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Business - Written by on Tuesday, August 31, 2010 15:47 - 2 Comments

Tim Bevins
The importance of being competent

Yesterday, I read a piece by Scott Griffith, CEO of Zipcar, on how technology makes the company both successful and profitable.

I took away something else from this piece: how important being technologically competent is, and will continue to be, probably forever (or until the machines take over if you envision your future Terminator-style).

Here’s what Griffith says about Zipcar customers: “Our research shows that Zipcar members are highly technically savvy, reporting heavy use of computers, smartphones, social networks, and other digital devices and services.” The business succeeds because of technology and, of course, “a lot of self-reporting by customers.” Essentially, the customers make the business and they are comfortable with self-service in general, Griffith suggests, because of positive experiences over the years with self-service banking, self-service checkouts, self-service airline ticketing, and services like Netflix. Zipcar, I think, is at least as personal as the other self-service experiences they have had.

None of the “self-services,” including Zipcar, requires deep technical understanding, but they all require a level of competence (not to mention trust) with a variety of interfaces, including the iPhone, for which Zipcar has an app that does everything in the location and reservation process, including honking the horn of your rental car in the parking area to make it easy to find.

Competence is built on experience with technology, but is enabled by access to it. I don’t think lack of access to smartphones is a barrier to growth for such cool services as Zipcar, and I expect that the threshold for facility with technology is going to continue to fall over time and that all things technical will become simpler just because people want things to work right, easily, and fast with little work on their part.

But I do wonder (not worry, just wonder) whether we (I will include myself in this) whose jobs involve use and knowledge of new things technological almost as fast as they come to market have an insider’s version of the world, one that does not fit the rest of the world populated by billions who do not know or care about technically cool and useful things, but just want to survive. There are more and more groups, organizations, NGOs, governments, and individuals whose lives are dedicated to harnessing technology to reduce poverty, provide livelihoods, prevent human disasters, and more, and I tend to forget about them when the newest cool app appears for my Droid. These organizations provide both access and minimal competence that opens up technology to people in places that may not have much infrastructure to support more sophisticated uses. There are many great initiatives and endeavors by these groups; the first one I was aware of is txteagle, which gives corporations access to the 2+ billion literate mobile phone subscribers to perform tasks and gives those subscribers a chance to earn money or airtime for performing those tasks.

I did not know I was going here when I started this post and it certainly is a bit off track from the title, but it now occurs to me that technological competence is too often taken for granted by people like me because I have access. It occurs to me now that providing access to the billions without it creates the opportunity for competence, along with the opportunity for improvement; technology provides the platform.


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Sep 6, 2010 4:05

Competence at technology does not necessary have to mean tech expertise. For example in the world of IT, With the consumerification of software, you can enjoy the benefits of technology without needing to know the tech part of it.

Sep 6, 2010 9:04

Good point, Pankaj. I should have been more specific. I actually mean competence in using technology vs. competence in the deep technical aspects of it.
Thanks for the post.

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