Evolution of Competitive Advantage in Environmental Service Industries

When It’s Dangerous to Sit Still

Are you still doing things the way you did ten years ago? Probably not. But obsolescence has a way of seeming to occur overnight, even in systems that have been tried-and-true for years or decades. It’s not always as obvious as finding the computer you just bought no longer has a floppy drive. For professional service providers, the need to differentiate causes constant evolution, but knowing when to change and how isn’t easy.

Service professionals across the whole spectrum of fieldwork understand the never-ending need to differentiate themselves in order to avoid the commoditization trap, to rise above and compete on value instead of price. The stakes are high, margins often unpredictable, and cash cushions low. But despite these challenges, industry leaders have still been able to take risks and lead the way with new ideas. And then what works ripples through the rest of the industry. In this way, differentiation leads to innovation, and as everyone adopts the new, better idea, service standards become a set of moving goalposts.

Companies still targeting yesterday’s goals, miss.


Keeping up with the Wave of Change

It’s hard to see a trend emerging from the inside, but benchmarking highlights what to look for, and looking to either industry leaders or others who have had to face similar problems can shed some light and shorten the learning curve. How long does it take a local government to realize it’s running out of groundwater and take action? How long would it take that same government to act if a close neighbour had run dry 5 years ago?

For environmental service professionals, there are a few places to look for the wave of change before it hits the boat.


Evolution of Technology

Keeping an ear to suppliers and an eye on the competition is always a good idea, but to keep ahead of the main curve you’ll need to have a pretty good idea of who’s out there taking risks first. If you identify those competitors and pay attention to what they’re doing, you can avoid their mistakes and adapt quickly to their successes.

Likewise, taking the time to evaluate new technology, whether it’s equipment, hardware or software, mitigates the risk that you might be in the dark and not know it. While changing suppliers can mean an upheaval in established processes, inaction often leads to falling behind. 


Evolution of Processes & Management

This one is harder to see from the outside. You can’t exactly call up the competition and ask how many admin hours they’re racking up on a typical project. Instead, social media and blogs provide an opportunity to gain insights into how competing companies are promoting themselves to clients, and can warn you if a major transformation is on the horizon.


Evolution of Culture

Culture is all about relationships. Culture can change quickly based on internal and external factors. A generous client base might become tight-fisted in a downturn, or a trusting culture might be overturned by a scandal in the industry.

Knowing where industry culture is going is an exercise in empathy. How do your clients expect to be treated? What do they expect to have access to? And most importantly, what could happen to change those expectations?

For an example that pulls all three categories together, in the last two years technology has been developed that brings greater transparency to project progress, and gives all stakeholders access to project information. The new technology is changing processes by improving internal efficiency, and it is changing culture. Where an update used to be a manual process involving requests and waiting, it can now be automatic, on-demand. Like checking the process of a package online.

For an example of how software can change the operational equation and transform the working relationship between client and service provider, download our case study on the City of Medicine Hat, an Oil and Gas provider who now requires all suppliers to have project relationship management software in place.


Are there any other transformations you feel are taking place in the Environmental Services professions? Let us know in the comments!


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