28 Feb Stay in the driver's seat, but don't ditch technology
Technology drives business. Whoa! Put down those pitchforks and torches! Calm down, people! Easy. I am not trying to start some kind of technology for technology’s sake argument here. It’s very clear that not even the people who are in the business of building and selling technology should head down that path. However, in the last twenty or so years as wave after wave of technology has washed across the business world, it became easy, accepted and even fashionable to greet every new innovation with the phrase “We can’t let technology drive our business.”
Thoughtful folks know this means that we have to understand why we are using a particular technology, what impact we expect it to have, and how we’ll assess that impact. Just spending the money isn’t enough. Unfortunately, given the harried pace of modern business, few of us have enough time to be as thoughtful as we’d like. That phrase becomes a nice way of saying, “I don’t understand technology, I don’t want to think about it, and I don’t think it’s important.”
There was a time, not so long ago, when that might have been sound business analysis.
However, just as we wouldn’t think of accepting a 25-year-old market analysis or financial projection, we shouldn’t get trapped in a 25-year-old assessment of the role of technology. It takes a prodigious amount of denial to suggest that we can afford to spend as much as we do on technology and not have it drive our businesses in some way. Yes, we need to be extremely efficient in how we spend on technology. Yes, the IT industry owes everyone a huge mea culpa for egregious gold-plating and over-promising. Yes, it boggles the mind that some scruffy-looking programmer or little box that just sits there and hums costs so much money. All true, but I have yet to hear a single voice raised to suggest that we should drive the budget for technology to zero.
Every once in a while as a consultant and writer, I come across a phrase so sweet it almost kills me to have to put quotes around. That’s how much I wish I’d said it first. Recently, listening to Mike Atkin speak as part of a UW Executive Education breakfast series on the business impacts of technology, I had one of those moments.
Mike is the executive vice president of brand marketing and creative at Duluth Trading Company and not what you’d normally call an IT guy. He said, “If a technology has any real impact, then it will have real impact on your organization.”
No one is suggesting we spend dollars on technology that has no real impact, so we must be buying technology for the express purpose of impacting our organizations, i.e., to drive our businesses in some way. The sooner we accept that reality and use that understanding to begin intelligently shaping and guiding that impact, the sooner we get control of our technology.
I guess I’m going to have to get used to my envy of Mike’s ability to turn a phrase, because just after he delivered his statement on technological impact, he delivered this corollary. “The organization, not expertise, is the hurdle.” All those programmers and call-center staff, the boxes with the blinking lights, all that brightly colored cable, and all those chirping, buzzing gizmos we have clipped to our belts; they’re all packaged and bundled technology expertise. We can go out and buy ’em. What we can’t go out and buy is our organizations’ willingness and ability to apply that expertise in meaningful ways.
So the next time you hear that little bit of shorthand business analysis, “We can’t let technology drive our business,” or the next time you’re tempted to say it yourself, just stop for a moment and consider what’s being said. For the sake of your business, I hope what’s not being said is that technology can be ignored, can be shuffled off into a backroom somewhere for some minions to take care invisibly, can be summarily excluded from any boardroom discussions. What I hope is being said is that we can’t let technology drive our business blindly anymore. We’ve been down that road, and nobody wants to go there again.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.