Innovate or your customers will

With low-cost smart tech, DIY projects are competing with vendors.

Whether you’re in the business-to-business or business-to-consumer space, there’s always a worry that a new technology or innovation could displace you. The usual examples abound: digital photography replacing film, Uber causing upheaval in the taxi industry and streaming entertainment providers making us second-guess the need for that pricey cable package.

The majority of innovators disrupting the establishment are young startups with grand ideas or businesses discovering a way to lower costs while increasing technology capability (see: Google building its own servers/networking and Amazon creating a cloud service). B2B vendors are familiar with this story.

But as the price of sophisticated technology falls and the number of learning resources available online (many for free) rises, B2C vendors might start seeing disruption from the very individuals to which they’re trying to sell—their customers.

DIY farm tech

A great example of this comes from the April 19 edition of the Wall Street Journal: Farmers Reap New Tools From Their Own High-Tech Tinkering. Farmer Matt Reimer built his own self-driving tractor using a Microsoft tablet, drone parts and some open source software. Rather than wait for a name-brand tractor with the capability, he spent the winter and $8,000 to build his own. It already saved Reimer about that much this year, so his ROI will be reached in one growing season.

As farm revenue gets squeezed, farmers are looking for ways to make their operations more cost-efficient, either by reducing the number of people needed or eking out more production from the existing land. And while what they do is highly dependent on Mother Nature, farmers are tech geeks when it comes to making their operations more efficient.

Low barrier to knowledge acquisition

Reimer did spend some time in engineering school, but he learned most of the skills for his DIY robot tractor from online forums and MIT’s website. He’s not alone. According to the article, other like-minded farmers are working on their own solar-powered soil monitors and systems for optimizing seed distribution during planting.

This type of DIY tech is coming to the home, too. Instructables contains numerous projects on open source smart irrigation systems, remote controlled lawn mowers and more. Personally, I enjoy mowing my lawn (I have a rider) as it gets me outside and out of the home office, but I would like a smarter watering system.

One would think something like a lawn mower would be exempt from disruption, but nothing is safe in the application economy, it’s innovate or die.


Jason is a tech marketer/journalist with 20 years experience.

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