Tom Martin talks technology and digital trends with Luther Andal of Able Engine.
Click here to hear the audio version of the interview: http://bit.ly/2jFUpyf
Q: What are some Able Engine clients in the area that people might recognize?
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A: Alltech is a client. We do a lot of work with, from Alltech.com to Kentucky Ale and their brands, their websites. And we work with Gray Construction. We partnered with LG&E-KU on their most recent design, and UK. We did some work with the University of Louisville, as well as Indiana University.
Q: Today’s young are digital natives, they’ve never known a world that wasn’t dominated by computer technology. In what ways do you think they’ll be different as adults from older generations who had one foot in analog and one foot in digital?
A: This is happening in such a compressed time frame. They think digital first. They have short attention spans, but it’s not because they are lazy, it’s because they have to process way more information than you and I ever did. They have the ability to process information faster, more efficiently. They’re very open; they’re very honest. It’s a very different world and that comes from that tie to technology, the fact that you are in the open more than you ever thought or ever realized.
Q: Your company, Able Engine, came to my attention during a recent interview with Conrad Carney about his text marketing app, Xooker, and the local partnerships involved in its development. Is that sort of collaboration unusual, or is it becoming more commonplace here in Lexington?
A: I wouldn’t say that it’s commonplace yet. My hope is that it does become more commonplace. If we go back into the 1990s and even into the 2000s, there was an old school kind of adversarial view. That has largely changed.
Q: What do you think brought about that change?
A: Well, I think we started to realize that it isn’t a one-company deal anymore. Change is happening so fast we all have to stay in front of it. And one of the bigger changes is that people change jobs a lot more. Now, you’re changing jobs every few years — especially the younger people. The loyalty factor to any one single company is not the same. Some people say it’s a bad thing. There’s a lot of good that comes from that, too, with collaboration. Silicon Valley has more connections, more collaboration, more access to capital and all the things that facilitate it. We have a lot of advantages that they don’t have.
Q: What advantages do we have?
A: We do have a different culture, a slower pace of life; a more open space and green spaces that we can get out into and enjoy; less traffic. There’s a lot to offer right here. And intelligence and technology capabilities and the ability to learn are not centered in Silicon Valley. A lot of college cities have done very, very well because they have the workforce that has that education and knowledge. And it’s a matter of networking where you bounce ideas off your peers, you challenge each other, you grow together, you teach each other, you learn from each other and the creativity that comes from that. So, those are advantages that we have here. It’s a matter of harnessing them.
Q: Are we growing and developing a workforce that will yield attractive talent?
A: There is talent here. You know I will never down a college experience, but it really can be improved by having that on-the-ground experience and applying it. Knowledge without application is, I don’t want to say worthless, but it’s darn near. Google came out early on “failing fast.” The sooner we know what doesn’t work, the sooner we can build something that does, or completely change and put our resources somewhere else and not waste them. And that mentality is important in education as well.
Q: What are some common mistakes that you see when clients come to you to have their websites updated or completely renovated?
A: A lot of times this happens because, you know, you’re worried about your business; you’re worried about your position; you’re worried about getting your message out, your product, your service. People don’t care about your business. They care about it when they need it, but outside of that if you’re talking about those things, you’ve lost them. The single biggest mistake that I see is not thinking about the customer. It really centers around the customer and it is really important to have that perspective. I get the pleasure of telling executives and CEOs: “the site is not for you, it’s for your customer.” And when you get that perspective, boy, it changes everything and you can really harness the web and technology in general as a very powerful tool.
Q: What about PC versus mobile? Has mobile technology now reached a level of prevalence where really it should take priority?
A: Oh, a hundred percent. It’s a huge growth area that has pretty much matured now. So, if you have a website and it’s not available on a mobile device, you’ve already failed. So, you need to fix that immediately. If you look at the stats, everything is moving towards mobile. Does that mean laptops and desktops are obsolete? Absolutely not. But their time has already been and it’s mobile time now.
Q: I want to make sure that we have time to talk about something that you have underway right now that’s called Streamline, I believe? Tell us about that.
A: Streamline’s mission is to radically improve the performance productivity and profitability of our customers. It’s about helping businesses figure out how to get more than just the low-hanging fruit of productivity performance and profitability increases from technology within their businesses. It’s a merging of people; a merging of processes, and a merging of that business with technology to achieve the best for their customers and obviously also for the business itself. We’re going to help the business determine the requirements and what goals are trying to be met and then we’re going to put together a plan and work with them to integrate that plan, and other vendors as well. A lot of times this falls on the IT department. An IT department’s job is to keep the infrastructure of the company up networking, desktops, mobile, you know, all that stuff. And the demands are broad.
But, to ask them to do a website or mobile app or to figure out how to make this work flow with dozens and dozens of different variables and requirements is unrealistic. They don’t necessarily understand business. So, in the past we would send somebody off to get general skill-based training on Excel. But then, we had this expectation that they’re going to come back and understand how to apply it. Remember, it’s all about application. We give them knowledge, but we expect that they have a couple of decades worth of experience on how to apply it and they don’t. We do. And so, we come in and we consult with the business and their IT department about their requirements and needs. And it might be with other vendors, it might be with other partners that are involved; hardware, software, processes. It could be, you know, somebody else outside who’s fulfilling a part of the work-flow — for instance, a printer. And, we’re going to take that work-flow, break it down, put together a plan on how to maximize it from a productivity, performance and profitability standpoint.
We see company after company that wants to be better with technology, they want the benefits of that tighter integration and they’re not getting it and they’re frustrated. You have to persevere through that pain point. And, as we know, you get in shape, you can run a marathon eventually, right? Same goes with technology. Eventually, you get to that “promised land.”
Tom Martin's Q&A appears every two weeks in the Herald-Leader's Business Monday section. This is an edited version of the interview. To listen to the interview, find the podcast on Kentucky.com. The interview also will air on WEKU-88.9 FM on Mondays at 7:35 a.m. during Morning Edition and at 5:45 p.m. during All Things Considered.