Because I sell software, you might expect me to say that technology is the solution to everything.
But I don’t say that because it’s not true. And I’d like to think that I try to say true things as often as I can (it helps me sleep at night).
Blindly believing technology is always the answer is how a lot of companies spend a lot of money on “solutions” that don’t solve problems. It’s a big reason why 68% of IT projects fail.
Despite what some salespeople and marketers would lead you to believe, technology isn’t a cure-all. But it is the solution to many problems a lot of the time.
Figuring out when tech is the best solution is the key to success and how you can avoid getting burned. It’s also what the rest of this article is all about.
The Three Solutions to Every Problem
The first mistake is starting with a tech solution instead of a business problem or objective. This often happens with “hot” technologies and often leaves companies with solutions looking for problems, hammers looking for nails.
You can sidestep this mistake by making sure everything you do is driven by real problems or specific objectives, rather than flashy solutions.
Once you’ve identified a problem, generally speaking, there are three potential solutions worth considering:
- People - Can we change who does it?
- Process - Can we change the way we do it?
- Technology - Can we change the way it’s done?
If you have a problem, you can hire more people or different people, you can implement a new process or a better process, or you can find a tech solution that empowers your people or controls your process.
For example, to meet capacity demands, a transportation company could buy more trucks and hire more drivers (people), find a way to better utilize their current assets (process), or find a software or hardware solution that makes employees more efficient or improves asset utilization (technology).
When People and Process Fail
The next step is to figure out which of the three solutions is the right one for your particular problem or objective.
The short answer to this question is inefficiency. When your people or process are inefficient, technology is usually your best bet.
In my experience, people intuitively know when their business isn’t operating efficiently or the data tells them directly. They either feel it in their gut or see it in the numbers. Either way, it’s a “you know when you know” type situation.
But with that said, here are two telltale signs of inefficiency:
1. You keep throwing people at the problem.
If you keep hiring more people but the problem isn’t going away, it’s probably because the work isn’t being done in the most efficient way possible.
If you have too much work and too few hands, a tech solution that empowers your people and increases their productivity is likely worth exploring.
2. When the process becomes a guideline.
When the written process isn’t the actual process, it’s usually a sign that something is being done less efficiently than it could be, or worse.
In this case, technology can often be leveraged to help you guide the process and allow you to improve it over time.
Where the Rubber Meets the Road
Of course, this all sounds good and simple on paper, but you’ve probably experienced a much different reality. You likely know too well that when technology gets involved things can quickly get complicated. You may have even been burned in the past.
And it’s true, when you start getting into the specifics, challenges (both real and perceived) can start to mount fast.
If you’ve experienced these challenges in the past, it’s easy to get gun-shy about going with technology altogether.
Tech solutions can be expensive and time-consuming and come with a lot of unknowns. Hiring more people is straightforward and can get the job done, at least for a time.
But it’s also important to note that the costs of delay are not insignificant.
The longer you wait, the higher your risk of falling behind. A potential competitive advantage can quickly turn into a proven disadvantage.
Outdated tech can slow your company down and cause you to be reactive, rather than proactive. It can even make it hard to retain good employees.
No matter how you slice it, inefficiency costs money and you can only bleed for so long.
Ultimately, any meaningful solution will likely involve some combination of people, process and technology. They’re not mutually exclusive.
The point is that people and process alone can only do so much. They’re options worth exploring, but they have inherent limitations.
You can try to find more people, but that only kicks the can so far down the road.
You can try to find better people, but even the best are limited by the tech tools at their disposal.
You can try to reengineer your business process, but evolution is hard. New habits don’t come easy, retraining employees is easier said than done, and change is always difficult to manage.
The real efficiency gains come from implementing the right solutions. To be sure, finding the technologies that are right for you is never an easy task, but I hope this article at least helped clarify when you should start your search in earnest.
Jeff Bielmann is a Strategic Alliance Executive at Microdea where he helps transportation and technology brands drive exceptional value. In his spare time he spends time with his family, follows all the local sports teams, and enjoys a good scotch. Single malt, of course.