The Value of Cutting Edge

The Value of Cutting Edge

As we approach the quarter-way mark of the 21st century, technology continues to play a prominent role across the housing industry. Key capabilities, such as being able to shop for and ‘build’ your home online is getting closer to the mainstream. Smart home technology packages are increasing in scope and adoption. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) products are being integrated throughout the sales, service, and warranty process. While some of these are on the verge of cutting edge, others are or have been mainstream for some time. But here we want to pose the question:  when is the juice worth the squeeze?

One key aspect of our role as technologists is to keep abreast of the trends and capabilities not only in our industry but broadly across all industries. Ideally, we are looking for best-fit solutions that not only meet business needs but also fit within budgetary expectations. As a general practice and principle, we should invest in new technologies, new techniques, and new methods. But my general premise is to challenge how we can ensure we focus on the right technologies and for the right amount?

The delicate balancing act rests between adding technology for the sake of a new product, feature, or capability – and the overall costs:  How many people need to be trained on the product? Are devices (tablets, phones, computers) needed or do they need to be upgraded? How will the product be supported? All of these questions should be answered up front, before you get too far down the path of putting new tools, products, or services in the hands of users. 

One way of navigating that delicate balancing act is to define a Value Statement early in the process. Whether you are doing a trial, proof-of-concept, or a full-blown deployment, it is beneficial to have a Value Statement to rally around. Put simply, it’s the “why” behind the project or the product. Why are we doing this? What are the benefits? And value doesn’t always have to be monetary. It can be as simple as learning more about a technology, or how complicated a technology implementation may be. It could be to get user feedback on whether technology is preferred over manual methods (e.g., signing paperwork). But having that Value Statement helps define “the juice”. 

“The squeeze” is how much effort you are willing to put into it. You can quantify that in several different ways, from dollars, to hours of effort, to people hours. It’s flexible and there is no one-size-fits-all formula. But it is also important to put an estimate up front to understand how much you are willing to expend to reap the rewards, or benefits, of the effort. 

“Whether you are doing a trial, proof-of-concept, or a full-blown deployment, it is beneficial to have a Value Statement to rally around"

Will digital light switches, automated audio and lighting, or the ability to 3D-render houses sell you more homes? Perhaps. But at what cost? Not just the cost that can be passed on to the consumer, but the cost of ensuring your teams understand the implications of supporting these solutions across all the layers of your business – the drafters, the builders, project managers, service technicians, sales professionals, and the list goes on. 

Understanding the complete picture of being able to set up, support, and maintain those solutions cannot be understated.  As a builder, you will need to ensure solid partnerships to support these solutions or have your own in-house skills to be able to answer customer questions around these solutions.

I offer four recommendations on how a Value Statement can help shape technology projects you want to pursue:

1. Start small. We have a tendency to want to ‘boil the ocean’ and go big first. Prove out the concept first which will limit your investment, validate whether your team and customer will embrace the product or technology, and give yourself some data points other than hype outside of your environment. Narrow the focus at first, but tie it to a larger vision if necessary.

2. Don’t be afraid to bring in outside expertise. Having worked across multiple industries in the past, I know companies have a tendency to believe “we do it differently than everybody else”.  While that might be true to some degree, that can also tend to be a recipe for ballooning costs and complexity. Leveraging external experts to provide some guidance and input may provide a perspective that narrows down scope and focus while still maximizing effectiveness.

3. Keep the Value Statement front of mind throughout the entire process. Why are we doing this? Does this feature or function or capability specifically relate to the Value Statement we are pursuing? If not, challenge why. Don’t steer away from the Value Statement.

4. Have a thorough plan on how the product, service, or solution will be supported long-term early in the project. Do not wait until after the product has launched to figure this out, as that is a recipe for disaster. Have a stakeholder, owner, and support structure in place before you start pilots, proofs-of-concept, or small-scale rollouts. 

One final consideration:  As we delve further into Smart Technology and the realm of BIM, Robotics, Touchless Tech, Health Tech (smart toilets!), Exercise tech and beyond – all of this starts to force questions over data ownership, data privacy, and data protection. The natural tendency is to push it all to the consumer, but when we are providing the infrastructure and maybe some of the services, we need to be careful and cautious as to how to ensure we don’t inadvertently put ourselves in the middle of this privacy DMZ.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t innovate or offer these services. On the contrary, I am a huge proponent and fan of doing exactly that: innovate and experiment. But I am also a fan of walking that fine line and managing that delicate balance between value and opportunity and asking the question, “is the juice worth the squeeze?”.

Weekly Brief

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