Why technology sometimes fails to deliver the promised outcomes

Navigating and adapting to change to ensure the success of your business.

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Imagine a logistics business in a fictional country which is still making all its deliveries using horses and carts. This worked well in the past, but now there is a rumor that an internet shopping and delivery company is coming, and the business has to upgrade. So, they invite sales teams to make a pitch – for trucks, quad bikes, solar-powered drones – whatever you can think of.

The first step in the selection process is to set criteria. They take a survey across the business and one of the things this establishes is that quite recently they bought an enormous amount of hay. So, number one on the list of criteria is that the new transport, whatever it is, must be fueled by hay. This cuts out all of the prospects except one – the guy who sold them the original carts.

Upgrading technology

It won’t come as any surprise to the readers of CIO.com that sometimes technology upgrades don’t work out. The example above is ludicrous, but it illustrates the point that getting a good result starts with the procurement process.

The important point to focus on is – what is the business outcome we want to achieve? In our example above, the business leaders have an urgent requirement to deliver items more quickly and at lower cost. Using up the hay should never have made it on to the list.

Businesses do tend to structure their procedures and processes around the technology that is available to them. And when they invest in new technology, they need to be open to new ways of working to get the benefit. Having an attitude that “that’s the way we do it and the technology needs to support that” is limiting and it lessens the likelihood of success. The same is true for: “show me how your technology can do exactly what my current technology does.”  A better approach is to ask “Is our process around this still the best way of achieving our desired result? Is there a better way of doing this now?”

Appealing to your users and sharing the vision

Another aspect of getting to the benefit of a new technology upgrade is getting most people across the business on board. Returning to our fictional horse and cart operation, let’s say they eventually re-thought their procurement processes and selected the solar-powered drones. We can imagine that moving to them would be pretty challenging. It would require a good deal of change, right across the organization. How should they manage that?

The first step is to share the vision of what is going to happen with all the employees. That global e-tail competitor looming on the horizon is going to offer to deliver things in much less time for much less money. Currently it takes the standard one-horse cart around three days to travel a hundred miles. That’s not sustainable, therefore business leaders need to make the case for change and explain the risks of doing nothing.

Utilizing your team, resources and incentives

They need to put the very best people - the people they can’t really afford to commit - onto this project and give them the resources they need to make this a success. That’s better than hiring someone new because when those highly-trusted and valued people come back to the board to pass on bad news or say they need more funding, the chances are they will get a favorable hearing. Assigning these people involves investment - making sure they have the hours available to do this properly.

Also, a business can’t assume that everyone is on board. There is likely to be resistance to the change. In our example, some people who work for this company really love horses. They are never going to be interested in working with drones. Those employees are currently going through the motions while looking for other horse-related jobs. That’s their choice - this is a free fictional country.

But throughout the business there are other people who really get it, they understand the threat, the urgency and are super-excited and motivated to get the best out of this fabulous zero-emission new technology. When business leaders come across these people, they put them in positions where they can champion the change and enthuse others.

Training and incentives are made available to everyone to adopt the change. Our example company, Horse and Cart Deliveries, is also offering a group incentive: if 80% of the employees pass a drone-control test by the end of the quarter, everyone gets a day off.

The next step is to break down the journey to get to the business benefit - delivering goods quicker and at lower cost - into steps. How does each role across the business contribute to that? Who educates customers about what to expect from drone delivery? Who programs the drones? Who monitors customer satisfaction?

When people are clear about what is expected of them and know they will be held accountable for delivering it, they can focus on what they need to do in order that they, and the business, succeed.

Being patient with the process

This kind of change is an ongoing process. It is not finished, for example, on the day that the drones are first used, it takes a longer period to embed the change and to see improvements in customer satisfaction and business performance coming through.

And business leaders should communicate those successes wherever possible, “We know it has been challenging moving to a new technology - it’s early days but we have already improved delivery times by 1000%.”

The fundamental point is that it is not the technology that drives the change and delivers business benefit, it is the people who are using it who do that.

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