A colleague noted recently that I often use the phrase compete differently in our conversations. It is true, competing differently is constantly on my mind. How can we make the most of the current crisis? How can GeoTechVision offer a better experience for our clients? How can we ensure our children and our nation are not left behind? What are the opportunities of a different ‘normal’?
The answer is that we need to compete differently. What that means to me, is being agile. It means being able to see what the environment is showing you and using that information to develop your next move. GeoTechVision has an adaptive culture. We built rapid adaptation into our DNA and it is serving us well in the current climate. COVID-19 has been a shock. There are many businesses who prefer to adapt at a much slower pace, but this pandemic is forcing a rapid adoption to technology and different ways of doing business. Competing differently in this context means recognizing that everything has changed and making a conscious decision to shut the door to a bygone era and examine the needs that exists in this new reality. It helps for us to remember that the basic premise of business is, finding a perceived need and helping to fill it. What are the real needs? Here are some of the ways that GeoTechVision works to compete differently.
Many small businesses do not think about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and to include things such as sustainability into their business model. We have always been thinking about that. We have a team member who is passionate about the environment and sustainability and she spearheaded the initiative for everyone in our office to drink less out of plastic bottles. We have put together a green initiative and look for ways we can consciously apply this in our business model and have also been finding creative ways to incentivize team participation beyond the office but in ways that impact our communities and team member’s own environments and well-being. We have recognized that these are the little things that can give you the edge. We cannot simply think of these things as only for governments or large corporations or as the ideal but rather all businesses must find a tangible way to build it into their organization’s culture.
We are transparent with team members about where we are as a business. There are times when I have had to say, “Team this is what is taking place and it is going to impact the bottom line. We are not looking to fire or lay off anyone but need to figure out a new way to get through this.” It may mean having to partner with someone to complete a project, rescale our plans,etc but when each team member recognizes what their contribution helps the whole then there is a shared responsibility to find a solution.
In the early days, as my first employees were family, this helped to set the tone for our company culture. Having a team of mainly millennials who look up to you for guidance, there is a responsibility to do right by them.
In my early days of building the company, I would get really great job offers and they were tempting to a struggling entrepreneur. I did not have to be doing this entrepreneurial thing, but I recognized it was my passion and I genuinely loved what I was doing. I wish I were able to offer all team members bigger salaries, but they have showed me that they value other aspects of working with GeoTechVision as much or even more than the salary.
One team member received the opportunity to go to Canada to do her postgraduate degree. We had agreed that her position would be available once she returned. While there, she got a job offer and she reached out to me because I have always told them ‘listen, I don't like surprises. I will help you plan your exit.’ These are people with their own dreams and obligations, and we understand they must make life choices for themselves. She told me what the situation was and asked if I could give her until the end of the year to make a firm decision as to whether she would take an opportunity in Canada or return to her position at GeoTechVision. I said yes. At this point in time, she was still working remotely as we needed her. Amazingly, by the end of the year she called to say she was coming home. Not only did she miss Jamaica and the company but the culture and our GeoTechVision family.
It was not difficult to foster this atmosphere at GeoTechVision, this is because of my mentors over the years. I have fortunately been blessed both in government and private sector to work with people who encouraged a sense of independence and encouraged me to reach for my dreams. They also opened opportunities for me whether it be attending conferences and exposure to the wider world. I have always been determined to pay it forward and this I do every day beginning with my team. Our team knows that they always have the opportunity for growth and development, in fact it is built in to their very workplans Recently, one of our newest employees got the chance to attend a major GIS conference in California. He marveled that after only four months with the company he was given such an opportunity. It was such a big deal for him, and we were happy to be able to make this happen. He returned to Jamaica with renewed excitement, bubbling with ideas and like most of the team a sense of ownership of the company. He like, the other team members are making contributions that is aiding us to compete differently.
In whatever industry you are in, you need to first think about the industry. If you think about the industry and how you can contribute to that industry, then some of the selfishness or concern about competition disappears. There will be an overall industry effect and if the industry does better, then you have a bigger piece of that pie. As your market share increases it impacts the bottom line. The other often ignored point is that your industry involvements creates a network of people you can turn to for advice, services, strategic partnerships, and support.
