Business technology is a continually changing landscape, but one underlying theme seems to remain constant – the general presumption on the part of sellers AND buyers (especially buyers!) is that their new technology will magically cure a business of all its ills. Since many of you are likely buyers of this stuff, take note.
I think this fallacy of thinking transcends the saccharine marketing tactics and arm-waving that normally accompanies these offerings. Sure, a slick sales and marketing troupe can juice the numbers, but there’s more to it.
The deeper message is that we, all of us, are predisposed to WANT to believe in a cure-all.
It’s as true for business & technology as it is for weight-loss, depression, ADHD, and erectile dysfunction. We have been falling for the same old Medicine Show forever, only have our own naive human nature to blame.
During the late 1880s and all the way up to WWII, Medicine Shows peddled their dubious Snake Oil offerings all over the USA. Trumpeting cures for everything from arthritis to cancer, these guys were enthusiastically welcomed into communities despite the dim prospects for validating their claims.
That was a long time ago but how less true is it today? How often are we still willing to download the responsibility for our own well-being onto a pill? How often would we rather buy our way out of organizational inefficiencies with the purchase of a new software application than undertake the grind of fixing a broken or outdated business process?
We have made massive technological advances in both medicine and software and continue to create innovations that move us forward, enhancing user experience as we learn from our mistakes. The outcomes resulting from today’s medicinal fixes may be more tangible today due to the advent of regulation and certain minimum standards (when operating under the auspices of the FDA… not always the case!). The outcomes from new software are improving, but the human element is still critical for driving user adoption.
But there are side-effects. Beyond the cash out of pocket, what price will be paid? A well known anti-depressant lists the following as possible side-effects:
I’ll allow for the fact there are tens of thousands of legal hours that go into these disclosure documents to protect against litigation, but holy smokes man! There’s a couple real dealbreakers there in my view.
So how about new business technology? What sort of side-effects may result?
• The need for extensive training
• Upgrades to hardware
• Incompatibility with other business software
• Inability to capture the business processes properly
• Retaining business processes unsuited to the new environment
• Time to implementation
• Cost of consultants and additional IT guys
• Continued risk of obsolescence
• Internal resistance to change
Examining the possible side-effects and unintended consequences is a critical element of ANY software selection process. Software salesmen won’t be able to distill this inevitable contingency. They didn’t concoct this brew, they just sell it. I’ve known software salesmen that can barely crack open an Excel doc without crashing their computer. Only through a reflective process within your own company can you hypothesize on how the introduction of new technology will affect operations.
Further, it is absolutely critical to examine your existing business processes in the context of a new software. The tendency is to try and maintain existing processes even though they may be as obsolete as the outgoing software. For example, a local company was implementing a new system. The works! ERP, Accounting, and CRM. These systems would aaaallll work together.
Oh, but they weren’t going to purchase the Financial Statement Consolidation Module. They would develop a work-around in Excel instead. It was not surprising to me that they had already failed once on an implementation (to the tune of $2 million bucks).
At the opposite end of the spectrum, I saw a company bring in a powerful reporting technology and allowed a whole bunch of poorly trained users to run hog wild in there significantly reducing the value of the system. The reports being produced could not be trusted. The fix was to lock everything down and bottleneck the reporting process which just led to more work-arounds as users were unwilling to wait it out.
The software being produced today tends to follow a Best Practice approach. If you choose to proceed outside of that framework, it might be an indication that your company is operating outside of Best Practice.
The truth about business software is that it’s work. Productivity gains resulting from new systems are typically back-end loaded. On the front-end, there’s cost, there’s risk, there’s effort, there’s training, there’s the harsh reality that can only come from looking in the mirror and facing the truth about how work ACTUALLY gets done.
Understanding this means burying the Medicine Show paradigm.
Geoff Devereux as been active in Vancouver’s technology start-up community for the past 5 years. He regularly attends and contributes to the growing entrepreneurial ecosystem in the city through the Vancouver Enterprise Forum, guest blogging on Techvibes.com, and as a mentor with ISS of BC. Prior to getting lured into tech start-ups, Geoff worked in various fields including a 5 year stint in a tax accounting firm. He is currently working in a marketing/social media role with Indicee, a Saas Business Intelligence company, bringing B.I. to mere mortals.