Are More and More Technologies Always Better for a Company?
3 problems I encountered when adopting new technologies and some advice on how to prevent them
In the time of Covid-19, everyone is praising and chasing for the high performance of technology stocks such as Facebook, Amazon, and Google. On markets, lots of people advocate digital transformation, data science, or artificial intelligence. Working in the IT Advisory industry, I want to use my work experience to help you understand why a company may not become better simply by adding more technologies into the business.
My experience of developing a software product
Last year, I was working on a project that required me to design and develop a software system for internal use of my company. The system was a combination of a database for laws and standards and a dashboard for compliance data visualization. Our team developed the software tool in an attempt to help manage the company’s data efficiently, analyze business data to create added value, and integrate resources for effective communication.
However, even with clear goals and perfectly designed user interface and experience, the system was not accepted or used by my co-workers. Why would this situation occur? Aren’t that more and more technologies always better for a company? As I dug into the case and interviewed relevant personnel, I gradually identified the problems causing this counterexample.
3 problems of the perfectly-designed but unsuccessful software
1. The product isn’t a must-have one.
Before designing and developing this product, our company already had a similar software tool for data management. It had a similar data analysis feature that can evaluate cyber risks. Though our compliance dashboard was highly improved in the aspect of its interface, experience, and major functions, it didn’t have enough pulling force to attract users to use this new software for, in their perspectives, almost the same services.
Moreover, the compliance software didn’t help the consultants with their work directly. To be more specific, each consultant’s daily work was to deal with their project clients, while other project clients of our company might be none of their business. In other words, they had no incentive to use the compliance software to help manage all the other clients’ data when they could spend the same amount of time managing their clients’ just using Excel.
Last but not least, the compliance tool’s goal was too far away from the consultants’ current business objectives. For instance, the data analytics and visualization were for long-term monitoring of our company’s business. It might be able to help develop potential business projects or observe a time-trend of clients’ compliance results. However, the value could not be generated in a short time, suggesting that it could not help score high on the consultants’ yearly performance objectives set up by my boss. Thus, the software was ignored by most consultants.
2. The business complexity is not seriously considered.
On the compliance dashboard, one of the main functions we provided was to automatically create standardized evaluation sheets and performance reports for the consultants when auditing their clients. Nevertheless, as an IT advisory company, we have so many different types of business that would make it hard to include all the required evaluation criteria for each project. In the same words, the evaluation sheets and final reports for every client would be hard to formalize.
In addition, the information a consultant liked to refer would be different from another, but it’s hard to customize for each project in the system. For instance, the compliance tool used checklist boxes for users to choose the laws or standards they need and automatically produce a reference for them. Nonetheless, even though working on the same type of business, clients in different regions or industries with different scales had to follow different laws and standards. Since the checklist boxes provided limited choices for users, it could not satisfy every project’s requirement.
Finally, the government regulations mandate independence considerations for audit firms, and most contracts specified the prohibition of information disclosure. That is to say, although in the same company, every consultant of the company had different access authorities to clients’ data. To comply with all the regulations, we had to set strict and complex access control mechanisms on the compliance dashboard, making integrating those data into a system mostly meaningless.
3. Users are reluctant to change or trust new technology.
Moving to a new, unfamiliar environment can be painful, especially when you are used to the original one for a long time. Likewise, most people would be unwilling to use new software after years of using Excel and Word to deal with data and reports. This situation occurred after we presented our compliance tool to all of the consultants in our company, most of them refusing to switch to an unfamiliar system simply because Excel and Word were more familiar to them and made them more comfortable.
Besides, every consultant had their ways of working when dealing with the same thing, and making changes would cause more problems. For example, when evaluating clients’ IT systems, some consultants would like to add an extra column into the evaluation sheets while others suggested it unnecessary. In another case, one consultant had a different evaluation procedure from the others, but the system required them to use the same one. In both cases, adjusting their work habits might lead to a decrease in efficiency or clients’ satisfaction. Due to these obstacles, many consultants would choose not to use our new compliance tool.
Lastly, users’ unfamiliarity with the new technology may cause the distrust of a new work system. For instance, even though the users were willing to accept the idea that more business value could be created through the new compliance tool, they might hesitate to switch to the new tool since they didn’t know whether the system was reliable enough. To be more specific, they might be worried that if the new system fails one day, all the data presented to the clients would be incorrect. Therefore, the unsureness of the future of the compliance software made the trust difficult to build.
How to avoid these problems?
Such experience helped me realize implementing new technologies into a company will not always turn out to be a greater outcome. Blindly following others to digitally transform a business is nothing to be proud of. Then, how should we know if one technology will suit a company and create tangible results? Here are 3 steps that I suggest you conduct when evaluating the fitness of one technology or applying new technology into your company.
Step#1. Ask WHY
When you are considering whether a company should implement new technology, I believe the first step you should do is always asking why the company needs it. For example, does the company has specific pain points that can be solved directly by this technology? Also, check if there exists a product that has similar functions with that new technology. If so, is this new one a must-have product despite the existing one? Furthermore, the purposes of this new technology should align with the company’s belief or help reach business goals.
Step#2. Think about HOW to achieve the WHY
After defining the new technology's objective and confirming its feasibility, the company should consider setting up a solution with the procedure of the methodologies. If you are the implementer, plan that solution for your company. This process may include taking the business diversity and complexity into careful account. How are the company going to implement this technology in different businesses for different clients at different locations? Besides, don’t forget to think over government regulations and agreements with clients and external units.
Step#3. Concretize WHAT to do to fulfill the HOW
Having decided a solution of adopting the technology, the company needs to put its effort into arranging and executing concrete works. Asking what should be done to perfectly integrate this technology into the company and its business? For instance, the company’s CEO or senior managers may have to make a mandatory policy that forces every employee to use this technology. Some incentives should also be provided to the target users to change their habits and adopt the technology. If you are implementing the technology into your company, break down these to-do things and complete them one by one.
“The latest technology is not always good for anything except to the producers of the technology.”-Wendell Berry
More technologies are not always better. Adopt them wisely with thorough consideration and make your own decision in a world that everyone follows technologies like sheep. After all, you are going to create high added value without wasting time and effort.