One of the things that a lot of people and lots of businesses do, is that they get up and they kind of do things. I believe in having a strategy. We have always done that. We have our strategic planning sessions, whether it is at the end of the year or the start of the year. We have 90-day plans. We have monthly plans and I get weekly reports. We believe in using these tools so people can measure where they are and how they are having an impact. I cannot say to somebody, “oh, you're not doing this” when I did not set out to them what my expectations were for the month. My team knows my expectations.
For example, in a recent morning meeting, I said to the team, every team member needs to
come up with at least one idea as to what GeoTechVision can do differently coming out of
COVID-19? What can we deconstruct and reinvent?
We do this often because competing differently is predicated on actions and your approach to business. It is predicated on understanding your environment and the things that are happening. Team members have these assignments and they a week to wrap their heads around the problem and come up with something we can put in our Ideas Bank. We then examine the ones to pursue now.
For businesses which have seen demand dry up, it is not simply a matter of expanding into a
larger market. Think about what your competitors are doing in those markets? You need to get
market insights. Maybe you were the one person in your village that was delivering the service
but beyond that village, do you know who your competitors are? Do you compare what makes
you stand out as opposed to them? What is your unique selling point in that larger context
Going forward are there digital-related services that you can provide? There has been a forced digital transformation, no question about it. The ability to shift to respond to the change will make the difference in whether your business will survive.
Competing differently requires an understanding of your environment and at the height of that understanding, are the customer’s needs at that point in time, because needs change. It is a multi-pronged approach. We recognize that often they do not have a clear picture of the problem or what it would cost to resolve it. We take the lead by presenting ideas of trends in their industry and maintaining communication so we can understand what they are going through.
One of the things that we began to do differently this year, is develop more proof of concepts. We basically remove the risk from the customer. We develop a proof of concept of the solution and clients can test it so they can get a firsthand review of how it makes their business easier. That POC is at no cost to them and at the same time it develops new solutions we can introduce into the marketplace and add to our case studies.
GeoTechVision has been talking about COVID-19 from as early as late January. One of our team members said to one of our managers that he wanted to congratulate the leadership of GTV for being so proactive in making sure that team members understood something was happening and the possible implications. In early February, we began putting mechanisms in place to prepare for the potential impacts of COVID-19 and ensure we were not caught by surprise. We were prepared to see to the health and safety of our team and clients. Being small and nimble allowed us to do what was needed.
In February we had developed applications such as the COVID-19 dashboard and other solutions quickly. We also created the COVID-19 Health Check application (https://covidchk.iplayxyz.com/), which allows people to note their symptoms and then see options for the most appropriate response. Health departments can also use this information to reach out to the residents in their communities. Not every product is about income generation, but they are a natural extension of our business model and the things that are important to us. Every business owner must look at their circumstances. It may mean a total revamp of their business model, but the idea is to look at the new needs and find a way to respond to them. I heard of a restaurant that was shut down and they literally turned it into a drive through supermarket. I think this was ingenious and respondent to the new need that their customers had.
The COVID-19 crisis illuminated the inequalities of access to information and digital resources in many areas of the world and especially the Caribbean. Being unable to compete differently means that they are going to be left behind. Schools and universities have been closed. Children who do not have digital access are at a disadvantage. Their learning is curtailed because they cannot access the online resources that ministries are creating. That is why the EduTech Aid is so important to me. It fits within our student digital citizenship program that deals with educational technologies for the underserved. While in direct response to COVID-19, it is not an ad hoc thing that we have done but is something that is material to our business that is providing a social good. We have more than 10000 requests for tablets for school children and we need more donors who want to support this initiative. You can learn more about this program at www.edutechaid.com. Regardless of the size of your organization, you can learn to become adaptive. It takes intentionality and a strategy. It will mean a steep learning curve for you and your team, but the rewards will be immense as you pursue the opportunities available in this rapidly changing world.
Valrie Grant is an internationally respected geospatial scientist with a passion for science and entrepreneurship. Since 2008, she has built GeoTechVision into a major player in the growing Caribbean Geomatics and Geospatial services industry, earning along the way a litany of special recognitions and awards. She sits on the board of the World Geospatial Industry Council (WGIC), serves as Co-Chair of the United Nations Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM): Americas Private Sector Network, a Technical Advisor of the UN-GGIM Americas, Caribbean Project. She serves on several other national, regional and international Boards and Committees. This award-winning entrepreneur believes in simply living a great story and endeavours to live her best life every day.