Teenagers are ideal technology mentors

digital

Jason Finch explains why his generation needs to engage with teenage technology mentors.

People who were born in the mid-to-late 1990s never knew a world where ‘modern’ computers didn’t exist. They’ve grown up permanently connected to the internet. They are mobile, always online. This has affected the way they behave in all manner of ways. For example, more than half of people born between 1982 and 2000 would rather lose their sense of smell than their technology. Seriously.

In the new era of connected technology, mature businesses can sometimes have one big problem: people who don’t feel comfortable with technology are making the big decisions and defining strategy. This isn’t a problem if they’re only competing with each other but once companies with business models based around connected technology enter the arena, entire sectors can experience massive disruption.

The business-to-business world of wholesale is now on the radar of firms such as Amazon. A whole new range of technology-savvy companies is looking to shake up the convenience and foodservice supply chains. Some are established firms with major private investment.

Get ready for battle.

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Asda put 4,000 jobs into consultation as part of a major restructuring for what it called ‘the multichannel era’

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In 1984, my parents bought me a Commodore 64 home computer for Christmas. I grew up programming to make money. My degree in artificial intelligence gave me access to a fast internet way back in 1991. There was nothing commercial about it at the time.

At the age of 40, I’m lucky to have been using connected technology for most of my life and to have been heavily involved with defining online business strategies for major household names during the birth of commercial use of the internet. I’ve come into the wholesale channel and feel I’ve got my armour on.

But my brain is still never going to be wired in the same way as my nephew’s. At 10 years old, he doesn’t remember a time before smartphones and games consoles on which he can play with friends he’s never met from Australia. I talk to him and his teenage brother a lot about their use of connected technology. Technology literacy really is the new reading and writing.

Connected technology: Expect to hear more about it

Yes, data is important; yes, mobile is important; yes, the web is important. But the real magic lies in understanding the impact of permanently connected technology on business. It’s a world where computers can talk to each other and share data all the time, where people can have access to a wealth of up-to-date information whenever they want it.

For better or worse, we now live in a connected world. It is changing people’s experiences and expectations of all manner of things in society and business. Do teenagers call each other any more and actually talk on their phones?

Last month, Asda put more than 4,000 jobs into consultation as part of a major restructuring for what it called ‘the multichannel era’. This isn’t about just introducing more modern handheld terminals to do pick-and-pack for online shoppers or running new types of promotions for suppliers through a smartphone app that people can activate in-store. It is a fundamental re-appraisal of the business functions and the way the supply chain operates all the way from supplier to consumer.

[pull_quote_right] A whole new range of technology-savvy companies is looking to shake up the convenience and foodservice supply chains[/pull_quote_right]

Many children live and breathe technology. While my nephews don’t understand business and I wouldn’t put them in charge of making strategic decisions for a growing company, they beat the boards of most of them when it comes to grasping connected technology. The boards can’t complete the jigsaw and see the radical changes that it can bring to the supply chain, promotions, pricing models, customer offers and the way a business is structured. You probably could if you had my nephews’ view of technology, though.

It really is becoming imperative for the people running the companies in this sector – wherever they sit in the supply chain – to understand how technology based on the principles of the internet radically changes the way everything operates. It extends beyond just going paperless, giving your sales reps tablet computers, launching online ordering or trialling Click & Collect.

Don’t be afraid of it all or embarrassed to quiz younger people who’ve grown up in the connected world. I’ve a good friend who is a private tutor in A-level maths. We often discuss the stuff his students are doing with technology. They’re smart – some are even already starting their own businesses in all sorts of sectors, taking technology for granted and approaching business in new ways as a result. It’s great to learn from them.

Mentoring: It can be a two-way street

Scotland has created some impressive innovations. One I particularly like is the Scottish Wholesale Association (SWA)’s mentoring programme. Launched at the SWA’s annual conference two years ago, the programme matches ambitious individuals working for wholesalers with business mentors, some from outside wholesale completely. It is designed to improve skills and nurture emerging talent in wholesale.

You can launch a similar initiative within your own company to ignite sparks of business inspiration between people who feel totally comfortable with technology and those who feel they’ve got something to learn. They may have a passion for imagining new ways of doing things, if only they knew more about technology and what it could do.

I encourage companies to share the massive experience of directors and stars from sales, buying, marketing, operations, customer service and indeed IT with motivated young people who have been playing around with technology practically since birth.

It could mean getting the top person from operations meeting with a young warehouse fork-lift driver to throw some ideas around; or bringing together a new graduate in sales with the head of buying. I believe companies are enriched through cross-discipline mentoring.

Look for talented staff who grew up surrounded by connected technology and who may be good at mentoring, then mix their expertise and wild ideas with your own specialist experience of years in the wholesale channel. Do so with an open mind.

Your company will undoubtedly benefit from a fresh approach using a business model that embraces connected technology.

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Jason Finch is the co-founder of Port80. The UK's first business combining internet software development and direct-selling retail consultancy, Port80 now focuses on wholesale and is working closely with Palmer and Harvey and other wholesalers that want to benefit from real-time data and online technology.

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