You don’t need to be told that staying on top of tech and business trends is a crucial part of staying competitive. It’s a given, like “customers are important” or “money can be exchanged for goods and services.” If one company in an industry is still working out the kinks of its landline phone system and the other is humming along on a shiny new cloud PBX, it’s clear which one is doing better with its tech knowledge — and likely doing better business because of it.
Reliable sources and effective intel-gathering techniques are less “minor advantage” and more “secret weapon” when it comes to staying technologically relevant. Here are a seven ways to brush up on both:
1. Follow the Experts
Popular news sites are a dime a dozen these days, and they all have some solid information to share on emerging tech and business trends. The same goes for sources focusing on your specific industry’s technology. However, if you aren’t following noted leaders in or around your industry, you’re missing out. People who care enough to talk about their field on their own time — and get enough respect to have an opinion worth listening to — probably know and share things you can benefit from. Effective thought leaders usually find an audience, so don’t be afraid to let metrics such as number of Twitter® followers or subscribers guide you to voices worth listening to. Even a simple Google® search can go a long way.
2. Follow Your Competition
Call it the simplest form of corporate espionage: A lot of businesses like talking about anything they’re doing better than before, even when that’s a technology upgrade. Following competition on social media — or peering in on them without giving them the satisfaction of another follower — can help you get a grasp on what others in the same field are up to. If you really want to go for the blue chip, do the same with leading businesses outside your region. Are they doing something you’re not? What’s worth emulating? Even if these organizations aren’t talking about their new server upgrades with every post, observing them over time can reveal a surprising amount of useful information — with no night goggles required.
3. Aggregate (Seriously, Do It)
Your intel-gathering should ideally be a casual thing done throughout the day. Instead of checking Facebook® for the 10th time that day, you can browse headlines. Online aggregators such as Flipboard® and Feedly® can help you do that. If you’re one of the millions of people who like the idea of building an aggregate news source but never got around to doing it, make today the day.
4. Talk to an Expert
Keeping on top of the technologies that run your business means staying abreast of a lot of disciplines. Depending on your field, the sheer amount of new releases can make it impossible to stay completely on the ball. Don’t be afraid to call in — or ask for the budget for — expert help.
5. Talk to Your Vendors
Yes, talking to someone whose objective is to sell you stuff may raise your skepticism levels a bit. But a trusted, longtime vendor can be a downright useful source of information. A vendor’s job is to outfit businesses with trendy technology, meaning the good ones tend to stay on top of business trends and technology. And they have insight into what other firms in your industry are doing. Simply developing a good business relationship with your account representative can yield some valuable insights. Don’t miss out.
6. Mind Consumer Goods
Don’t put all your focus on consumer gadgetry, but don’t completely write it off, either. The gap between consumer and business technology gets smaller every day, something that’s easy to see with more and more retail locations ringing you up, running your credit card, and emailing you a receipt — all from an app on an iPad® or tablet.
7. Give Research (Budget) Space
You don’t have to hire a full-time tech researcher to get long mileage out of the research dollars you spend. This can mean anything from a subscription to a popular site’s content to shelling out for a potentially useful research or white paper, to sending employees to conferences, vendor fairs, and trade shows. Just make sure your research doesn’t stop short as soon as you slam into a pay wall a la Wile E. Coyote — some of the best stuff can be found by spending a little cash.
With disruptive new technologies rushing out the gates on a seemingly daily basis, absorbing it all can feel like an impossible task. However, by applying some rigor and resourcefulness to your research techniques, you can focus your efforts on the business trends that matter. Best of all, it’s only a conscious effort at the start: When you find yourself mindlessly scanning tech industry headlines instead of photos from your friend’s barbecue, you’ll know you’ve come a long way.
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