information technology retail energy industry

Technological advancements won't ever slow down.

Fuel dealers often ask when things might "settle" in terms of emerging IT needs. The short answer is never. If anything, the pace of change will only accelerate. The notion of catching up should be replaced with an ongoing, constantly evolving process to ensure that you will always be in sync with important trends. Your best approach is a clear IT strategy that will help you know where to direct your investments and, more importantly, when.

It helps to understand why technology purchases and adoption present a unique challenge to our industry. And why suddenly, it feels like IT is the most urgent issue for your company.

Like any life cycle, we had our formative years. This is when, collectively, dealers learned the best ways to address the market, run operations, manage prices, and make a lot of money doing it. Unfortunately, this was also a time when businesses were in control of customers. An era defined by consumers being blissfully uneducated about what they were buying and forced to surrender to however retailers (including fuel companies) chose to engage them.

It is safe to say that the "businesses make the rules" era is over.

Customers are now at the center of an "age of disruption". They have asserted their will and quickly gained control of every relationship. Consumer power is capable of reshaping entire industries, and the way the world is doing business. The problem for fuel dealers is that this new customer expects superior online engagement and near-total self-service. Not exactly an area of strength currently. Existing systems are dated and often fall far short of what your customers demand.

A new wave of customer facing technology is here. But will dealers act quickly enough?

The fuel industry does not have a history of making bold new technology choices. For years, dealers believed that their processes were overly intuitive and somehow defied automation. We know now that wasn't true. Optimization and automation have reinvented how dealers do business, though the pattern of slow, labored decisions to buy proven IT solutions remain. "It's too expensive", "let's stay with our current solution", "this isn't the right time". All internal fears without thought of the enormous customer benefits.

Dealers need motivation to think beyond the risks of IT projects and focus on the huge wins technology can deliver.

Significant growth and customer retention. That should get everyone's attention. Successful growth is driven by benefits accrued to the customer, not to the company. After all, they get to choose whether or not to use you as a supplier. Perhaps the biggest risk you're taking is delaying the adoption of the digital tools your customers expect at the time their bar for being wowed is higher than ever.

The challenge of implementing improved customer technology tools is well worth the reward.

IT projects will always take longer, cost more and be more difficult to complete than you originally thought. The combination of shifting to Digital-First thinking and transforming legacy processes will test you and your team. But it is TRANSFORMATION that is required. It isn't about a tweak or slight enhancement; it is about the right tools that can totally change the game. Tools that are as new as the customer behavior that has you perplexed. Perfectly aligned, thoughtfully designed, and similar to what they use elsewhere every day.

There will, of course, always be those who fear transformation. We all know the advocates in the "do nothing" camp, making the best of what is already in place. The cultural undercurrent of "this is just how we do things" can be tough to overcome. But in most cases, this resistance to transformational IT is rooted in a limited understanding of how a potential change can benefit the business.

It is critical to remember that digital transformation is not an IT project.

Customer-focused technology solutions are a strategic initiative guided by the leaders of an organization. It will only succeed if you can create the right environment for the behavioral adaptions needed to embrace and fully capitalize on "digital-first" tools, systems, and processes. You can measure adoption by looking at customer logins or usage statistics. But the true potential of technology is only realized when everyone adopts and embraces it. Including your customers.

There may never be such a thing as "the perfect time" and there will always be risks.

It's just a case of making that disruption as small and as brief as possible. The hard reality is that what you are really doing is trading one risk and disruption for another. For example, would you rather risk losing customers, stunting market share growth, or having to incur additional staff to handle phones and busy work?

Technology can do amazing things. But it's only powerful when it empowers leaders and smart teams to make better decisions and when it provides information and efficiencies that improve productivity. In today's world, a finer point needs to be put on how your customers use technology to engage with you -- and how your people use technology to get closer to your customers -- that is what will propel a "digital-first" fuel company into the future.