In a recent interview with a member of our Corporate Advisory Council (CAC), we got into a discussion regarding the use of technology in the workspace. Being on the older side of the organizational spectrum, we both marveled at how prevalent technology has become during our respective professional careers. Yet, in the very same breath, lamented on the realization that most employees had only a cursory knowledge of individual technology tools and, further, had no real orientation on how different technology “solutions” fit together across operational platforms and organizational “fiefdoms”. In a sense, while technology has proliferated across organizations, little has been done to effectively plan and integrate multiple solutions into a comprehensive, fully-utilized working set of tools. As a university that prides itself on keeping abreast of emerging industry trends, we had to ask ourselves the question: is it possible to teach technology proficiency?
It is important to note that this problem is hardly new. Back a few decades ago when accounting software became available for PCs, small businesses immediately ran out to buy the latest programs – with Peachtree, Solomon and Great Plains being a few of the primary players. What started to happen was that these businesses were buying relatively comprehensive systems (for that time period!) and only utilizing baseline functionality. In fact, at one point, we did a study and determined that most Great Plains users were only tapping into about 17% of the capabilities of the software. For us, as consultants at the time, we were able to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of most small businesses by merely unlocking a higher level of capability from these existing software systems.
Jump to the present period and technology tools have multiplied on a level that is almost hard to fathom – and there is no anticipated slowdown in sight! As such, that little glimpse that we experienced a few decades ago with Great Plains users has taken on an insurmountable challenge as these specialized tools can be found in even the smallest of companies – let along the challenges being faced by large, decentralized organization.
So, what is the teachable solution? Obviously, trying to remain abreast of each new technology solution in the marketplace is not possible – and positions any user in a “follower” orientation where trying to keep up with innovation is a losing proposition. Accordingly, we are looking to structure our educational programs to “teach” the following:
- Before enlisting the use of any new technology tool ask the basic question: what will this tool do that will add value to my organization? The simple checklist of answers focuses on the basic value propositions: will it increase revenues, decrease costs or mitigate risks? If the answer is none of the above, it probably doesn’t make sense to integrate this solution into your organization. If alternatively, you can measure the effectiveness of adding this solution, you have, by default, established a performance benchmark which should be used for the life of this technology solution as a means to justify its use.
- What are the data flows both into and out of the technology solution and what other systems/ users either rely on or utilize the same data flows? As part of the problem today is the advent of “standalone” technology solutions, there is a need to find ways to seamlessly integrate multiple solutions under a single operational track. By doing so helps ensure that data doesn’t become redundant (a scary word in today’s data protection age!) and, no unnecessary processes are implemented that would only increase the cost of operations.
- What is the expected life of this solution? Let’s face it, none of us (presumably!) use floppy discs anymore. Heck, most of us are using PCs that no longer have CD slots. As with any hardware, software also has a foreseeable lifespan – in most cases less than 3 years. Yet, when we look at organizations there is often a struggle to integrate new solutions with outdated, yet still functional, “old” technologies. This challenge of trying to “marry” technology opposites has a single expected outcome: failure on both sides of the technology solution – an under-utilization of the new solution with a counter action of exceeding the capabilities of the old solution.
- Finally, going back to the ever-familiar corporate component model, what will the impact of the technology have on operations and organizational roles and responsibilities and, as importantly, how will this solution allow for the achievement of the organization’s strategic plan? Getting new technology solutions just to be part of the crowd is a recipe for disaster. Knowing, however, how it will be used to effectively improve an organization is key for leveraging the technology innovation wave.
As a university, it is our mission to equip our students to ask the right questions when faced with any form of uncertainty. In the case of technology, where uncertainty is a daily condition, it is our hope that our students take a pragmatic and directed approach to drive technology into higher levels of utilization and not become, like many current users, just along for the ride.