Technology changes the way we work, live our lives, and have fun. Technology can empower businesses with improvements in productivity, faster development and production cycles, superior decision making by employees, and enhanced customer service. But deriving these benefits from incorporating new technology is not always a smooth process. Technology is often, at first, disruptive before it becomes empowering.
Although the ideas developed in this article may have general applicability, they are mainly intended to relate to the incorporation of new information and communications technologies into business processes. Information technologies involve computers and their peripheral equipment as well as the data flow across local area networks. Communications involve any voice and video activity including the telephone system and related equipment as well as the communications pathways creating the wide area networks.
Technology Changes Business Processes
Every action conducted within a business is part of one process or another. Sometimes the processes are easily defined and readily observable, as in the path of a purchase order. At other times, the process is not so clear but nevertheless it still exists even if by default.
New technologies are introduced into business to:
- Speed up existing processes
- Extend the capabilities of existing processes
- Change the processes
In changing the processes, the new technologies will often allow new ways of conducting business that were not previously possible.
Other than simply speeding up existing processes, new technologies will be disruptive when first introduced. This results from having to change patterns of behavior and/or relationships with others. When disruption occurs, productivity often suffers at first, until such time as the new processes become as familiar as the old ones. At this point, hopefully, the goal has been achieved of reaching a higher level of productivity than the level at which it started before the introduction of the new technology.
Therefore a common cycle that occurs with the introduction of new technologies includes:
- Lower productivity, and, finally,
- A higher plateau of productivity than the starting point
The obvious goals for introducing new technologies are to:
- Minimize the disruption
- Minimize the time it takes to increase productivity
- Maximize the gain in productivity
In achieving these goals it is helpful to understand the:
- Context in which the processes operate, that is, who will be impacted by changes in the specific processes affected
- Democratizing potential of technology
- Types of people that will react in very different ways to new technologies
The processes by which a company operates and the introduction of new technologies do not exist in isolation. Both of these exist within a context that may be a part of and affect:
- The social relationships within an organization and possibly with companies with whom you conduct business
- Political (power) structures within an organization
- How individuals view themselves and their abilities
Technology can be democratizing. If it is used to create and disseminate information useful to the mission and goals of the business, it can be a great equalizer between "levels" of management and staff. The key word is "disseminate." If access to the information is decentralized, and easy communication of the information is allowed, then "front line" workers can improve the quantity and quality of decisions they make without having to involve layers of management.
Types of People from a Technology Perspective
From a perspective of introducing new technology into your company, you may find it helpful to understand the following four types of people:
Innovators/embracers will investigate new technologies on their own. They will sometimes be helpful to introducing new technologies that would otherwise not have been known to the company. They will sometimes be a "thorn" in pushing for new technologies they think will be useful (or just "neat" to have) but do not fit the company's agenda or objectives. These people will embrace new technologies when introduced by others, will often be the first ones to fully incorporate and make use of it, and could help others to fully utilize new technologies.
Enthusiasts will accept new technology enthusiastically. They won't usually seek it out but will be eager to incorporate it into their processes where appropriate. As a result of their openness, they will often readily learn how to use the new technology and may also be useful in assisting others through the learning process.
Acceptors will accept new technology because it is required. They will not seek it out. In fact, they will often try to avoid it at first until they are forced to accept it. Once they understand the new technology is here to stay, they will willingly learn how to benefit from it or, at least, live with it.
Naysayers habitually oppose new technologies and often are very vocal about their opposition. They often gripe about any changes and will often never change if they don't have to or they quit before they are made to change "the way they do things."
The productivity vs. time curve will look different for each of these types of people. Think of how each person in your own organization fits into these four types. Think of how that impacts deriving the full benefits that you've carefully targeted. Think of how that impacts your ability to discover additional benefits once the technologies are implemented. Understanding the differences can help smooth out the rough spots during and after the implementation process.
Lessen the Disruption; Increase the Empowerment
Understanding the context in which processes exist, the democratizing potential of technology, and the types of people will help you achieve the goals stated above for a more rapid payoff from a smoother introduction of new technologies.
In addition, make the new technologies transparent to the user or, at least, make them as intuitive to operate as possible. Extra time in pre-planning the introduction of new technologies and training employees in the use of the technologies can provide a return many times greater than the hours spent in planning and training. You can achieve faster increases in productivity, reduced impact on customers, and lower burdens on support staff.