Technology not a panacea

Often in the boardrooms and back rooms of corporations, discussions are carried on and decisions made that have far reaching implications for thousands of employees. Yet, all too often, those thousands of end users of technology and policy decisions are not factored into the equation enough, according to IT consultants and analysts.

So do yourself a big favour and ask yourself two key questions before your next IT implementation is pushed forward. How many people will this technology really affect and have I spoken to them in detail to get their input?

“Absolutely not,” is how Peter de Jager plainly responds to the question whether companies spend enough time thinking about the effects technology implementations have on companies and their employees.

“We don’t take into account that people will resist the change, it always comes as a surprise to us and we don’t have any empathy for that resistance,” he explained.

“That anxiety (to change) did not exist six to eight years ago – more in the last three to five years because of all of the turnover and downsizing,” said Christine A. Boynton, an independent senior consultant based in Montreal.

“They are starting to realize [that] considering the impact on employees is more important than just a successful implementation,” she added.

And considering the impact is more than just getting employees to buy into a plan. “The moment you start to use the phrase, ‘buy in,’ you are already half way down the wrong path,” said de Jager, a speaker and consultant based in Brampton, Ont.

“If you can get your end users in on the decision as to which of the products out there you are going to select, and get the end user to admit that actually technology is required to fix problem, if you do this they will beat down your door to remedy it.”

Ask employees where they would like to be, technologically speaking, in the future and they will be more prone to embracing new solutions.

“You as the managers and CEOs have something in mind, which is why you are initiating something… [and] as good manager you can steer the process, [but it is] just steering, you are not in total command of the ship,” de Jager said.

When end users are part of the vision-building process, they feel like a part of the solution and are less likely to fight it, he added.

“If you say ‘I have a vision,’ then you have to sell your vision…And you are faced with a huge problem because it is yours, it is not theirs.”

Ask yourself a question. When was the last time you had a great deal of passion about someone else’s project?

Getting employees to be enthusiastic about any change starts with communication, communication and more communication. And more often than not it just isn’t there.

“People are less afraid of change if they know what is going to happen…There is more tension if you are not aware of what is going on,” Boynton said.

“Making sure that people feel part of the initiative and that they know what to expect,” is one of the keys to a successful new IT implementation, according to Jean Allan, corporate vice-president of service and alliance marketing with DMR Consulting in Montreal.

Stephen Lane, research director IT services with the Aberdeen Group in Boston, agrees with this assessment.

“I call it ‘IT Initiative 101.'”

He said it is one of the three keys to successful implementations, as important as executive sponsorship and specifically defining the problem or issue to be solved.

finding the problem

While there are probably as many reasons for changing corporate technology as there are technologies, certain truisms remain constant.

“Good technology decisions are rarely made on the basis of technology anymore,” Lane explained.

“Very seldom is the problem either about or solved by technology on its own,” said Peter Chiddy executive vice-president in charge of Canadian operations with KPMG Consulting in Toronto.

The first tasks, not always simple ones, are to define the business problem your company is trying to solve and to create a clear path to its successful solution.

Take CRM implementations for example. Far too often in the past, and to a lesser extent today, companies have viewed this as some sort of plug-and-play technology solution, not a company-wide change in methodology.

When a new type of technology is introduced into the corporate world, companies need to see it as a tool not a solution. CRM has always been around, according to de Jager, it is just now there is more of a technology side to it.

“CRM is not a package, though the [company solution] might need a CRM package as part of the solution,” Allan said. In addition companies need to make sure all those ultimately effected by something like CRM are there at the beginning and not brought in as an afterthought.

“It is very often the matter of getting the right (internal) people around the table (at the start),” Allan explained.

“If you don’t have (them) sitting in on the defining (of) the CRM initiative…the head of marketing, the people that lead the business side, the COO and the IT people, you are missing a key ingredient.”

hired guns

Once all the necessary internal people are on board companies have two basic choices; use in-house people to look at the problem or hire outside consultants. Not surprisingly the consultants say the latter is a good way to go and, though the argument has merit, one must realize consultants are not completely objective.

“The concept of vendor agnosticism or vendor neutrality is something of a myth in the consulting world,” Lane warned.

With the myriad of potential solutions to a given problem, it is not surprising that consultants gravitate toward specific solutions provided by specific companies.

de Jager said companies can certainly look for solutions themselves but he added one important caveat. “They [have to be] able to look at themselves from the outside,” he said.

“The accusations that a consultant takes your watch and tells you the time are said in a nasty way, but in a sense it is exactly what we do,” he explained.

“But we take the watch and look at it differently that you have done before and present you some outside views. The very act of bringing in someone from the outside allows you to think outside the box.”

Getting someone else’s perspective can be very important since most companies will have biases that run parallel to internal divisions, de Jager said. Marketing and sales may see one side of an implementation, IT another and HR a third.

But de Jager warned that consultants are not entirely infallible.

“I am not suggesting for an instant that the consultant’s perspective is necessarily the right one…When you bring in an outsider you are paying for the new perspective, you are not paying for them to be right,” he said rather matter of factly.

“But, a lot of times, it just creates a discussion which is healthy.”

briefs or boxers?

Once the problem or necessary change has been properly identified and all those affected included in the process, the technology end of the solution often falls into the age-old high tech conundrum: one suite or best of breed.

“It has been argued for the 25 years I have been in this business and will probably be argued long after I am gone,” Lane joked.

His experience has been that integrated suites don’t always provide the ideal solution, whereas best of breed, not surprisingly, is more difficult from integration perspective. It needs to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, he added.

de Jager takes the pragmatic route.

“If, after all the work you have done, you find it difficult to choose from three, then the differences are so minor [that] you don’t sweat it,” he said.

“Stop worrying about it [and] flip a three headed coin.”

But it is still caveat emptor.

“Many vendors are selling a product and there is a huge difference between selling a product and selling a solution,” he warned.

Lane agrees with de Jager.

“The pitfall, I think, is to become enamoured of the technology and to lose sight of business reasons for what you are doing.”

The next part of the series will look at speaking with the technology vendors.