All this technology, but why so few benefits?
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Technology is failing to deliver the results we expect
Despite years of significant expenditure on digital technologies, the promised results have often been disappointing. Organisations are now justifiably nervous about throwing more money at technology. As the range of new software and hardware grows, along with the increased speed of their obsolescence, organisations find themselves between a rock and a hard place in deciding in which direction to move.
Likewise, employees struggle with all this new technology, with it sometimes more of a hindrance than a help for getting tasks done. They are given an ever-growing and complex set of tools to work with. They are confused over which system to use and when, and there is an expensive time commitment to learning each new application. All of which takes time away from their core activities.
Both organisations and staff are frustrated by how complex IT environments have become and wonder when the payoffs will occur. The impacts of this situation are real and costly. There is a massive hit to productivity, there are risks around poorly managed information and delays in task completion as staff navigate multiple systems. In turn, there is a direct flow-on effect on the customer experience, something that should be ringing bells in most organisations.
Where has it all gone wrong?
Is it the fault of the technology or technology vendors? Or does the answer lie closer to home?
Organisations often take a technology-first perspective when implementing new hardware or software, fitting technology to a specific departmental need without the context of the broader end-to-end processes. Solutions end up being built in isolation of each other, ignoring the broader business context. The result is organisational silos embedded in technology solutions.
We also end up with a set of solutions that might be well designed individually but fail to come together coherently for those using them. Most staff do not perform functions that require them to work only in one application; instead, they need access to multiple applications for the data and reference information needed to complete a task. When each application they access is designed and functions differently, productivity decreases and the ability to complete the job is reduced. In turn, this impacts the experience of our customers, and ultimately the organisation’s bottom line.
How is this situation avoided?
The approach to technology projects needs to be ‘people-first’ rather than technology-first. Before starting on solution design, an understanding of how information is used and how information flows between applications is necessary. This involves determining who will use the system, the broader tasks they are trying to complete, and the other applications they access. It also requires a clear picture of the related high-level process and the role the application will play in those processes.
Once the research is complete and the needs are understood, solution design can begin. There are two perspectives to consider: functional design and interface design (including interaction and visual design).
Functional design requires an understanding of how the capabilities of the technology can meet user needs. While new technologies promise significant benefits, understand that most won’t be realised just by a technical implementation alone but will involve a redesign of end-to-end processes, potentially broader than the scope of a single piece of technology. That is a significant undertaking, but one where real improvements occur.
When it comes to interface design, i.e. how we present each application to those who will use it, don’t make staff stop and think about how each application works; the transition between each needs to be seamless. Consider a common approach to interface design across all applications, providing users with a consistent look and feel and way of doing things. It will make tasks easier to complete and improve productivity.
The above are just a few points to consider when implementing new technology. Don’t continue to throw good money after bad. Technology has to serve the purpose of the organisation and, more importantly, meet the needs of the people who use it. It is a people-first approach that will ensure that the technology delivers the benefits we hope for.