Robin Saluoks, co-founder and CEO of the company eAgronomist.
Do you speak Klingon, Dothraki, or Valyrian? No, neither do I. But that’s what I would sound like to my clients if I tried to explain some of the details of our technology to them.
My clients are farmers who do backbreaking work from dusk till dawn to get food to our tables; they don’t have time to spend hours hunched over their laptops to keep up with the latest software updates – and neither should they. Everything just has to work, and if something goes wrong, there has to be someone to turn to.
There are many industries, or probably elements in every industry, where advanced technology needs to be translated into low tech applications, which, believe me, is quite a feat. After spending the last eight years of my life doing just that, let me share some tips on how to get it right the first time.
1. Know your users
This may seem obvious, but it’s harder than you think. Confirmation bias — the human tendency to favor information that conforms to our current beliefs — is a big problem in software development that the industry struggles to deal with. What it boils down to is that you may think you know how your users think and act, but that may be far from the reality.
Ideally, you should have personal experience of being a user in a particular field before starting product development, but if that’s not possible, immerse yourself completely in that world. Of course, there are cases of breakthrough innovation where a technology that no one knew was needed has taken the world by storm; however, most of the time, technology should enrich lives, not turn them upside down. Amazon may have made us all shop online, and Apple made us all carry mini-laptops in our pockets, but such disruptive examples are few and far between.
2. Collect continuous feedback
At my company, we don’t sit in the office and think about how to improve farmers’ lives. We talk to them. When we first launched our farm management software back in 2016, our platform wasn’t slick and was all singing and dancing. I would go to meetings with farmers, come back to the office with new information and insights, and then the development team would start coding.
This primitive and, for some, seemingly random way of working developed through the random events that led to our company’s formation, but meant that we were always fully attuned to our customer base and were able to build an intuitive platform that feels natural to use .
It is also important not to be afraid of feedback. Do not hide. Instead, take negative feedback on board and confront your mistakes. Nobody can do everything right the first time.
3. Deep entry into new markets
When planning to enter new markets, you need to be aware of the confirmation bias again. You might think that your neighboring market works the same way as your home market—that the culture, people, and challenges are the same, and that you can afford an English version instead of localizing software—but these decisions can haunt you.
When we decided to enter, for example, Poland, I moved there temporarily. Poland is the second largest producer of cereals in Europe and we knew that we had to get on the market right the first time. I’m not saying such a drastic step is always necessary, but the involvement of experts on the ground who can provide insight into the target audience to refine strategy, messaging and approach is critical.
4. Technology-driven customer service
Over the past 10 years, there has been a shift towards a technology-centric customer experience based on a combination of AI, voice recognition and big data analytics. Although these technologies are extremely powerful tools, focusing them on the customer while completely eliminating the human factor has not always been successful.
I believe that for those operating in traditional, low tech industries, having a direct line with customers and keeping that line open as they grow is critical. This has always been my approach. Some industries, such as agriculture, have traditionally been suspicious of technology, and large companies must build their reputations on personal, human customer service—face-to-face or over the phone.
This human front-end, however, can be powered by a high-tech database that allows your consultants to have all the necessary information at their fingertips. I believe you can create the best of both worlds.
5. Development without code
Of course, no two end-user organizations are the same, and each entity has unique needs and requirements. For situations like this, where “one size doesn’t fit all”, the emergence of a no-code approach to software development can provide exciting opportunities.
Here, complex technology behind the scenes allows a person with the necessary institutional knowledge, but little or no technical knowledge, to create an application through an easy-to-use visual interface that requires no code. No code has incredible potential to deliver personalized products and services in low tech industries and is an area that I believe will continue to grow in the coming years.
Digital transformation is spreading like wildfire across all industries, even if its pace varies. While my farmer dad is much more tech-savvy today than he was 20 years ago, like most of the public, he works in the field every day and the technology he uses needs to be intuitive, supportive and reliable. This can be translated to end users anywhere and in any situation.
Usability is the absolute key. As a developer, you should know exactly how your client works, what process it requires, and what you want the result to be. Here we go back to the first point: know your audience.