BEWARE technology traps

Right across corporate Australia, companies are utilising technology in ways not possible even just a few short years ago. Incredible advancements in devices, infrastructure, software solutions and telecommunications have powered a lift in the levels of innovation and productivity across every industry. Benefits flow to consumers, shareholders, employees and citizens alike.

You’d be hard pressed to think of a single company or job that hasn’t been positively impacted in some way by advancements in technology.

It is also changing what we learn and how we learn. The skills, creativity and efficiency of new graduates entering the workforce every year really bring this to life. Each of them influenced by immersion in technology from childhood right up to joining the workforce – through formal schooling and also in normal daily life. Those of us a few generations older are well served when we take the opportunity to learn from our younger ‘technology natives’.

All of this sounds great, right?

Smarter kids, more productive and creative companies, a buoyant economy and satisfied consumers? Well it does and there is absolutely no doubt that technology has made an unquestionably positive impact on corporate Australia over the last 20-30 years, and it will continue to do so at an ever increasing pace. We are working in exciting times! However, “technology traps” are lurking and have a reasonably good hit rate – resulting in unintended, and oftentimes invisible consequences that negatively impact productivity and overall corporate performance.

Let’s look at a couple of these ‘traps’.

Jumping in too quickly

Sometimes the temptation is just too great – the solution sounds perfect, benefits realistic and tangible, risks manageable. But, before launching into a multi-million dollar technology solution do you really (deeply, intimately, richly) understand the problem, what’s causing it and what good looks like? Have you tried to solve the problem cheaply first? There is a great expression often used in manufacturing “Hold before you tape, tape before you bolt and bolt before you weld”. Basically, before you spend a lot of money and irrevocably commit to an expensive solution try smaller, cheaper and lower cost options first. Build up your understanding of what is really going on, why and what a good solution looks like. Once you have done this – then you can commit and move fast!

The time and energy invested in experimenting with cheaper approaches will vastly enhance your understanding of the problem which will allow you to be much clearer in what you need – leading to a much better outcome, with less risk. Generally speaking, when large technology investments go wrong the underlying root cause is a lack of true, shared understanding of the problem and what benefits are being sought.

Missing the opportunity for non-technology innovation

Perhaps the high availability of technology solutions has influenced our thinking of what an innovative solution looks like? Or perhaps skills in solving problems without technology have diminished? I am not sure. What is clear however, is that organisations across just about every industry are missing the opportunity to drive major business improvement without spending millions (and years) on high risk technology investments. On the flip side, there are companies utilising low-tech solutions extremely well. A recent example comes to mind of a division in a large Australian corporate driving a 50 percent productivity improvement, a lift in customer satisfaction and improved resolution times. How long did it take? About 3 months. What was the technology spend? Nothing. Was it sustainable? Absolutely. They just needed to think about the problem differently, look at the process and people dimensions, explore alternative approaches, all the while “testing and learning, testing and learning”.

So before you launch into that major technology investment, ask two questions.

Do we really (really!) have a shared understanding of the problem we are trying to solve and objectives being sought? Have we explored lost cost, low-tech alternative approaches?

Of course there are problems that mandate a heavy investment in technology to deliver the optimum solution and necessary business outcomes. They are exciting and often transformational. But, if you ask yourself these two questions at a minimum you’ll ensure your technology investment is spent more effectively, less painfully and with a better outcome, for everyone involved.

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One thought on “BEWARE technology traps

  1. Very nice Chris and well considered. I have a few expressions that have been used over the years which hit right to your points;
    Go ugly early – starting to do something rather than continuing to study it to get the exact right out of the gate solution takes time and in the end often results in rework or phase 2+ solutions and costs
    Sometimes brute force is the best solution – go manual and then decide what exactly needs to be automated
    Learn to fail quickly, fix it and race forward – this is an adaptation of go ugly early, but gets to ensuring that you are monitoring and measuring everything you can to find issues as early as possible and then resolve them and move ahead

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