insights & research

Be Smart About Technology

Technology has transformed almost every aspect of our lives and organizations in recent decades. It has become the crucial conduit that facilitates the flow of knowledge, communications, data and ultimately, wealth. Given its impact, it’s hardly surprising that many organizations have developed the habit of looking to technology interventions to solve nearly any business problem that arises, usually to reduce costs and increase efficiency.  But like many habits, an addiction to technology is frequently unhelpful, often disruptive and always expensive.

Technology projects are often costly, both in terms of equipment purchases and technical expertise. As a result, technology departments are unfortunately often viewed as necessary but expensive cost centers rather than potential sources of organizational innovation. Internal and external technology consultants are often seen as attempting to justify their existence by pushing technological solutions onto busy staff. Too often such technology interventions can be conceptualized badly before the installation begins and implemented badly after the installation ends. In contrast, visionary leaders know that technology should be a strategic contributor to the profitability of an organization. They ensure technological investments are targeted wisely and implemented well.

Given finite resources, organizations need to ensure technology investments are directly tied to the achievement of strategic objectives. In making a pitch for a new technology investment, a senior technology manager must show the CEO how it is clearly aligned with at least one strategic organizational goal or objective, and provide an outline of its expected impact.  Organizational   challenges – which may turn out to be opportunities in disguise – need to be well defined and clearly understood before any course of action can be seen as a solution. The best solution may not turn out to be a technology solution at all. A technological solution applied to a structural or leadership problem simply provides an expensive, though typically short-lived, distraction. Worse still, inappropriately applied technology may cause new problems, and will almost certainly erode employee good-will necessary for future technological implementations.  Then, if thorough analysis determines that a technology investment is appropriate, end-users must be engaged in developing performance goals outlining exactly how the technology will address their daily needs. Expressing clear and specific performance goals in the terminology of the end users will improve commitment to the eventual implementation. Tying technology projects to strategic performance goals improves the likelihood of significant innovation and positive organizational change.

Even with a well-defined problem, an appropriate technological solution, clear performance goals and knowledgeable leadership, projects can flounder upon implementation. Users, who may be intimidated by new technology, must be trained how to use the new equipment to achieve the performance goals. Building support among users must start with a focus on how the technology will make their lives easier, or solve problems they are encountering.
Inter-departmental rivalries can also delay successful implementation. Many technical projects require acceptance across various departments, each of which place a different level of importance on the technology change. Strong leadership skills are needed to ensure smooth implementation in cases where a department’s specific objectives or performance may not be enhanced by the new technology, but its enthusiastic adoption is crucial to the welfare of the organization as a whole.

Upon completion, a well-designed assessment should evaluate the achievement of the performance goals and the learning that occurred throughout the process, to develop recommendations for future technology investments. Debriefing should include all affected departments, as well as customers if appropriate, to capture the widest range of perspectives.

In a world filled with exciting new tools, rapidly changing client demands and a wide range of new methods for delivering technology solutions, it’s clear that organizations neglect technology at their peril. However, it is crucial to ensure that solutions match problems, outcomes further strategic goals, and implementation satisfies user need and increases user commitment. When done well, technology investments can pay off with increased organizational innovation and profitability.

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