Technology Can Level the Playing Field

Jacksonville Business Journal by Dolly Penland, Correspondent

Friday, December 25, 2009

Virtually any company can use new technology to speed its business processes, run more efficiently, and be more profitable. This includes everything from smart phones to software that manages inventory.

There are costs associated with adding new technologies, and some can be expensive, but small-business owners must weigh the initial cost against the return on investment. One key consideration: Technology can put small businesses on the same playing field as bigger ones.

Take, for example, small retailers with e-commerce-enabled Web sites that can sell their wares anywhere in the world.

“You have to” add technology, said Kevin Monahan, special projects director with the Small Business Development Center at the University of North Florida. “If you’re a small-business owner, you are competing with less from the start. Utilizing technology can also give you a competitive advantage over companies that aren’t using technology. You can do more if you are a one-person or two-person business.”

Harold Boyett, president of Blue Streak Couriers, said technology gives his business a decided advantage and is even an integral part of his business plan.

“I worked for UPS for 20 years; I was there when the first computer was installed in the Jacksonville building in the late 1980s,” he said. “When I decided to leave UPS and buy this company, I knew technology would be an important part of what we do. Many of our competitors are still using paper methods to complete their deliveries.”

Blue Streak’s customers can manage all aspects of their accounts online, from placing an order to tracking their package as it moves down the highway thanks to GPS, “which allows me to not have to grow my office staff as quickly as volume increases,” Boyett said. “We are in the process of deploying devices that have scanning [with bar-coded information on packages] and signature capture, similar to what FedEx and UPS have. As far as I’m concerned, we will never stop adding or improving our technology offerings because it helps our customers and it helps us.”

However, it’s not enough to have technology if it’s not used properly.

“One thing I don’t think small businesses do enough of is training, either for themselves or their employees, and they need to do more of it,” Monahan said. “Larger companies spend a lot of money on training and it makes them better companies. It’s not only whether to add or upgrade technology, but training yourself to use it.”

Any type of company can use new technology to its advantage. The benefits aren’t limited to manufacturing, tech-related or service companies. For example, the Jacksonville Running Co. sells shoes. However, it doesn’t just measure customers’ feet; it analyzes everything from their stance to their gait.

“Our fit process is very different from other places,” said Ted Devos, who co-owns the company with Owen Shott. “We put choosing color and style at the bottom of the fit process.”

They have customers stand on a scanner to measure and analyze how their feet distribute pressure. “It analyzes where you put pressure and picks out certain injuries — neuromas, bunions and other things that you can’t see — but the scanner points it out,” Devos said. “It shows up as a bright red spot.”

Customers are also analyzed while running on a treadmill, which helps them know what type of shoe will offer the best fit and most appropriate support.

“We use state-of-the-art video gait analysis,” Devos said. “We record them and we play it back frame-by-frame, which shows how you run or how your ankle works, your ankle rolls in or rolls out [and how] your foot strikes the ground. And we know the technology of the shoes and how to bring that together to find the perfect fit.”

In other words, the technology gives both the business and its clients a running start on the competition, although Devos adds that no machine can replace good customer service.

“Most importantly, we talk to people,” he said. “We want to know everything. People will tell you things the technology helps point out, but they work hand in hand.

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Tom Reese of Blue Streak Couriers uses a hand-held wireless device with bar-code-scanning capabilities to keep track of packages.