This Week’s Tech Tip is about navigating the never-ending technology hype treadmill.
A friend of mine had a post on LinkedIn this week where he observed the proliferation of tools being created, not to do work themselves, but to manage other tools. He was aghast that someone had developed a tool designed to gather everything from Slack, a project management tool, social media and some other things into a single interface.
He quite rightly wondered at the need for tools like this. Weren’t the first set of tools supposed to make our lives simpler, and make us more productive? Aren’t we just stacking software on top of software, to the point we get no work done managing it all? He called this “app-ception.”
He’s right. Silicon Valley ceaselessly churns out new applications we “need.” After all, that’s the business they’re in. Some of these are useful applications. Others are needless variations on a theme. Some of them will be good for me, but useless to you. Some of them would be a waste of my time but just what you need.
Conditioned to upgrade
The problem is we’ve been trained, but the endless “upgrade cycle” of the technology industry to believe we all need the latest, greatest thing. We “need” these applications not because they’ll do us any good, but because they’re new. Somehow, installing and using these applications is going to “save us time” and “make us more productive.”
We usually don’t consider the very real cost to our time, our attention, our productivity, and our morale from this constant treadmill. We seldom think about the difficulties of actually integrating these new tools into our work.
Now, I haven’t gone completely Luddite on you here. I’m still a big believer in technology as a workplace enabler. What I believe, though, is that we need to be more careful about curating what technology we chose to use.
During the last ten or so years, corporate IT, especially in small business and small enterprises has been swamped by a tidal wave. That tidal wave has been made up of a huge number of consumer-focused applications and employees who are used to just downloading these applications on their phones and using them. Consumer applications are simple, usually only do one thing, and seldom have to integrate with anything else. They’re low cost and low risk – if you don’t like how it works, just delete it from your phone (or more likely just leave it on your phone and forget about it). Technology is easy, right?
Business technology doesn’t work that way. Applications tend to be multiuser, and more complex. They need to share data with other applications. They often need to run on multiple kinds of devices and networks. There’s no doubt that business IT has been historically less user-friendly, more costly, and a lot less responsive than the torrent of consumer applications we’re deluged with every day. The creation of the Software-As-A-Service industry has addressed most, if not all of those complaints – up to a point. Unfortunately, these new kinds of applications have often managed this by becoming much more like their consumer siblings. They’ve narrowed their focus, become more generic, and less open to customization and integration. As they grow and mature, these applications – called on to act more and more like the enterprise business software they replaced – start to exhibit the same issues of complexity and user-unfriendliness that their predecessors did.
Evaluate your new technology
When it comes to your business technology, we need to understand that adoption of a new tool is often a case of “going slow to go fast.” We need to take advantage of new technologies and methodologies – indeed, entirely new kinds of applications, devices, and networks – to speed implementation and adoption. Anyone that knows me knows that I’m a staunch believer that business technology needs to operate as smoothly and transparently as a utility, like electricity. Getting there though means we need to slow down and carefully evaluate our needs before just leaping into adopting a new tool.
Go slow in the evaluation phase. Take your time to really consider if you need a new tool in the first place. There’s often little advantage in changing software to gain an incremental productivity advantage. The productivity debt you’ll incur from the implementation and adoption process is usually much higher than the productivity increase you’ll experience for a few years – and then it’ll be time for new software again…
Certainly, replace old, non-performing software. Beware the hype treadmill, though. Examine your motivations and needs. If it still makes sense after some careful consideration then, by all means, adopt that new, shiny, SaaS application! Just be aware that software never will be more than a tool. It can’t fix real business problems. In fact, laying the wrong software on top of a business that’s already in trouble might just speed up the impending crash.