The impetus for this month’s column started with a comment from a dealer in one of our Currie Management Dealer Groups. At a recent meeting, he remarked, “Look around the room. Isn’t it interesting that everyone who used a laptop computer a year ago now uses a tablet?”
The use of tablets (and smart phones) has increased tremendously among both the general population and businesses, including farm equipment dealers. Why this is happening and business applications for these devices are the subject of this installment of “Technology for Profit.” We’ll also look at so-called mobile Internet access devices and how they benefit you and your employees in terms of speed, customer response and profit.
Internet Access Devices vs. PCs
Access to information and sharing of ideas is driving the exponential growth of Internet access. In last month’s column, we used the analogy of the second half of the chessboard to illustrate the escalating speed and power of computing that is also driving the use of Internet applications that is behind the growing use of tablets.
The chart below shows the difference in global shipments of personal computers (desktops and notebooks) compared to tablets. Sales of desktops began to level off in 2009, while notebooks grew rapidly until about 2012 and then began to decline as the sales of tablets increased rapidly. Why the shift to tablets?
After steadily rising for more than a decade, shipments of desktop PCs began leveling off in 2009 and notebooks in 2012, when tablets began their ascent.
Source: Morgan Stanley Research. Note: Notebook PCs inlcude Netbooks
The answer is, today, when we look for information, at home or at our businesses, most of us turn to the Internet as our first source.
When was the last time you used the Yellow Pages or White Pages to find a supplier or a telephone number? When was the last time you used a road atlas to map out travels?
More and more of your suppliers — manufacturers and dealer business systems vendors — are providing Internet access and storage, often referred to as the “Cloud.”
Learning to Share
The first tool most of us learned to use for accessing the Internet was the personal computer in one of its various manifestations — desktop, laptop and/or notebook.
Now the switch is on — big time — from PCs to tablets and smart phones. The latter are not just for personal computing and are better called Internet access devices. The differences between PCs and tablets are important. To take advantage of the newer devices requires some learning and, more importantly, some “unlearning.”
Unlearning is necessary because of how the personal computer has typically been used at dealerships. In most cases, the PC was initially a substitute for a dumb terminal (remember green screens?) that provided access to your dealer business system. PC use evolved so that it also provided you and your employees with the ability to do your own computing, which included creating documents, databases and spreadsheets. To share the information that you produced required an active approach of saving it to a server for access by others.
The Internet, tablets and smart phones are all about sharing — information, ideas and experiences. A PC, by definition, is “personal” and not necessarily designed to share. This is the key thing that must be unlearned if we are to take full advantage of newer technologies. Internal access, the cloud, tablets and smart phones along with all of the newest applications were developed for sharing.
Sharing at the Dealership
Many farm equipment dealers are already utilizing these devices. Here are some examples.
Customer Machine List: Most major manufacturers provide a branded Internet-based application with which your customers are able to list the machines they own and their use. The idea is to share that information so that you can better serve your customers with service interval reminders, serial numbers to assure the correct repair parts, part number substitution, specifications, how-to tips, etc.
Management Information — Now! Your dealer business system is becoming more useful as the developers move beyond financial reporting to machine and parts inventory management to customer relationship and sales management. These latter applications require the ability for easy and remote access by your mobile employees — sales reps, field technicians, corporate managers.
What prompted the comment from the dealer at the beginning of this article and what we’re seeing more of in the field is tablets being used to access dealer business systems. No matter where you are — in a dealer group meeting, at a customer’s farm, in a manufacturer’s facility, at your bank — you can get at the information you need immediately.
Customer Training: A great example of the power of mobile Internet access devices is sharing videos on YouTube with equipment operators to demonstrate how to use the equipment that you’ve sold them. You and they will find a vast number of online How-To videos.
For example, if you’re working with your precision farming system and need to know or to get a refresher on how to set an A-B line, you’ll find several videos. On your tablet or smart phone, pull up your search engine (Google, Yahoo, etc.) and type in “Set A-B line.” You should also enter the name of your precision farming suppler because you’ll want the information to be specific to the equipment that you sell. What you’ll find are farmers who have produced these videos.
Some progressive dealers are also developing their own How-To videos, either because their manufacturer has not yet done so, or because dealerships want to develop their own brand.
Tablets and their applications are the future. If you have an application you can share, especially for remote service, please write to me at GRussell@CurrieManagement.com or respond to this article on the Farm Equipment website.
George Russell can be contacted at GRussell@CurrieManagement.com.