you can get out of at any time. The monthly subscription is easier for everyone to pay rather than a lump sum. They also offer different levels of subscription so subscribers can make a selection based on what they can afford and feel the service is worth to them without going down the illegal download route. A win-win situation.
Another example is Microsoft Office. A few years back many Microsoft users could no longer afford to purchase software as a once-off payment. The high costs encouraged piracy or adoption of open source options causing significant losses for Microsoft. A win-win situation today is Microsoft offering their up to date software on an affordable subscription basis.
Here are three simple examples of identified competitive advantages between 2015 and 2018. Examples differ in industry, type of competitive advantage, and size of business.
1. (2018) Hair salon offered a unique service that authoritative research showed was lacking in the sector – the ability to provide consultations customers felt were of value. Research showed that around only 7% of customers felt a hair consultation with a hairdresser met their needs. Yet 95% of hairdressers believed they always met the needs of the customer. The salon took advantage of this huge gap between customers’ expectations and the reality of what they were getting and used it as a competitive advantage by marketing and developing the consultation aspect of their business.
2. (2018) Global consumer goods company developed an innovation business model comprised of a collection of strategic relationships formed with innovative consumer goods manufacturers and independent R & D laboratories. The consumer goods company closed most of their in-house R&D as the collection of relationships could provide innovative products faster than they were able to develop in-house. This way the consumer goods company could stay ahead of competitors.
3. (2015) A specialist business innovation management consultancy used their pricing model as one of their competitive advantages. Authoritative research at the time showed the biggest issues businesses had working with consultants was that traditional pricing models were not transparent, the final bill very high and unknown until the end of a project, plus it excluded smaller businesses from access to the specialist services. In 2015 the agency formed and successfully tested a pricing model that overcame these issues and offer consulting on subscription. To sum up their competitive advantage is transparent pricing affordable for any size budget.
Competitive advantage is dynamic, changing continuously. As competitors become aware of your competitive advantage, they adopt it while overcoming what you are not able to offer. At this point it is no longer a competitive advantage. To stay ahead of the competition requires specialist skills and acute awareness of competitors, market trends, current authoritative research, and emerging trends. Awareness on a global scale is necessary as a result of the internet destroying geographical boundaries. This awareness requires specialist skills.
A strategy is a researched, well thought out and planned action plan for achieving your goals and objectives. A capability is having the ability to expertly apply skills in practice in an ethical, professional, safe, and expert way.
Here’s an example:
Let’s say you want to run a marathon and win. You have never done this before. You would not turn up at the start line on the day, say “I am here” and expect to finish the race or win. Rather, to successfully run and win the marathon (your goals) you would sit down long before the race day and research what you need to do to achieve those goals.
You would find out what shoes and clothing is best, how much fluid you will need during the race and where you can find it along the race track. You would train for some time before the race to ensure you have the endurance to run the distance and the strength and speed to win. You would research your competitors to find out what a win would mean - the times and pace you would have to achieve to win on the day.
Here is an example of a strategic capability in business.
Being in business is no different to the marathon example. Each day businesses win/lose clients against competitors. If a business loses too often for an extended period, it will no longer be able to stay in business. We see examples of businesses closing every day. So, to stay ahead of competitors businesses need to research their competition, sector, industry, formulate a solid, effective strategy, and develop the capabilities needed which they may or may not have, to carry out the strategy actions of stay ahead of the competition. Today, in our digital world, businesses strategically use scientific knowledge as a capability for staying ahead of the competition.
The digital revolution that exploded from around 2010 has changed the way we do business and live our lives today. Culture, and using it as a competitive advantage is very popular today.
A simple example of the overused trend on company websites of links to an “Our story” page. The purpose is for prospective clients to buy into the culture of the business which turns them into loyal customers.
So, how can you turn a company culture into a competitive advantage?
Both the culture and a business’s objectives, vision, aim are unique to each business so there is no ‘1-size-fits-all’ step by step guide. Rather, an holistic approach is required, skillfully applied by specialists in cultures, competitive advantage, and innovation. Specialists can identify the elements within a culture that can be used for competitive advantage successfully. The specialists also need to be up to date with your competitors, sector, and the business environment you operate within to effectively position your business and its culture within the business environment so that you outperform competitors.
Today in my work as a CTO most people think of technology as digital websites, social media, CRM’s, mobile phones, wifi, internet, e-commerce, modems, car engines.
This is the case because they are explicit. People can see them, interact with them each day, therefore have some understand of what it can do for them. However, they only make up about 5% of technologies.
Around 95% of technologies are implicit - can't be seen and requires specialist science based skills that take years of learning and experience to be able to understand, to apply the technologies effectively, within legislation, safely, and ethically.
In reality technology is actually scientific knowledge applied to overcome a practical problem. So technologies can be anything where science is applied to achieve an outcome.
For example, unique service delivery, management styles, business model innovation, computer programming, engineering, identifying and creating competitive advantage in business, managing complex situations systemically.
