On the horizon

Lawn & Landscape Technology Conference keynote, Jack Shaw, talks the future of technology, mistakes made by businesses and much more.

Jack Shaw
Photo courtesy of Jack Shaw

The landscaping industry has embraced technology trends like GPS and equipment monitoring, email and text communications and back-office software, but there’s one piece where the industry may be behind.

“Onsite cameras, already widely used for construction can be very helpful in monitoring landscaping installations especially large ones,” says Jack Shaw, a consultant, author and keynote speaker for the Lawn & Landscape Technology Conference. “Remote cameras can also monitor lawns and plants to help determine when maintenance is needed.”

Here are some other developments Shaw sees affecting technology, along with mistakes he’s seen companies make when it comes to technology and what he’ll talk about at the conference.

What are some trends you see on the horizon when it comes to technology in business, especially in service-based operations like landscaping companies?

Real-time communications among field services, home office, and customers/clients. Much of this is facilitated by use of automated emails and texts driven by Internet of Things technology.

Equipment monitoring. Devices installed on or embedded in equipment can continuously monitor whether the equipment needs maintenance or repair. Also, how much the equipment is being used for optimal usage levels.

AI-enabled hiring, training and staff allocation. As we move into the gig economy, companies can hire additional staff as needed during heavy seasonal work by verifying certifications and availability through online databases of lawn and landscaping professionals.

AI/AR training for equipment maintenance and repair. In many industries, junior technicians are already being trained via AI and augmented reality to maintain and repair equipment.

More highly automated back office process like procurement, inventory control and supply chain management can reduce purchase costs and inventory carrying costs while ensuring availability of inventory to meet customers’ needs.

What is a common mistake you see companies make when using or investing in technology?

Firms should be looking for the “game changers.” Digital transformation isn’t about finding ways to make a 10% improvement. If that’s all you’re looking for, that’s all you’ll get — if that. They should be looking for ways to make a 10X (1,000%) improvement.

Finding a game changer in any industry is a challenge that demands insight, creativity, and a willingness to be bold, to keep trying new things and to fail fast. A classic example of a game changer was what happened in the music industry about 20 years ago.

Lots of people were looking at the internet and e-commerce and realizing that these were potentially powerful tools for inventory control and supply chain management.

There were initiatives addressed to using these tools to drastically reduce the shipping and inventory carrying costs of moving the physical media of CDs and vinyl records from the music production plants to wholesale distributors to retail stores and into consumers hands.

And these would have worked, costs to end consumers would have dropped while margins increased up and down the whole supply chain. And the supply chain would have been much more responsive to getting new music into the hands of consumers faster than had previously been possible, while still reducing unsold inventory.

But, as we now know, Steve Jobs and other technology leaders had a different vision — one that said, “Why do we even need the physical media at all?” The rest is history. That was a game changer. What might the game changers be in lawn and landscaping? Figuring that one out is the opportunity of the century in this market.

If there is one thing you would want the lawn care and landscaping industry to know about technology, what would it be?

That there is no such thing as knowing too much about technology. Firms (of all kinds) should be spending 5–10% of their time doing strategic planning. Most of that should be considering how alternative emerging technologies could affect the industry and their business model. This means a firm with 40 employees should have 2–4 full-time equivalent people just focused on the future of the business.

Research sources for digital transformation include industry publications and websites like Lawn & Landscape magazine. And also, similar publications in adjacent industries and markets such as construction and pest management.

This is absolutely an executive function. Not necessarily the CEO but it certainly should be headed up by someone reporting directly to the CEO. And for those businesses large enough to have an IT staff, this is not an IT function. IT should be involved, but it should be driven by operational leadership.

What will the audience take home from your presentation?

How key emerging technologies like AI, Blockchain, and IoT will transform the industry in the coming years.

How to plan for the impact of strategic disruptions like pandemics, climate change and geopolitical conflicts.

How they can develop a strategy for evolving their business model, process and technology to stay ahead of change rather than just reacting to it.

July 2022
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