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Sunday, 12 September 2010

It’s a Battlefield - Business vs. Technology

We are all familiar with the Bell curve of uptake of technology; we have the leaders, the majority and the laggard’s right? We have always assumed that the businesses that are adapting new technology were taking a managed risk to drive efficiency in their organizations and that by the time it reached the majority and even more so for the laggards that the bugs and integration issues of the technology into the businesses way of working would enable us to accelerate the implementation of a new technology into our own organization. This is probably one of the biggest Fallacy’s in the ICT space today.

I regularly hear from people how there company is about to embark on a transformation project which is going to save them millions, improve the way they work and in some case provide a new platform for growth, on the surface it sounds great and I always wish people every success in realizing the benefits that these projects COULD provide. HOWEVER, I very rarely see a project that meets its objectives, not from lack of ambition of the company or the individuals to want it to succeed, but due to unseen obstacles.

What many people don’t realize is that there are number of factors that MUST be addressed when implementing a project and likely more so for the Majority and laggard businesses seeking to adapt the latest technology. When introducing a new technology it is crucial that it is the business that is defining the requirements of the technology to be implemented and not the other way around. What? Well that’s straight forward right? Well perhaps but you would be amazed at how many organizations find themselves rewriting processes to adapt to the limitations of the technology they are deploying or the limitations of other technology previously deployed not being interoperable with the new technology. I have seen two extreme cases of how organizations have attempted to adapt to a technology, the first was the introduction of a manual process to connect between a CRM system and a BSS as the two were not interoperable, but standalone worked great! The second is a company who had adopted a brand new unified communication system that was to be integrated into their systems, processes and empower their organization, after paying Millions in Change Requests the organization eventually chose to simply re-write some of their process to work around the integration limits of the software. These two cases are not rare, I am sure if you were to ask yourself or your own colleagues about a recent project your company implemented and the changes that business had to undertake to adapt that technology to work within your organization – I am sure many of you will be surprised.

Another leading challenge that businesses struggle with when implementing technology is understanding the people aspect. The impact that technology will have on an organization will be determined by the weakest link or in this case least understanding user. To put it another way once a technology has been implemented, if people don’t understand how to use it they will create their own workarounds to achieve their own objectives/deliverables, immediately resulting in a cascade effect of the technology not realizing its full potential. I have seen a few unique cases one a while ago of a Team Assistant downloading a corporate email directory for more than 5,000 people every Monday as she did not understand how to access the information for her team in real time through the database. Her approach achieved her required outcome to provide her team with the latest email directory every week, shortly after some of her colleagues started updating in the same way following her path to solving their problem. All of this was due to staff not being trained on the technology from their perspective, that is to say how do they need to use the technology in their daily lives and what functionality can be leveraged from the software to meet their needs. Another great example was an organization that had developed short code dialing to drive calls on-net rather than use IDD calling rates, seems very straightforward, however the business leaders had felt that sending an email to all employees would suffice on how to use this great software development. Needless to say six months into this project it was terminated as they management were not seeing the savings they had expected, three months after the project closed employees were asking why the short codes were not working anymore. Despite the business not training staff on how to use the new solution, through a process of the more technically aware staff passing information across to those less so, more than 35% of the business started to use the new on-net voice system.

As organizations and as leaders in defining the implementation and use of technology there are a number of actions we can take that will seek to improve chance of a successful introduction of technology. Businesses need to define how technology will be integrated with the way their business works or how they want their business to work moving forward and not to fall prey to reshaping their working environment or even processes around the technology they are trying to introduce. Define the business need, deliverables, what the change should bring and only then engage the technology provider with those mandates in place, ensuring any deviation from that plan is reconsidered internally as a “business first”.

Alignment between the technology function (e.g. CTO or IT) and the business units who will be the recipients of the technology to be introduced are absolutely crucial. There is a common misunderstanding of CTO’s thinking they know how to run a business and likewise business units believing they understand how the technology they use works! A crucial stage in the introduction of technology is a joint team of Business unit stakeholders and technology owners to balance the needs of the business with ease of integration into the existing IT systems and tools. You will find it very rare that the objectives of both are ever perfectly met, HOWEVER a common understanding between both sides will ensure a greater chance of success and in so doing create an impetus to consider other technology changes in the future in a mutually beneficial and understanding work place.

One final key point for consideration remains the assimilation of technology by an organization. I can imagine right now you are thinking that “well surely having completed the first two points this should be achievable” … right? Unfortunately the first two points will only provide the framework for technology to be introduced, the key step in any technology introduction is ensuring it is embraced by the organization it is destined for. I am sure many of you have seen technology projects go awry due to the users not embracing the technology through either lack of understanding or preference for the old ways of working. One method to introduce new technology is to consider a phased approach, look to those who embrace new technology and/or are technically savvy enough to be able to explain how it works and the benefits it provides to others. You will quickly see that as there are an increasing number of users embracing the use of the newly introduced technology it will be much easier to convert the technology laggards in your business through the implementation of policy updates on ways of working. Policies on using new technologies can be very useful for driving the remaining staff to the new way of working, as well as ensuring new staff are quickly up to speed on how to leverage the new technology introduced by your business. I can hear some of you thinking, “Hang on – your contradicting yourself! Now you are telling us to adapt to the technology!”, but that is not the case, what I am saying is it is important that once the new technology is introduced, whether it is communications tools, IT or new processes we always need to ensure we are clear in our own communication of how the new technology will be integrated with our current or new ways of working (???)

The challenges faced in introducing new technology into an organization remains complex and I hope to open your eyes to look at the relationships between technology and the way in which we use it in our organizations today. Technology IS an enabler to us in how we work as individuals and to the organizations we work with, it is absolutely critical that we continue to challenge the benefits that a technology will have “supposedly” have on our way of working BEFORE the project starts. There is a battle raging, but it is one we can win, as long as we take control of the goals of our business and limit technology to playing a role in the success of our business not the restriction of it.

1 comment:

Oliver said...

A very detail breakdown on the modern businesses operated today.
However, rather than putting it as a Battlefield for Business vs. Technology, won't it be better
to put them both together, collaborate and work towards a common mission statement.
In my personal opinion, there ought to be a governance in place to monitor, control and guidance provided
to bring such transformation project inline with what the organization has lay out for. The main driver for such project
has to be from some big boy in the organization where the progress of it, is their utmost priority.

We often see good project with real value benefit the growth of the company go burst. Why is this so, i often look
at it, because there is a lack of drive from the top management due to the lack of visibility, hence leading to the failure of such project.

Embarking a transformation project is a journey to the organization that require constant updates and changes to the plan to keep up with the current trend of the market. I will term this as an Enterprise Architecture within an organization. Within the EA, it covers framework and methodology that lead to the building of a Business architecture(BA) and technology architecture(TA) independently that will lead to achievement of the mission statement.

My 2 cents worth.:)