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The Future of the Future: Breaking free of the technology trap

This article appears in the issue June 2007, [Vol 16, Issue 6]


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In the process of transforming your organization into an Enterprise of the Future, it’s easy to get caught up in the glamour of technology. Web 2.0, the availability of virtually unlimited storage and processing capacity, dazzling displays and the promise of taking the complex and making it simple, are all very much a part of today’s technology showcase. Yet the natural tendency to become enamored with those breakthroughs can land you in the corporate poorhouse, if you’re not careful.

Figure 1 (Page 26, KMWorld, Vol.16,  Issue 6) illustrates the technology trap. It all starts when, after much fighting and jockeying, you finally have a budget. That means you get to go shopping (Step 1). In the Technology Mall, you wander through the aisles, overwhelmed by the huge inventory of new products: search engines, portals, data and text mining tools, collaborative environments, business intelligence software, decision support and project management tools, expertise locators, you name it.

You quickly find yourself at Step 2, listening to vendor pitches: "We are the best at X," and, "Our tool increases productivity by Y%." You perform your best due diligence, maybe even call on some existing customers for references. You are now ready for Step 3, making a selection.

That step usually boils down to asking, "What can I afford?" Do you go for broke and buy the high-end enterprise solution? Or do you buy a less expensive product from a relative newcomer, who’s hungry for your business, but might be gobbled up or could even shut their doors before the next revision comes out?

Now comes Step 4: implementation and adoption. You purchase training, which usually means technical training in the functionality of the tool (click here for this feature, click there for that feature). Sometimes the actual application of the tool in your day-to-day operations doesn’t happen until after a long period of trial and error. The worse case scenario is you end up with shelfware. Vacantware. You’ve seen the numbers: KM project failure rates as high as 60 percent.

In a flat world, you can no longer afford the risks associated with that type of scenario. Trial and error is not an option. Neither is feature-shopping. Competing in a flat world means using technology to the fullest, and that means flipping the order of business. Instead of buying technology first and then figuring out how to use it, you need to identify the result you’re looking to achieve, and then determine the best way to get there. That new approach is illustrated in Figure 2 on page 26.

The new Step 1 asks a very basic question: "How do you define success?" It’s amazing how easy it is to skip all the strategic objectives your organization has painstakingly laid out, being hungry (or pressured by management) to leap right toward a solution. But it’s best to take some extra time, because you might only have one shot. First review your strategic goals and how those results are to be achieved. Then proceed to the next step.

In Step 2, you take a close look at what’s preventing your organization from achieving its goals. Any obstacles or barriers are fair game—political, budgetary, time constraints, even technology. Next, Step 3 looks at what needs to change in order to remove, or at least reduce, the obstructions. Those come under the four "pillars" we’ve discussed at length in previous articles: leadership, organization, learning and technology. Some of them may be difficult even to admit, let alone confront. But if you are true to yourself, at this point in the analysis you will be able to clearly see that shopping in the Technology Mall cannot do a whole lot if there are major gaps in leadership ... or the organizational model is flawed ... or a culture of punishing mistakes prevails, at the expense of learning from them.

Only in the last step (Step 4) do you begin to craft a solution. And the solution is always a combination of people, processes and technology. The people component defines who is involved and the various roles they need to play. It’s rare to witness a change in behavior or a new technology intervention that doesn’t impact existing work processes in some way. The process component examines that impact, and enhances or streamlines the way results get accomplished. Finally, look at technology. Now you can go to the technology equivalent of Home Depot, with plans and drawings in hand, find the best enablers to help you achieve the desired change and reach higher levels of sustained organizational performance.

When building the Enterprise of the Future, it’s easy to get excited looking at the latest developments in technology. Without a doubt, the next-generation enterprise will be heavily dependent upon IT. But in a flat, unforgiving world, it makes sense to do it right, and to select those technologies with care. Tool vendors should take note: What would you rather have: a quick sale, followed by disappointed, confused or disgruntled customers down the road, or customers who buy from you because they clearly understand where your technology fits in and how it helps them compete in a flat world? I’m sure you’ll agree, we all need to work together in co-creating new business models for acquiring and applying technology for the Enterprise of the Future.


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