The Tug-of-war with Technology

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The fast pace of technological advancement and adoption is mesmerizing. Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876. It took 89 years for the telephone to reach 150 million users. By the end of August this summer, Apple might have sold more than 150 million iPads since its launch in April 2010. That is 86 years ahead of the telephone penetration. Technology has revolutionized how we run our business and serve our customers.

How would a business keep up with the evolving technology and the increasingly demanding customer expectations? What is a rational approach with technology investment? They are challenging questions.

The benefits a business harnesses from technology deployment vary over time.

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Business achieves productivity improvement with the right technology deployment. Efficiency improves as the business rolls out the technology to more areas of the operation. The gain accelerates when the business is able to fully utilize the technology to complete work faster, to create and deliver better quality products and services, and to eliminate cumbersome tasks.

For example, a manufacturer of a niche auto component invested in a manufacturing Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) application for material and order tracking as well as accounting. The application enabled the company streamline its material procurement, sales, billing and accounting functions. Productivity increased significantly when billing and accounting were integrated. The company used another application for production scheduling and engineering work. Excel and paper were heavily relied on for managing the workflow from engineering to the shop floor. A drawing could be copied up to 10 times in order to distribute the information to everyone involved in production. The drawings often got misplaced and they were not up-to-date, causing errors and delays in production. The company had reached point ‘A’ on the diagram with the existing technology. As the order volume increased, bottlenecks in the production process resulted in penalty payments due to late delivery.

Without making any changes, the company would move past point ‘B’ on the diagram. What was in place could no long adequately support the needs of the manufacturer. Upon consultation with the staff and the technology team, the company decided to invest in station monitors on the shop floor, enabling the machinists access the latest drawings. It also integrated the ERP with the engineering application so that the shop floor has timely access to orders and delivery schedules for work prioritization. The innovative changes took the company on the path of the top line in the diagram. The end results were improved productivity and satisfied customers.

Apart from functionalities and compatibility, there are three important considerations to include for technology planning:

  1. Consistent business practices—technology adoption is easier when processes, policies, and rules are consistent. It becomes much more challenging when practices are diverse because it takes more effort to design an effective tool that could accommodate all the variations.
  2. Flexibility—technology is changing too quickly. For businesses which embark on a phased implementation program, it is likely that the business needs would change by the time the last phase of the initiative is complete. Therefore, flexibility needs to be incorporated into the thought process for technology selection, design, and business operations.
  3. Business involvement—participation from the business is critical to the selection of technology. The users need to be actively involved to ensure that their needs are appropriately addressed. Companies risk wasting resources if they have the technology team work in silos.

Technology is not the panacea to all business issues, but the lack of it or inappropriate use of it would cause havoc for the business. What plan do you have to win this tug-of-war?

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