24 May How low (tech) must you go?
How low can you go? No, I’m not setting up a limbo line for the WTN readership. The question is more directed at how much low tech is required to get high tech off the ground in your organization.
What got me paying attention to this was the latest spat of identify theft stories. Turns out the perps are not the archetypal Dorito-munching, Dew-swilling hackers but instead, folks on the inside, culinary habits unknown. In one case a bank gave its customer list to some one posing as a private investigator, (Open a new account, get a background check!) who then turned around and sold it to collection agencies. In another case, a financial planner had his laptop stolen out of his car with information on over 10,000 customers on the hard drive. Neither approach was particularly high tech, more opportunistic smash and grab.
But the low tech/high tech collision isn’t just a security concern. There’s a mall opening in Ohio that serves e-commerce. Now, I have to admit, I always thought of e-biz and malls as locked in some kind of celebrity death match. There was a kind of prurient pleasure in watching them beat the heck out of each other, and I didn’t really care who won.
Well, like a Fox reality show, that season is past.
Traditional retail and e-com are finding new ways to live together and in this particular incarnation, this mall is addressing a major limitation of buying over the net. Once you push past that giddy rush of early adopters, there are a lot of people who like to touch, feel, sniff and even try out before they make a purchase decision. Pretty low tech, but a critical part of the process.
When you enter this mall you’re given a gizmo that will reveal prices on the items you’re browsing, tell you availability, and even have it shipped to your house from a remote warehouse. Most items aren’t available to take home on the spot. You can even give it your credit card info to use when you tell it you’re ready to buy so you don’t have to pull the pesky thing out but once on entering the mall (no security concerns there I’m sure). The bottom line is that the mall has the usual ability to let you browse and buy stuff without the overhead of on-site storage and a whole graduating class of minimum wage “associates.” My sources were mute on whether or not the mall experience would be completed by robotic gangs of giggling, shouting teenagers.
The bottom line is that even the best of our high tech needs some low tech where it meets us no tech human beings. Certainly the usability crowd has been pushing this agenda for a while, but this is more than just a design issue. It has to do with that part of systems that is not particularly susceptible to engineering, well designed or not—the context in which a system gets used. Even though we can’t wheel out the usual engineering canon of tools, methodologies, and best practices, we’re still not off the hook.
A ways back, the Harvard Business Review sent a ripple through the customer satisfaction sampling industry by suggesting there’s only one question that really maps to satisfaction and return business and that’s “Would you recommend this service or product to a friend?” The ever popular features, ease of use, or price simply weren’t good predictors.
Seems that satisfaction isn’t one thing, it’s many things. It is a feeling and experience and as such is not usually neatly packaged, tightly constrained, or well defined. In other words, many of the attributes of good technology do not cleanly translate into good experience. Low-tech, that child of common sense and deep understanding, steps into that breach between high-tech and no-tech. Getting the best technical minds together isn’t enough to create high impact technology, that is, if you want to be sure and avoid re-creating the latest meteor disaster flick within your organization.
It’s time to queue Jimi and ask, “Are you experienced?” Are you and your engineers doing what you have to do to be experienced with the ways of your users and of their customers and clients? This isn’t the usual call to go get an MBA before you dare breathe a word of IT on your business. It’s about going out and encountering the context for our technologies in the daily work lives of non-technologists. We have to be experienced with that environment as it is, not as we wish it to be for our convenience. Only then will we be able to identify the necessary low tech bridges between the boxes and the humans.
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.