Technopia threatens technology-obsessed

Y2K: the ultimate irony for a technology-obsessed society?

Bill Bishop thinks so. The CEO of Toronto, Ont.-based Bishop Information Group Inc. and author of Strategic Marketing for the Digital Age, believes the well-publicized problem is a good counterpoint for the end of a century that has seen technology all but replace human connection in the business world.

“At the end, we’re in total fear that this technology will collapse on us,” Bishop said. “There’s a perfect example how we have, as a society, put all of our eggs into the basket of technology and have no way of overriding the system. If there is no way to override the system and go back to the old way of doing things then you’ve got a problem.”

Bishop describes this problem as “technopia,” a term he coined to indicate the danger of blindly adopting technology, such as personal computers, Web sites and voice-mail systems, among others.

“When a company or person…becomes completely obsessed with the potential of this technology so that they’re blinded by it, they forget what their true objectives were and/or start to lose touch with their customers,” he said.

“IT companies are probably the most product-focused of any companies out there and it’s hurting them…the problem is they spend too much time working on the product and not enough time working on the relationships with people.”

Rather than focus on the needs of customers, companies are often guilty of focusing on the needs of technology. According to Bishop, this usually results from a misguided approach whereby companies follow the advice of technologists without maintaining a clear marketing strategy.

“You need to do strategic planning that involves talking about the real objectives in the relationships, and putting the relationship first. Then at the end of the thinking is when you say, ‘Now, what technology will we use to that end,'” Bishop said.

Dave Revell, senior vice-president of solutions and applications with electronic financial services for Bank of Montreal in Toronto, agreed. “The process implications of using the technology are as important as the technology itself…it’s not enough to select a very good high-tech technology. It’s understanding the business strategy that you’re trying to work towards,” he said.

According to Brian Deegan, vice-president of information systems at Trimark Investment Management Inc., successful implementation of technology begins with a business strategy based on convenience, cost and the amount of relayed information. What follows is a system suited to the needs of the customer.

“We try to give people choice that says you can phone and talk to a person, you can phone and interact with a machine or you can have your computer interact with our computers,” Deegan said. “Trimark is a service organization and we feel it is a requirement of us to do that.”

According to Bishop, many companies suffering from technopia are guilty of using their technology, be it e-mail or automated telephone systems, as a means for individuals to essentially hide from the customers.

But according to Deegan, company culture is equally responsible. “Good people can make a bad system good and vice-versa. You could have a very good system out there and if the people are not trained properly and do not have the customer focus…then they will hide behind the system,” he said.

Bishop said companies quite often lose sight of their customers by considering any new form of technology a must have, even if their customers do not.

“There’s a difference between what people are capable of using and what people prefer to use. You have to understand both…a lot of people don’t want to admit no, they wouldn’t use a CD-ROM or no, they wouldn’t use a Web site because they’re just not inclined that way,” Bishop said.

Michael LeBlanc, senior manager of interactive retailing for Hudson’s Bay Co. in Toronto, Ont., said research into the needs and abilities of customers should play an integral role in what technology will be implemented, even when designing a Web site. Instead of focusing on “wizbang technology,” LeBlanc said, it is more important to enhance the customer’s experience while there.

“We try to see technology as an enabler and not get too caught up in the technology but remember, “Why do people type in our URL…what are they here for?'”

Focusing on customer relationships and not the technological vehicle is the key to avoiding technopia and should be shared by both companies and vendors, Bishop said.

“There’s a lot of people…that are in the business of selling all these tools and software…and what I believe is that it’s their responsibility to start to help their clients or customers think through their decisions before they just sell them something,” he said.

Trimark’s Deegan concurred. “The better value added firms will do that. I’m not going to say it’s their responsibility but the better ones will do it and prosper.”