Don't Automate, Obliterate
Technology has the potential to support changes to working practices but organisations can ill-afford the problems that routinely come with big-tech transformations
This is an area which requires careful planning and detailed expert support but several dynamics are critical to recognise:
Workflow technology can replace previously paper-based and email trails. Using shared document management systems (Sharepoint, Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud, One Drive, etc) enables users to collaborate on documents in real-time, to track modifications and avoid a vast proliferation of copies and paper versions. Keeping the record straight and not over-loading home offices with vast quantities of confidential material will be important to the future functioning of both home and organisation;
Data management takes on renewed significance - the costs of poor data are often dismissed or ignored as immaterial, but they become much more significant when greater reliance is placed on remote working. Attention to detail is always a sign of professionalism, in the future attention to detail in data management will be a pre-requisite for remote work and for reaching good decisions. When it is no longer so easy to cross-check facts and spot errors, greater levels of trust and confidence in data systems will become priceless. It is so much easier to spend time getting the data right than to deal with the limitations and consequences of making decisions based on weak data;
Virtual communications will become more natural and, while video-conference fatigue may not be a recognised condition yet, it will also have side-effects. A digital detox was already a regularly recurring theme in productivity and well-being literature before Covid, it has not diminished now given our intense reliance on conferencing platforms. However, it is also clear that there are efficiencies to be gained which will help to solve the problem – meetings are more efficient; better chairing and facilitation is a pre-requisite as free-for-all discussions quickly collapse; courtesy and order in speaking is promoted; airtime is scarce and seems in large part to be used very wisely; grand-standing seems to be discouraged. All these elements encourage the use of the technology and mean that time is spent more wisely;
It is also worth reflecting on which of the organisation’s processes are the highest priorities for performance improvement in a post-Covid world and whether technology is not only essential to its future delivery but also a source of advantage.
Three principles underpin our thinking:
Performance improvement is about the integration of people, processes and systems. A ‘technology only’ strategy can lead to situations in which the “cure is worse than the disease”.;
People are the most valuable part of the picture and complex, high value work cannot be readily replaced with artificial intelligence no matter how seemingly sophisticated it may be;
Automation can be a curse in processes which are out of control . Typically, the tactic of using technology to clean up a process does not lead to improvement; “if you automate a mess, you get an automated mess”.
It is important to note that ICT investment is typically accompanied by higher than realistic expectations of performance improvement and lower than realistic expectations of both the initial investment level and overall timescale for the realisation of gains. Under-estimating the level of investment required, may lead to sub-optimal, costly and counter-productive decisions. In the initial stages of implementation, a temporary fall in performance and increase in costs should be anticipated.
Where the business case is under-developed, the temporary fall in performance may be unrecoverable as any anticipated cost savings prove either more difficult or more time-consuming to achieve. That said, judicious investment in technology is highly likely to be a much safer investment than any other in keeping options open and the organisation orientated towards flexible and agile practices.