This is the latest in our series of speaker and panelist profiles for the Creative Digifest. Dr Alan Rae, in his own words:
I guess I have been a digital pioneer since we set up our first IT company in 1981. I’ve lived through the change from an analogue to a digital world (when I went to University we used mechanical calculators in the labs!) through word processing, computer aided design, e-commerce and social media and mobile working. My career started as a market researcher and marketing manager for a heavy engineering company. I set up my first IT business in 1981 and have been helping businesses large and small implement IT related change ever since as a supplier, trainer, presenter and author. From 1996-2004 I ran the Executive Studio in West London which was a pioneering demonstration and training centre for the use of IT In e-commerce and mobile and flexible working. Since then I’ve been applying what we know about digital commerce to a family horticultural business (the DPhil IS in plant science after all) and to researching how small companies can use the internet in practice to make their businesses work better. Much of this work has been carried out with Lisa Harris and you can check out our findings here
I’m currently a guest blogger for Brandwatch and the National Farmers Union, run a How to do Business group on Facebook and I’ve created various training programmes for small business including 1 Man Brand and Punch Above Your Weight, and written books like “Growing Jobs” and “Social Media for Real Businesses”
In what ways are digital technologies transforming our lives?
Digital in the 80s was for large organisations and geeks. Now it’s for everyone. The single fact that you can create an object – a photograph, a video, a piece of text and publish it in many different media to a large number of people or share it for a specific business purpose instantly, completely changes the way we can do business or enjoy our lives.
The tools available to the small company marketer continue to astonish me – tools to assemble and publish information, tools for holding conversations, tools for promoting business or leisure activities, tools for collaboration.
What can the latest technologies do for you?
The I-Pad is a real game changer – supporting both wifi and 3G technologies it means that most of the time you have instant access to the whole body of human knowledge as well as your own stuff in a portable package that you can carry around in a handbag. You can take photographs and share them – the day before I wrote this I was in Bodrum looking for tiles for my daughter’s new kitchen. We can photograph what they have in the shop and she can have the info in Sussex at once. She can tell us what she wants to do when we’ve got the details for price and delivery. When we were at the Olympics we could use the BBC feed for online updating of the positions of the competitors throughout the race on a course that we could only see via binoculars. In a windsurfing race where it’s quite hard to follow what’s going on this gave a great boost to our enjoyment of the day. You can create short videos, annotate them and post them into an environment where they can be shared. For a creator or performer it transforms the dialogue with the audience. And you can access the terrain maps to help you visit ancient sites if that’s what interests you. This is pretty handy in a country like Turkey where the map maker’s art is not well developed.
If you’re not online, are you out of the game?
That depends on the business – if most of what you sell goes locally and is sold in a traditional way face to face then no. Our organic veg business does not actually need the blog and web site to survive although it has its uses. If you are selling anything with knowledge embedded in it, or you need to build a national or international presence then you can use social media and digital creation tools to build and develop a substantial presence in your own field of expertise. However, you need to be selective – do some automation and some individual activity. Be clear about what you want to say and how to do business with you and work smart and be selective in how you use your time. It’s like Desktop Publishing – just because you can use hundreds of fonts in one document doesn’t mean that you should!