So the biggest illusion about technology is that most people today understand technology as the 5% they can see, touch and, therefore, understand rather than the 95% science.
Applying a common analogy for better understanding - knowing about the 5% and understanding it as technology is like knowing our body and thinking we are doctors.
“Jack Welch said, “An organisation’s ability to learn and translate that learning into action rapidly is the ultimate competitive advantage”. What does it mean?”
The current business environment changes every 18 months as a result of technological advancements. Technology advancements create new ways to deliver services (e.g. Netflix streaming films rather than dvd’s), creates new types of products (VoIP phones rather than analogue lines), and new ways to deliver value to customers (convenient e-commerce rather than in store shopping).
So a key capability each organisation should have is the ability to adapt every 18 months using new technologies to keep them competitive. However, not all aspects of a business can be changed.
For example, changing the culture of a business is tricky, time consuming (longer than 18 months) and seldom successful (IBM is an example of a successful culture change).
One area an organisation can be adaptable is in effectively and efficiently collecting, analyzing and skillfully using relevant knowledge from within the organisation. A simple example we see everywhere is asking customers for feedback on the product/service/process as they have experienced it. The feedback can be used to enhance the organisation and increase the customers satisfaction dealing with the organisation. This translates into a loyal, happy customer who will think twice about leaving for a competitor. This is an example of what Jack Welch meant when he said “An organisation’s ability to learn and translate that learning into action rapidly is the ultimate competitive advantage”.
Organisations often use external experts to manage this aspect or to develop the capabilities within the organisation as it requires expert skills.
(2) Control: Research shows most entrepreneurs fear losing control of their business. Entrepreneurs have the need to control every aspect of the business. The ugly truth is no one person can be an expert at every aspect of a business. Controlling everything in a business stunts the success and growth, and makes an entrepreneurs life miserable and stressful. Identify what you are good at and outsource the rest to experts who do know.
(3) Customers come first: The ugly truth is that your customers always come first. Apart from being the source of revenue for your business, your customers provide valuable insights into your business. For example, insights show the direction your business should be taking, whether you are satisfying the needs of your customers in a way they need to be satisfied, whether you need to increase your product line/ range of services to satisfy your customers.
(4) Adaptability: Research shows that to survive as a business in today’s technology driven world, a business needs to be very adaptable to changes that are occurring every 18 months (Moore’s Law). The ugly truth is most entrepreneurs do not have the skills or the time to learn which aspects of their business can be continuously adapted to changes. This is a good aspect of the business to outsource.
(5) Plan ahead: Most of what entrepreneurs experience in their business has happened before and other businesses have found a very good way around it. The ugly truth is entrepreneurs need to keep up to date with developments in business management and technologies and to use successful companies solutions as a guide to plan ahead up to 5 years. This requires time and specific skills. If you are not an expert at future planning, or do not have time to keep up with the latest developments in business and technology, this would be a good function to outsource.
Having started various businesses over the past 35 years and studied entrepreneurship at postgraduate level, research shows there are a number of ‘ugly truths’ to entrepreneurship. In no particular order I will focus on 5.
(1) Mindset: Having a good idea, passion, and a desire to help people with your service/product is not enough for success. The ugly truth is entrepreneurs require the mindset of finding a way forward regardless of the situation,drive and determination to succeed no matter what, and persevering even when things feel hopeless no matter what.
Joseph Schumpeter’s research, a world renowned economist from the early 1900’s, shows that with each technological advancement comes great entrepreneurial opportunities. We have seen that occurring in our own lives recently with digital technology. Amazon, Netflix, Google, Uber are current examples of businesses that would not exist without digital technologies. Like every technological advancement there are both positive and negative effects.
For example, the above services have enhanced people’s lives tremendously by creating the opportunity to buy cheaper transport, books, and provided more convenient ways of delivering a service such as providing instant access to unlimited information. One of the negative sides, however, is we give away some of our privacy to enjoy those services.
Digging deeper the fear new disruptive technologies bring is often the fear of change and the uncertainty rather than fear of the technology itself. Once we identify our personal fear of change we can manage the fear and prepare ourselves for new technologies by learning about the positive and negative aspects going forward.
Hello, from a CTO’s perspective, to stay up to date, know which new opportunities to integrate into the business, clients employ specialist CTO’s (Chief technology officers) on a full time basis, on contract, or on affordable subscription. CTO’s are practitioners of innovation. Current research shows that the demand for highly skilled chief technology officers (CTO’s) is growing exponentially across all size businesses. Modern CTO’s stay up to date with emerging technologies, the benefits they may provide for the business and additional value for clients that give the business a competitive advantage.
CTO’s have usually studied at postgraduate level, regularly complete relevant courses each year to stay up to date with forthcoming changes in technologies, business management, and legislation. In other words, its a full time job for a practitioner of innovation. Hope this helps.