Technology is a word with a wide meaning.
In our information age, we tend to think of technology as being something computerised, something involving devices. But I tend to think of it as a tool, something that enables, rather than something which is the whole story in itself. Paper is a technology, for instance, as is wood, or metal.
Technology’s value lies in the outcomes it facilitates: this is something which is summarised as business value or business outcomes. Interesting though the technology might be intrinsically – it’s more about what it helps you to do or offer to your customers. That might seem obvious to state but after having run a few of these projects now, this seems to be one of the hardest aspects for stakeholders and project team members alike to understand.
Keeping that in mind is a crucial aspect of understanding how a change in technology might open up the possibility of competitive advantage if you and your organisation can also change your processes as a result.
“Competitive advantage” is a neat way of saying that you can change the way you work to be cheaper/faster/better than your competitors. Technological change allows you to change the way you work but in itself, it isn’t guaranteed to save you money and in some cases, it can end up costing you money unless you’re prepared to change both your organisational structure and the way you work. For example, I work in Information Technology helping organisations move to the cloud – specifically, the Microsoft Cloud.
Moving to the cloud means that you can remove your own in-house IT infrastructure completely – yet this step tends to be one of the hardest to accept for IT professionals who have spent 30 years maintaining their own servers. As a result, there can often be a delay after the completion of a cloud transition before the on-premise infrastructure is decommissioned.
Loss aversion – what we have we hold – is one of our key behavioural biases as human beings – and that explains why suddenly half way through cloud transition projects you can sometimes hear IT colleagues saying they want to use the freed-up on premise infrastructure for other purposes. This punches a hole in the business case for most cloud mobilisations but the IT colleagues feel this allows them some control over the change – even though there’s no rational case for retaining old infrastructure once you’ve made the break into the world of cloud computing. The only case for doing it is emotional – it makes the IT people feel they’ve retained a bit of control.
So when you’re looking at using technology to achieve a business outcome – to make something or provide a service more quickly, or more cheaply – you ignore the people and organisational aspects at your own peril. In my business analysis training I was exposed to a conceptual model which put technology at the heart of an interlocked and inter-connected matrix. I didn’t quite get the importance of understanding these relationships until I worked on a project with a reluctant sponsor, which was about making it easier for people to pay online for school-related items. The move to a better system meant that large amounts of current processes were now redundant: but the discussions with the people involved become how the new system could be reconciled with the familiar, old, system – the concept that the old system could be dropped was a conceptual risk too far for the people involved and I had to reconcile myself to following a phased approach, involving a period of parallel running, before confidence levels rose enough to permit the old system finally being switched off.