Last week I had a smart electricity meter fitted at home - nothing particularly staggering in itself but what made it highly notable was that the smart meter's installation coincided with the clear-out of my office at home, during which I rediscovered what is perhaps the most significant business document I've ever held during my business life.
Back in 2002, the DTI conducted as series of industry specific investigations with PWC to understand the potential impact of the new thing called E^commerce. At the turn of the last century, printing was the UK's 6th largest business sector and rightly justified the detailed impact assessment. Right at that time I'd just been made redundant from a US dotcom business and was contemplating whether to go back into the print industry or not. What I read in this DTI assessment made-up my mind within seconds to jump-ship, leave print and get digital; a decision I'll never regret. I rediscovered this pivotal document last week during the office clear-out and the timing of this find couldn't have been better.
Upon reading the DTI's impact assessment 13 years ago it was clear to me that the writing was on the wall for the printing industry but it was just too blind to see. The past 13 years have seen a once powerful business sector gradually wither from neglect as the Web inserted itself between printers and their customers. Here's the damning evidence, the DTI's findings, the death rattle of a business sector, one that we'd all do well to learn from; fast:
So, you're bound to be asking by now, how does my smart electricity meter fit into this?
Günther was the German who took just about 45mins to fit my smart meter, he and I got talking over a cup of coffee and a chocolate Hobnob whilst we were waiting for the device to connect and synchronise. To my delight, it turned out that Günther's previous job was a Colour Retoucher from the printing industry and we didn't hesitate talking about the way the industry had changed. Colour Retouching was an incredibly skilled and high-paid job and back in the '70s Günther wasn't getting out of bed for anything less than £500 per week.
Essentially, the print industry became focused upon productivity, buying ever-faster printing presses and having to work twice as hard to sell burgeoning capacity. Just like Vauxhall Motors in my home town of Luton, plants were run by highly skilled, highly paid staff and, although both efficient and productive, print started to become uneconomic. The digital (E^commerce) revolution had started and print missed the boat because it was too focused on its own productivity issues and simply lost touch with what the customer wanted.
What impresses me most about the installation of the smart meter is how it's being sold into UK households. Talk to Günther yourself and he'd tell you how reluctant UK householders are to change that calls for new kit to be installed - the electricity sector's target is to have every home fitted with a smart meter by 2020. There are, of course, notable exceptions such as the movie/sports fanatic who will take a day off work for the installation of cable or Sky. What this tells us is that we're ready to accept change just so long as we can see a clear benefit.
So here's where I think the sales pitch of the smart meter is, in itself, rather smart. You see, the smart meter is pitched to UK householders as a way of saving money; 'Keep an eye on your usage and lower your bills!', sounds great doesn't it? But think about it - who on earth is going to spend the next seven years installing capital equipment only to sell you less? The electricity companies don't really want to sell you less electricity, they want to reduce their own costs by not having humans beating the streets of the UK reading meters, they want to be able to monitor and model the electricity consumption of individual households so they can better understand customer demand in their ultra-competitive marketplace.
Print died because it made little or no attempt at listening to its customers and failed to take note of what was happening in the wider marketplace. Please, I don't want to see that happen to you.
If you had a smart meter that you could install into your customer's business, what precisely would it measure?
Personally, I argue that this smart meter is actually your website. Your website is already connected into your marketplace, the busier it is the more people want what you've got to offer. If you're not monitoring how busy your website is then you're missing-out on the opportunity of changing the content of the website to give customers what they're searching for and what they actually want.
The existence of customers defines each and every business - if you're not being smart enough to be listening to your customers today then perhaps tomorrow will be the day we start to hear the death rattle that begins to define your business.