New technology is often surrounded by hype and misperceptions that make it harder for us to use effortlessly. I know this from experience. I’ve spent the better part of 2011 helping our business team implement a new Web content management system. The entire process has been so long and drawn out it has tested my patience and mettle, but the vast majority of it has been rewarding. Ultimately, we hope to provide you with richer, more relevant content on our Web sites, while at the same time improve our editorial workflow.
As we approached the finish line on the project, I started to reflect on the unexpected challenges we encountered with the new technology. In fact, I’ve learned some things that were completely contrary to what I had always thought regarding a system upgrade of this magnitude. I’ve listed the top eight misconceptions in this column for your benefit. Hopefully, you can learn from it when adopting new technology in your business.
Myth No. 1: Cutting edge technology is unproven. When technology is so new, cutting edge implies that not many companies would have bought and used it. In this case, the burden of proof rests on both the vendor AND the customer. The vendor will attempt to back up its claim about its new technology by describing it in as narrow a scope as possible to avoid extra liability, while at the same time aggressively promising benefits to lure the customer. This means that most of the burden of proof needs to lie with the customer. I believe this is where many companies fail. Often, they do not have clear specifications of the intended use. And sometimes they do not even agree among themselves what the intended use is supposed to be.
Myth No. 2: Everything is intuitively obvious. “It’s so easy, anyone can do it.” This is one of my favorite techno-myths of all. New technology is almost never “intuitively obvious.” The fact that new technology will involve learning new concepts and possibly a new way of thinking about something is in direct opposition to “intuitively obvious.” More likely, this just means the vendor has a clear idea of how he or she thinks the product will be used. Even the slightest ambiguity about the new technology may cause considerable confusion, and thus warrants a clear explanation.
Myth No. 3: New technology will work seamlessly with older technology. No matter what the new technology, it won’t always work as predicted. Early in our implementation, we were under the false assumption that our new content management system would integrate with our existing circulation database. That has not been the case, and while not a deal breaker in itself, it definitely contributed to some limitations we weren’t expecting with the technology.
Myth No. 4: New tools will help improve productivity significantly. Most new technology will give you some increase in productivity. Timesaving is certainly a desirable effect of new technology, but expectations should be tempered. A technology that bills itself as being a major time-saver may deliver far less than it promises. To realize improvements in productivity via new technology may require you to perform old functions in new ways, perform some new or additional functions, and eliminate others.
Myth No. 5: I only need one good tech guy. Ideally, at least one IT person and/or programmer is assigned to the new technology. But that’s not enough. Companies should form a project team, the group responsible for designing, testing, and implementing the system. End users must be involved early on and throughout the project. The technology won’t be successful if all constituents don’t understand how to use it, the solution doesn’t meet their needs, or the proposed training is inadequate. And if that dedicated tech person gets hit by the proverbial bus (e.g., leaves the company), at least the team is not left without any knowledge of the project whatsoever.
Myth No. 6: Technology is just too big and complicated. Yes, it sure is. And, so is your car. So, you take it to an automobile expert who gives you simple advice on how to make it run more smoothly. Problem solved. Again, between our dedicated tech guy and the support of the vendor, we had enough technical expertise to move forward — little by little — on the project. Some companies have the in-house staff required to implement a new product or system with little outside help. Most companies, however, do not have the luxury of these dedicated resources, and even those that do must still partner with the right vendor when purchasing the technology.
Myth No. 7: I don’t know if it’s worth the money. You should be concerned with how you invest your money. Big bang technology solutions that promise huge rewards are usually not real technology solutions. That’s why you need to focus on measurable success. The right technology solutions — like precision ag software, customer databases or online applications — should provide significant results and quickly pay for themselves.
Myth No. 8: Looming deadlines necessitate shortcuts. With unexpected delays in our technology implementation, I am sure many of us were tempted to take shortcuts just so we could complete the project on time. Taking a “let’s just be done with it” approach would have been the easy way out, but would have jeopardized the long-term viability of the technology. Stay the course — adjusting timelines as necessary — and the technology will be well worth the investment.