Your Next Big Thing: What customers want

Written by Laura Pratt and Deena Waisberg

Give ’em a break
The everyman wants relief from too much of everything

Daily life is more pressure-packed than ever, and that’s tough on all of us. Still, today’s beyond-hectic pace offers a wealth of business possibilities:

TOO MUCH STRESS: Slimmed-down companies are forcing their staff to work harder and longer. Recommendation: Calm-inducing products and services. Examples: Yoga centres and meditation retreats.

TOO MUCH PRESSURE TO GET CHORES DONE: Work/life balance is an elusive goal with so much on people’s to-do lists. Recommendation: Concierge services allowing people to spend more time with their families. Examples: Personal shoppers, people who take cars for repairs, pickup and delivery of incidentals such as dry cleaning — “All the little things a personal assistant would do for someone who can’t afford a personal assistant,” says Richard Laermer, author of trendSpotting and co-host of Taking Care of Business on The Learning Channel.

TOO MUCH INFORMATION: More information and entertainment is coming at consumers from more media sources — not least the Net — taxing their ability to absorb it. Recommendation: Technology to filter or edit information for you. Examples: Personalized opt-in banner ads, phones that automatically delete from your speed-dial list numbers you never call.

TOO MUCH TIME STUCK IN TRAFFIC: With more vehicles per household, longer commutes, fast-growing cities and lagging road and transit expansion, no wonder traffic is getting snarled. Recommendation: Products that safely entertain and educate consumers on the road, and technology to help people navigate better. Examples: Books on CD, language and self-improvement tapes, satellite radio offering 300 stations, websites or technology that helps consumers plan their driving route.

Lend a hand
Big companies need help doing less and staying clean

The challenges facing corporations often create openings to sell solutions. Two that stand out today are:

How to shed the non-essentials: Companies are outsourcing anything that isn’t a core function, fuelling fast growth at outsourcing providers. A CIBC report shows revenue at small firms that receive outsourced work grew 35.3% over three years, versus 21.9% at all other firms. And Gartner Inc., a Stamford, Conn.-based research company, forecasts the global market for business process outsourcing (excepting IT) will reach US$176 billion by 2008, up from US$113 billion in 2003.

Look for companies to outsource business processes such as HR, procurement (transportation, contract manufacturing), warehousing, call centres and fulfillment. One group has a special edge in landing this work, says Rob Paterson, senior vice-president of small-business banking at CIBC: those who used to do it in-house. Many ex-corporate employees go into business to provide the outsourced service, and their former employer is their first client.

How to obey the law: In response to the wave of business scandals, the Canadian Securities Administrators are introducing corporate-governance guidelines requiring companies to choose boards based on skills and competency, follow a code of conduct on conflict of interest and whistle-blowing, and assess board effectiveness individually and as a group. That’s good news for firms specializing in director searches, and consultants on ethics and director education and assessment. But the expertise required is in short supply. Richard Leblanc, professor of corporate governance, law and ethics at York University in Toronto, says assessing a board’s effectiveness requires experience in governance, not just in management.

Hey, big spender
Governments are a bigger buyer than ever — but a more focussed one

The public sector is an enormous buyer of goods and services, with the federal government alone spending almost $9 billion per year on procurement. And it’s becoming an even bigger customer: federal program spending is slated to jump 14.2% in 2004€“05, and mega-surpluses give Ottawa the most room it’s had in decades to spend even more.

The top priority is health care, in which a major spending boost will create an array of business opportunities. The same holds true on a smaller scale for many other programs. The Border Infrastructure Fund to make Canada/U.S. border crossings more secure and less congested means money for highway expansion, smart-card and transponder technology, and traffic management systems. And, as part of the Agricultural Policy Framework, Ottawa and the provinces are subsidizing farmers’ purchases of financial products that hedge against commodity-price swings.

While spending more, Ottawa aims to get more value through an expenditure review targeting $12 billion in savings over five years. The provinces also want to cut costs. “Governments will buy more strategically,” says Howard Grant, president of Ottawa-based Partnering and Procurement Inc., which provides partnering and procurement management services to the public sector. “There will be aggregation, such as school boards buying supplies together.” You’re likelier to land a government contract if you offer low-cost solutions that work across a range of departments.

“The government knows it can realize savings if it operates like a single enterprise,” says Bob Tuttle, Ottawa-based director of the federal public sector for Microsoft Canada. Business possibilities abound in IT networking, such as converting separate legacy technology into enterprise-wide systems, integrating communications networks across various police forces and building a travel portal through which civil servants can make reservations and log expenses. Other openings exist in website services (e.g., content management, indexing, maintenance and searching) and tools to help with accountability.

© 2004 Laura Pratt and Deena Waisberg

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