~Robert P. Vanderpoel
Change doesn’t always get the most positive reaction in any environment, particularly in business. How do I know this? Working in technology for over 20 years has provided a pretty good illustration. In fact, in the early days of my career in technology, I used to say that I would like to do the same thing twice, just once!
Change is not always good, but I think it is fair to say that most of the time technology changes do bring productivity. Even in instances where productivity is not evident; there is a real incentive to move forward with technology. Over the years I have seen many companies who do not want to upgrade, or do not want to change their line-of-business software, or do not want to move to that new version of Windows. I can tell you that in every single case I can think of, staying with the old did not serve them well.
Why is this? Well, the problem with technology is that it moves quickly. Even if there is no immediate advantage to the new software or the new update, eventually the old stuff is no longer practical to support. There is a reasonable window of time to wait before upgrading, but pushing that window too long creates issues. And, those who stay on an old, discontinued, or unsupported platform almost always incur a great price either in money, productivity, worry, or downtime.
How do we manage and plan for technology change in our business? Here are a few guidelines:
Change for the Sake of Change
I think back to discussion in college management class of the Hawthorne Effect. Changes in lighting in a manufacturing environment produced positive results regardless of what the changes were, brighter or dimmer. As long as there was a change that was perceived as trying to improve things for workers, it improved attitude and production. Sometimes we just need change to get us and our teams out of our comfort zone and thinking about how to improve and do things better! Think about something simple like adding that second monitor to a desk. Studies clearly show it is a real productivity builder, but it also provides a not so obvious benefit by showing the recipient that they matter and making them more productive is important.
Technology Lifecycle Change
As it relates to technology, 4 years is about 62. It is time to start planning for retirement. This does not fit every device, but certainly computers and servers. There is a hardware failure likelihood curve that increases exponentially after 4 years. Besides the hardware issue, it is generally a good idea to reevaluate everything at the about the 4 year mark. Consider your line of business software. Is it meeting your needs? Is there something better? Are there new features that you need to stay competitive? What new technology might produce positive change in your environment?
Change Your Security
If you are still using 4, 6, or 8 year old security measures, you are at risk. Wireless security of the past (WEP), simple passwords like bo, sally or password1, firewalls that only do stateful packet inspection, and other security practices of the past should all be abolished. I can’t tell you how often I see basic security rules broken. These practices too should be reviewed or audited on a regular basis. Eventually being lax in this area does have a price. I can think of an instance recently where weak passwords allowed someone to break into a mail server and wreak havoc.
Industry Changes and Trends
We can’t always be the first to adopt a new technology that will impact our business positively, and honestly, sometimes it does not pay to be the first. However, if you have not at least considered the value of using a tablet, smartphone, remote access, webmail, or social media, you might be behind the times.
Not every new thing is a good thing. In the last 20 years I have made mistakes on both sides of the spectrum. Moving to a new technology that is not ready yet is as detrimental as moving to one too late. The single best way I have found to validate a new technology is to interview others in your industry about how they use the product. Ask the hard questions and dig deep about those areas the concern you.
Processes are one of those dynamic areas of our business that sometimes we ignore. If it works, why fix it? Have you ever looked at how things are being done in your own business or department and thought “We do that! Why?”
When evaluating business processes as they relate to technology and particularly automating the flow of information, we often find that in spite of technology improvement, people keep doing things the same way. For instance, many times people scan in paper documents, but still store them on paper and route multiple copies to multiple locations. Typically they do this simply because this is the way it always has been done. A few tweaks to the process and some technology to insure that the scanned documents are secure and quickly searchable and the paper can safely and legally be shredded. The follow up here and in so many cases is that once the technology is in place, someone has to make sure the process is changed. Nobody needs extra work!
Making change a system in your organization can produce amazing results. Technology is continually changing, and as I encounter successful organizations, I find that they have a culture of change. They adopt the right technology quickly and those in key positions are always looking for ways to better the organization. As they say in the manufacturing environment, continuous improvement. Where is the fun in staying the same anyway?