existing technology
May 24, 2023

Making the most of your existing technology

By Tristan Mobbs

Continuing our focus on a more sustainable approach to data, let’s consider how you could make the most of your existing technology. Plus get honest about the gaps that are holding back many businesses.

Regular readers will recall that we have already shared advice for data leaders faced with cost cutting challenges. These include spotting cost cutting opportunities, recycling your data & avoiding false economies. Guest blogger Tony Boobier also shared with us his perspective on the leadership mindset needed at this cost conscious time.

So, I’m delighted to welcome back guest blogger Tristan Mobbs to share his wisdom on this topic. Tristan is Data & Analytics Manager at Kite Packaging, as well as generously sharing his experiences online as the “Data Translator“. He has previously shared with us on topics including finding the right data environment for you & engaging others with data literacy. Now, over to Tristan to share his perspective on making wiser use of your existing technology.

What may trip up our technological advance

The developed world has a very solvable problem.

We are ever advancing with technology yet many of our pieces of critical infrastructure and processes rely on manual tasks. This is often in the form of copying and pasting between spreadsheets.

There are articles titled ‘5 Greatest Spreadsheet Errors of All Time’, which show the potential size of a simple error in a spreadsheet. I’m not saying the tech we have available will solve these errors, we are human after all. But technology can go a long way to helping us build robust, repeatable processes that should minimise the chance of error.

Why do we have this gap?

Companies often get drawn in by hype around the latest tech. Particularly larger organisations that have to be seen implementing some form of Machine Learning, so they may hire some incredibly clever tech focused people. These people can implement some of the latest tech.

Yet elsewhere in the business you will have someone copying and pasting between spreadsheets for a critical report. The focus always tends to be on the shiny stuff and advancing the top end, without bringing other areas of the business up to speed. This gap is a limiting factor for the growth and productivity of organisations.

I’ve even seen this in the same team within an organisation. Neural networks were being implemented and tested, yet it would take someone a day to produce a month end report consisting of multiple spreadsheets that had to be copied and pasted. There were often errors that then caused rework and delays for multiple teams.

Should we rebuild everything in up-to-date tech?

Do you need cutting edge technology to solve this problem? Probably not. Very few things need to be on the latest cutting-edge technology.

Doing some reporting? We have had the tech to automate that for a good few decades. We can now do it faster and potentially make it look more appealing. But we don’t need the latest solution to be able to deliver.

Recent developments in technology have allowed us to do more with less. No/Low-code solutions can help get more people on the learning curve of using technology to automate parts of their jobs. 

What else should we consider?

Most things we are trying to improve are around our processes. If it’s manual, we need more checks. If someone changes job, then the new person might do it a bit differently. We may not even know there are issues as the person doing the process manages them each time they do it. This means our processes often aren’t repeatable, robust, and accurate.

What if we just took that process and automated it? It would probably still be rubbish. Some processes have been built over years with manual intervention involved by design. Just automating it doesn’t cut it. We need to spend more time reimaging, reinventing and investing in developing processes suitable for the digital age.

What is the solution and the role of existing technology?

Training, both in new skills to use the technology we have available and in developing optimum processes. In previous years you would see Microsoft Office as a skillset on CVs, this is largely assumed these days. In the future all manner of technology could reach that point. Training people to have those skills to automate and develop processes will help move things forwards.

Lean principles have been around for years now. People need greater understanding of these so as to develop technological processes that engage well with people. A challenge of automation is the reduction in thought. People just do things because ‘that is what the machine said’. Critical thinking alongside process development are game changing skillsets.

Answering the ‘what is in it for me?’ question. The fear will always be there that technology will take peoples jobs, and it will. But those jobs are, in theory, less fulfilling. Technology should make space for more interesting work. Identifying the how, the why and the what rather than just processing because we need to in order to keep things working. Understanding people’s needs and the benefits to them of developing new skills and making the most of technology will help us increase productivity and hopefully enable more meaningful work.

How are you enabling both your existing technology & people?

Thanks to Tristan for sharing his thoughts and shining a spotlight on this challenge. I agree from my own experience working with many different businesses. All too often a lot more focus & investment goes into purchasing new technology compared to process redesign & up-skilling people.

What is your experience of overcoming the kind of manual process ‘gaps’ that Tristan highlights? How have you identified them, closed them & embedded a culture of continued progress? Often that second point can be the harder part. As both Tony Saldanha & Bill Schmarzo make clear in their books, there is a need to embed this new approach into the culture or DNA of the business. Otherwise you are just playing whack-a-mole in response to ever reemerging manual workarounds.

I look forward to hearing your comments & advice. I’m also encouraged by seeing more organisations invest in the human-centred design and people development that is needed.