Technology Is NEVER the Solution

Technology does not solve business problems.

A common misconception in enterprise applications is that technology is the answer.

Or at least part of the answer.  Technology may be part of the solution although lots of business problems are solved without using technology.  It may be a part of the strategy, albeit strategy is about setting goals and metrics, setting a plan to achieve them, not about picking technologies.

I tell clients trying to use technology as the answer that the only thing that technology does is speed up things.  So, if you have a bad process, and you add technology, now you have a very fast bad process.

Strategy is not the solution either.

Most thought leaders and consultants will tell you that strategy is synonym with success.  Relying on strategy as the entire solution, even though it contains clear directions for technology, is the same as relying purely on Technology.  Most strategies are not done well and missing many important components.  Thus, they cannot be the complete solution.

The solution is Balance.

There are three areas to address when creating a solution for a business problem: people (politics, culture, change management are some of the topics to answer), process (BPx, experience management and design among others to cover), and technology (architecture, integration, product selection, data management among other issues to consider).

A good solution will address ALL of them in a balanced form.  Your strategy, to become the solution, has to include all of these areas.  Your technology, to become the solution, must consider repercussions across all of them as well.  Problem is that most solutions don’t address all of them, and fail.

How do you design your solutions? Are you addressing all of these? Which one do you find harder to address? Easier?

21 thoughts on “Technology Is NEVER the Solution”

  1. Hi Esteban;
    I always say that technology is the catalyst for change. Though process is the ultimate solution (in many cases), it seems that a technology purchase is what usually prompts process re-engineering, at least in the case of knowledge and CRM.

    –John

  2. Esteban – I think this is an excellent point. Similar concepts have been argued in ‘Execution’ by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan. Expecting technology or consultancy to save the day is very much part of the ‘deus ex machina’ mind set so prevalent in the business world and in personal consumption. I have always advocated the need for balance between the different components you mention and happy to see this post.

    John – I think what you are pointing to is the sad reality, where development starts with the acquisition of a tool and not with a discovery process of what’s needed by the organization and its customers. which may lead to a whole different development. I am far from being a luddite, but I do think that technology is frequently bought prematurely and then implemented only to a fraction of its capacity.

  3. Nice post Esteban, thanks.

    Completely agree with your point that in an ideal world this is what should be followed and will work, and this actually is a best practice ‘mantra’. My question is what should come first ? If a technology tool e.g. Twitter is not existing, will a strategist be able to plan out an equally effective Social CRM strategy compared to the scenario when it is available ? I don’t think so.

    So would technology be a broader outline under which the strategist has to chalk out a CRM strategy ? We know that technology is an enabler, does it become a limiting factor as well .. looking at it from the other side?

    Some food for thought I guess … would be good to get comments !

    Thanks,

    Sid Mishra
    @SiddMishra

  4. Esteban,

    I know we see eye-to-eye on this – but, to say I completely agree would be a boring post, now wouldn’t it! There are some finer points which can be discussed. The really interesting question is why does this happen? What can we teach, or how can we guide C-Level folks so they do not fall into the trap?

    In my simplistic view, the answer is simple – people believe that choosing a technology platform is easier, less work and lower risk – I did NOT say I support this, just what I see out there in the marketplace. We do it as consumers all the time – instead of practicing my golf swing an hour a day, seeing a coach to help me – I go out and get the latest and greatest clubs to add 15 yards to my drive (It still slices, but that is a different issue).

    Strategy is crucial – First the business strategy, then the strategy that will most effectively do what you say, create the correct balance of people and technology, to support the process.

    We are bombarded constantly by messages suggesting that by inserting technology we will gain advantage, perform better and all will be right with the world – CRM is no different. The simple fact remains that People and Process come first, Technology comes later. Technology needs to play a supporting role (cart-horse, tail wagging the dog and all that good stuff).

    Mitch

  5. For me, CRM implementations are a great example of this. A first-generation CRM implementation involved buying the tool, loading it with data, and then being disappointed that no one was using it: all Technology. A second-generation CRM implementation gave people MBOs with financial penalties for not using CRM: Technology + People (grudgingly). The third-generation implementation addressed what had been left out all along, the processes people used before and after CRM; finally, succeess: Technology (customized and adapted) + Process + People (willingly).

  6. Technology is an excellent Change Management tool/framework, and I agree with Esteban and the rest of commenters, that too often organizations start with the “wrong” end of the stick . Please forgive my analogy, but too often I see companies buying tools, then the tool specialists, etc before creating “blueprints” for the “house of their dreams”. This approach probably is mainly responsible for often quoted statements about #failedCRM. In the last 15 years I was involved in a few CRM implementations as a consultant and an employee, but only once the company leadership was capable to articulate to me specific goals they wanted to achieve. This is still best project experience of my career with excellent ROI measured.

  7. Esteban,

    I’m with Mitch. While I agree with most of your post pure agreement is boring.
    The world is not black and white. In general, the solutions we come up with for business problems are best solved with a balanced approach. The Tao of business success even…
    However, stating that technology is never the solution is wrong, plain and simple.There are business problems for which technology alone is the solution. There are also examples where technology is not involved at all.
    Let’s not argue about the extremes. We all believe in balanced approaches, but sometimes an unbalanced approach is needed, let’s not be closed to that either.

    John

  8. What we’re talking about here is systems thinking as suggested by Peter Senge. We must consider the whole system, not just the individual components.

    I maintain that complex business problems and challenges (think CRM) are complex in the same way that an organism is complex. Not composed of just a single cell where technology is the solution, but a complex entity where the solution requires multiple components or cells.

    Great post, Esteban.

    Regards,

    Glenn

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