Organizational Effectiveness: Those Blasted Bits and Bytes!

Is your technology worth the trouble?

I was excited to receive an e-mail recently from an organization I belong to because it offered a “book” on business strategy that I hadn’t read — and it was FREE! Woo hoo! (OK, so you have to be a business nerd to get excited about this one.) I clicked the link, expecting to be transferred to Amazon, but then realized I had to download a PDF file, which I did.

As a baby boomer who doesn’t read more than one page on a screen, I quickly hit Print. (Yes, I consider the environment when I print documents, but I also throw my slightly bad eyes and paper portability into the mix.) I manually reloaded side one of the paper into the printer and hit Continue. Side two finished, but on about the third page, the printer screwed up. The result was a pile of paper with “data.” To convert that to “information,” I’d have to turn enough pages back and forth to break a sweat.

In case you’ve never researched the topic, I should point out that the cost to print a document in color on your desktop printer can easily be 25 cents to 50 cents per page. I’d just spent perhaps $40 to print a “free” book that was virtually worthless. I won’t go broke as a result of my malfunctioning technology, but some companies really do.

The mere existence of technology doesn’t make it a valuable tool. How many companies do you know that have spent millions of dollars on productivity software such as ERP, CRM, EAS, CMS, KM and some other letters that they can run through their VPN with an SAS model, collecting data on the SAN with M-I-C-K-E-Y-M-O-U-S-E results?

A CFO was bragging to me several years ago about the slick new software system he’d purchased.  Installation was going beautifully from his perspective, though he didn’t seem to know many of the details and had assigned it to a junior guy. It was going to reduce manufacturing lead time, DSI, DSO, belly fat and hair loss. He was bounced out a year later, and shortly after that they unplugged the system.

We have, of course, seen the flip side of this as well — executives who ignore technology and ruin their companies. If you’re a music buff, there’s a great book called “Appetite for Self Destruction,” which is about the music industry falling off the technology cliff. I suspect that as you read this, there are several companies about to fall off the same cliff courtesy of the iPad.

I’m not bashing software — I’m certainly not writing this on my Smith Corona typewriter from college for goodness sake — rather naiveté on our part for the false assumption that new technology is always better, faster and cheaper. My experience is that the software and hardware can often live up to that claim, but it’s those damn people who get in the way!

Here are some questions that are frequently not asked:
• How will our people respond to this new software?
• How much pain will we go through during the implementation process?
• How much business disruption will it cause?
• What’s the objective of this technology and how will we measure success?
• Have I asked the users of the technology for their input or only my “Gee Whiz” technology staff?
• Is this technology aligned with our strategy?
• If it costs twice as much, takes twice as long and we get half the benefit, will it still be worthwhile?

Back in my days as an “operating guy,” I worked with a CTO who was brilliant but couldn’t effectively answer any of the questions above. He spent millions of dollars building gizmos that the P&L guys never asked for and that didn’t fit the strategy. The fact that his skin was as white as Casper the Friendly Ghost was not the only clue that he never left his office. Maybe he got a tan at his next job.


Todd Ordal is President of Applied Strategy®. Todd helps CEOs achieve better financial results, become more effective leaders and sleep easier at night. He is a former CEO and has led teams as large as 7,000. Todd is the author of, Never Kick a Cow Chip On A Hot Day: Real Lessons for Real CEOs and Those Who Want To Be(Morgan James Publishing, 2016). Connect with Todd on LinkedIn, Twitter, call 303-527-0417 or email [email protected].

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