Avoiding the Technology Trap

15 Mar 2017

Technological innovation is one of the defining characteristics of the clean energy sector. The pace of advancement is staggering at times. Faced with this rapid growth and change, companies often find themselves rushing to implement new software technologies to help them operate more efficiently, increase productivity, scale their business, and extract greater value from the enterprise. People generally seem to be in their comfort zone when creating simple requirements documents, looking at demos, selecting a vendor and then moving forward. So tempting is the feeling of accomplishment from all this activity, that people tend dive in without really thinking through the full ramifications or requirements of the business. This often leads to creating spreadsheets as work arounds that take on their own life… sometimes to the point that the operation is run more on spreadsheets than on the solution that was selected.  Eventually it all gets ripped out and the process starts over again. This is expensive, disruptive to operations, and leads to many uncomfortable conversations with your boss and your boss’ boss, etc. People lose jobs and companies lose money. This is the definition of pain. We call it the “technology trap.”

The good news is the technology trap is completely avoidable. By properly managing the three dimensions of technology implementations – people, processes, and technology – you can avert it. Below we’ll review the steps you can take to avoid the trap and get on the road to better technology implementations.

The Technology Trap

Let’s say you are part of a wind energy marketing or operating organization. You’ve undoubtedly encountered one or more of these common technology hurdles:

  •  Over reliance on spreadsheets
  •  Multiple and duplicate data entry points in often duplicate systems
  •  Error prone processes and/or data
  •  Resource intensive processes requiring lots of bodies
  •  Excessive execution time – things just take too long
  •  Redundant and/or overlapping systems

You might think, “I should install some new technology and fix this!” After all, it’s not rocket science. It should be easy to put in a new maintenance/work management/billing/market interface/etc. system. You just need to follow a few tried and true steps:

  •  Create a wish list
  •  Research the top vendors
  •  Get some demos
  •  Pick one
  •  Negotiate the price
  •  Implement the solution
  •  Reap the benefits

Viola - that wasn’t so bad!

In this situation, the best-case scenario is that you’ll get the solution implemented pretty much on time and within budget and with most of the functionality you wanted. Then people will start using the system and you’ll cruise happily along. Problem solved. Life is good. You’re living the dream.

Except that you just fell into the technology trap. Some groups won’t use the new system at all, you’re using even more spreadsheets than before, some business processes are taking longer than ever, many of your old problems still exist and you’re seeing problems you didn’t even realize you had. And you just spent a million dollars or more. So, what happened?

Unless your “problem” is very specific, technology by itself won’t fix it. Most companies assume that adopting a new technology will:

  •  Make them more efficient
  •  Reduce errors
  •  Improve processes
  •  Make their people more engaged/productive/happier/etc.
  •  Save money, ultimately
  •  Provide a competitive advantage

Unfortunately, technology is only one part of the solution. For technology transformations to be successful you need to address each of three critical dimensions: People, Processes, and Technology. You need to address all three dimensions and you need to address them in that order. People first, then processes, and finally technology. Furthermore, it is an iterative and ongoing process. When you get to the end of the technology piece, you need to loop back to people. This is a complex ecosystem.

Put People First

People are the foundation of the system and need to be considered first. Ideally you would map out your staffing needs, then build a fulfillment plan, bring the staff onboard, and so on. In almost all cases, however, you won’t have the luxury of starting with a clean slate. Or pesky budgets will prevent you from creating your dream team from scratch. In those cases, you must understand your starting point so you can build the roadmap for where you want to go. You need to take an unbiased view of your staff to ensure you have the right people with the right skills to perform the necessary functions at the required level. In addition, it’s vital for staff to have a good cultural fit with the organization, because it directly affects morale and productivity.

Do you have the right number of people? Are all roles filled? Do you have people doing “double duty” that might impact the quality of work? Do you have too many people because existing processes are overly manual or technology isn’t working?

Formalize the Processes

Everyone has business processes. But, do you have the right ones? Does your team know them? Do they follow the processes? Are the processes documented?

Talking about processes evokes unpleasant scenarios that include bringing in truckloads of consultants and spending months developing massive Level 1 – Level 4 process maps.

The reality, however, is that process mapping needs to be sized to fit the specific situation.  At the highest level, there are five steps to follow:

1. Document the processes

2. Match processes to procedures and business rules

3. Train people to follow the processes

4. Monitor the results and make sure people follow the processes

5. Identify process improvements

At the end of step four you go back to step one and adjust your processes. How deep you need to go in step one (i.e., Level, 1, Level 2, etc.) will depend on your specific business.

Companies that decide to skip the process step tend to have similar attributes:

  •  Perpetual turnover seeking new people or management that can solve the problem
  •  High costs due to inefficiencies and the wrong number of people
  •  Inability to grow
  •  Numerous internal meetings to “get everyone in a room” to sort out problems
  •  Massive numbers of spreadsheets (with no one quality checking formulas)

Tackle Technology

Now you’re ready to tackle the technology. Identify your needs by performing a system assessment. High-level activities should include the following:

  •  Review Business Processes: Make sure your business process definitions are up-to-date.
  •  Define and Document Clear Business Objectives: All stakeholders should agree on this.
  •  Develop and Validate Requirements: At a minimum, identify high-level requirements.
  •  Prepare a System Selection Criteria Matrix: The matrix should include business and technical requirements, cost, vendor viability, vendor implementation capabilities and other parameters.

In most cases, you aren’t going to get everything you want in the first pass. Resources are limited and some things will inevitably need to wait. Make sure you create a roadmap of future enhancements and a plan to achieve them.

What Does Good Look Like?

Congratulations!

  •  Your people are on-board and trained
  •  Processes are defined, communicated, being followed, and monitored
  •  The technology is implemented and you met your business objectives and success criteria

Can you stop now? No! Remember that the three dimensions – people, processes, and technology – are a continuum. You need to decide “what does good look like” and how good you want to be.

John Brown is an Owner, Partner and Member of the Skipping Stone Board of Directors. Whether strategy, implementation, outsourcing or problem solving, the Skipping Stone experience-based approach has proven to provide the perspective and results clients value on thousands of projects across the globe.

Skipping Stone  |  http://www.skippingstone.com

 

 


Volume: 2017 March/April