Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Technology advancement and the productivity paradox – 2: planning for an effective technology implementation policy

Posted in business and convergent technologies, HR and personnel by Timothy Platt on May 20, 2012

This is my second installment in a series on the trade-offs of technology advancement and innovation (see Part 1: the need for a technology inclusion and implementation policy ) and as stated at the end of Part 1, my goal for this posting is to at least start a discussion on technology implementation policy and on what should go into it. And I begin that by posing a set of fundamental questions.

• What would you use a new technology for?

This is a details-oriented question so if the best you can do in answering it is to come up with general statements of principle such as “… to improve productivity” chances are that you are looking at a new cost center that you do not need. When you take on the expenses of bringing in a new technology you want to know precisely what you would need this new set of tools or new update for existing tools to do. Otherwise you cannot move forward in addressing the next questions in this set. And as a final aside here, I point out that every innovation and every tool or product brought into your system and integrated into your ongoing processes brings costs with it. This can particularly apply to the seemingly free of open source, I add, as open source can be more “one size fits all” and you have to both develop and go through the processes of vetting this for security and related considerations. And you also have to expect to have to add in customizations and configurations needed to make this free resource really fit into your work and process flows. All of this takes time and effort and all of it costs.

I write that from personal experience in seeing actual costs skyrocket when implementing open source web technologies, with my experience implementing Tcl/Tk as a working example. The team I was working with tried implementing a Tcl-based solution for managing the back-end of a complex and growing database-driven suite of web sites for a large nonprofit and we quickly found it necessary to recode huge numbers of programming modules to meet specific business model needs for this organization. For-fee costs and for-free costs too – and sometimes even more. We ended up migrating to a Java-based system that was more powerful in meeting our needs and a lot more cost-effective. And when I bring in issues of systems integration and costs, I lead this discussion to my next core questions.

Once you know precisely what you want this New to do for you,

• What are your alternatives that you could select instead?

Always include making do with your existing and legacy systems as a potential option and certainly for when you have to justify a changeover with its costs and learning curve requirements for new-resource users.

• What are the costs and benefits of doing or not doing the processes that this technology acquisition would make possible?
• How do the costs of acquiring and integrating in this acquisition compare against the costs of not having it?

Both of these are full process lifecycle questions where you look at the potential acquisition in its full context.

I have had a great deal of success using Oracle database solutions but I have also made a practice of not immediately jumping on initial releases for major generational upgrades to their products. I tend to wait until they have real world user feedback to round out their beta testing, and the release of a version X.1 for whatever new generation X product. I freely admit that this is probably not necessary for most information technology systems managers but I have worked with mission critical systems where that extra level of due diligence has made sense. I cite this personal and perhaps somewhat idiosyncratic example from my own practices and experience to note that what I write about here applies to entirely new systems and system components, and to system and component upgrades too.

• What are the costs and benefits that would be faced if you make a generational update in a core system or subsystem for your organization’s technology infrastructure?

Here, you look at new features and functionalities and at updates to the user interface and other usability issues with your existing earlier generation versions held up as baselines for comparison and benchmarking. And you look for peripheral costs where for example, you might need to update your hardware systems to fully benefit from those new software system features, as well as having to enter into an end-user training program so these new features can be used effectively in your organization.

I have been writing this in terms of information technology systems as a set of working examples. But the same basic principles apply to production systems in manufacturing and to essentially any business-based technology acquisition decision process.

Add in your own questions to include in your selection and implementation policy, and as example additional questions that I would add for manufacturing, consider these.

• What is your unit-produced failure rate with your old systems and how would that change if you were to implement New?
• Would you have a learning curve drop-off in the expected defective unit production rate, with that higher at first but with it dropping off?
• How about worker safety and particularly for initial use when some of your workers might not be up to speed yet on this new equipment and even with controlled-setting hands-on training in its use? Real world usage in a busy and more distracting production facility can be different than the experience of a classroom or hands-on training session and with new and different risks entering in.

I end this posting by posing two fundamental questions that any manager or executive should be asking when considering a new technology acquisition and implementation:

• What questions should you ask when doing your own due diligence that would make the most sense for you and your organization?
• And what would you benchmark and measure this New against, as existing legacy or alternative New?

Ultimately, your answers are all going to be about costs and benefits and their likelihood, as due diligence measures.

I am going to look at this complex of issues in the context of unique value propositions and blue ocean strategies in my next series installment. Meanwhile, you can find related postings at HR and Personnel and also at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time.

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