In a meeting with the American Chamber of commerce in Sri Lanka recently, Mani Kulasooriya – founder of Sysco LABS, and Ron May, Vice President of eSolutions at Sysco, addressed the audience with a presentation on the way that “Technology is eating the World” – an examination of the way that all industries are transforming to operate like the tech industry and how companies can react to this emerging trend. The following article summarizes key insights from their joint presentation.
Many of the major industries in the world have experienced upheaval due to tech companies entering their space. Uber’s entry into the taxi industry, and Airbnb’s entry into hospitality are some of the famous examples, along with Amazon’s disruption of how we think about retail. These tech companies have been successful by going beyond simply iterating upon the way industries run or innovation processes; they have used technology to completely disrupt the way that these industries serve their customers. In the case of Uber and Airbnb, by leveraging the sharing economy to overcome the barriers to these respective industries; and Amazon, by overcoming the need for brick and mortar storefronts through leveraging the online marketplace.
These disruptions have fueled both the growth of tech companies and their transformation. The largest companies in America in the previous decades were Oil and Energy companies, but in 2016, the trend shifted towards tech companies occupying the top five slots; Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook respectively. This growth was driven by a transformation within the tech companies themselves. In the late 90s, technology was a support function of organizations and more often than not, one that could be outsourced out of the organization if not out of the country, so many of the largest tech companies were BPOs. However, as technology continued to develop, the leading tech companies became those that specialized in creating technology to be used by consumers: The Apples, Microsofts and Googles of the world. But today, in the Silicon Valley, the leading tech companies are those that provide a more traditional product or service but with a superior customer experience driven by technology – Netflix, Amazon, Uber, etc.
This latest trend of superior customer experience through technology is growing fast as the latest innovations in technology allow tech to make a greater impact along the value chain. More obvious innovations such as the IoT (Internet of Things), robots, drones, automated cars, virtual assistants and employees, are driving change on the customer facing end of the value chain, while more invisible innovations like blockchain technology – which drives cryptocurrencies and the big data produced through smart sensors and edge computing – transform value chains at their base. Together, what we are witnessing is an ever-growing influence of tech in business that will only allow tech companies to survive the future.
So, if you aren’t a tech company yourself, how do you react to this change? Well, start operating like one. Lead like a founder – which is to say that you need to lead with the will to take large bold decisions the way that the founder of the company would. These decisions are the forces which will allow you to transform. Secondly, organize your company like a tech startup – with agility in mind. Small teams that own projects, move fast and are held accountable. Thirdly, hire techies and integrate them into you teams; this allows you to bring technology to every aspect of your organization and allows your teams to operate with entrepreneurial dexterity and independence.
Finally, to really operate like a tech company, you need to focus on the customer experience. The experience that your customer has with your product and your service, but also the experience your customer has through all their interactions with your business, and the emotion that the brand carries through these numerous touch points.
The experiences that your customer has along this journey creates the new brand. The experience-based brand that works across every touch point, and a positive customer experience transforms your consumers from customers into fans. A fan of a brand is more than a customer; while a customer is fickle and may switch your product out for a competitor’s if they perceive even a slight improvement, a fan will stay with you even when they may have an anomalous negative experience because of the history they have with the brand and the positive experiences you have created. In the market of the future, it will be brands that can create fans using technology that will thrive, as all industries become tech industries.
Ron May, Vice President – e-Solutions, Sysco Corporation is a professional services leader with proven expertise in digital customer experience, direct sales, contract negotiation, P&L management, large scale operations, strategic solution delivery, and cultivation of executive level client relationships.
Mani Kulasooriya is the founder of Sysco LABS (formerly known as CAKE) and led the company from a startup in the Silicon Valley to eventually be acquired by one of the largest companies in the world; Sysco Corporation (NASDAQ: SYY). He has deep connections in the Valley, having worked for companies like Citigroup e-Citi and Yahoo prior to this venture. He is an astute tech investor and has investments in over 25 companies in tech. He has been instrumental in bringing the Silicon Valley thought process and innovation capabilities to Sri Lanka.
Sysco LABS is the innovation arm of Sysco Corporation (NYSE:SYY), the world’s largest foodservice company. Sysco is the global leader in marketing, selling and distributing food products as well as equipment and supplies to the hospitality industry. Sysco serves over 500,000 customers through its team of over 65,000 associates and operates 300 distribution facilities across the globe.
Sysco LABS is re-imagining the global foodservice industry: our engineering teams based out of Colombo, Sri Lanka, Redwood City, CA and Austin and Houston TX, will innovate across the entire supply chain – sourcing of food products, merchandising, storage and warehouse operations, order placement and pricing algorithms, delivery of food and supplies to Sysco’s global network – culminating in the in-restaurant dining experience for the end-customer. Operating with the agility and efficiency of a tech–startup and backed by the domain expertise of the industry leader, Sysco LABS is poised to revolutionize one of the biggest industries in the world.