Technology can solve all?

Sometimes there is a belief that technology can make all processes more streamlined and efficient.   I will admit that technology does have the potential to make some or maybe even most processes a bit more efficient through automation, validation of data, etc.   It can also allow us to reimage workflows and processes, however there are times when this isnt the case.

The issue I am getting at here is trying to use technology to solve a problem where the problem itself doesn’t exist in the technology domain.   This might be using technology to solve a human problem or using technology to solve a problem with a given process.

Consider a complex process involving lots of different people who provide approvals at different stages of the process.    This might be seen as a poor process as it may result in action not being taken due to a small number of people not responding or providing their approval.  If this is a manual email-based process it seems logical to use technology to make the process more automated and remove some of the manual processing from the equation.    We might be able to setup reminders, etc to stop people failing to respond.   The issue for me is that the problem may be the complexity of the process.   Does it need to be done this way?   Why do we do it this way?    Is it simply because we have always done it this way?   Does it need all of these approvals?    Could the process be simplified?  

For me, before we look at using technology, I think we need to examine the underlying processes, people, etc first with a critical eye.   We need to avoid trying to use technology as a blunt solution to solve process or people related problems, instead dealing with these problems first before then looking to technology.

This isnt necessarily easy.  In the past I have spent time with departments looking at and mapping their processes and then querying why each part of the process exists.   In some cases there has been a reluctance to accept any changes (“We’ve always done it this way”) therefore either necessitating a bespoke solution or a highly complex off the shelf setup.  Neither of these options work due to potential costs, both financial or resource, and dangers of fragility associated with complexity.  In these cases, I have had to walk away and indicate there may be dissatisfaction with current processes, but there is also a lack of willingness to make concessions and accept change as required of any new solution.   It’s a no deal situation.

I continue to want to support the greater use of technology generally, but I am equally concious that we need to use technology where it matters and where it has impact.    Sometimes technology might only present a marginally gain but at high cost.    We cannot simply look at an issue and expect technology to solve it.    It’s that old, famous phrase: “crap in, [technology enabled] crap out”.  

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Author: garyhenderson2014

Gary Henderson is currently the Director of IT in an Independent school in the UK. Prior to this he worked as the Head of Learning Technologies working with public and private schools across the Middle East. This includes leading the planning and development of IT within a number of new schools opening in the UAE. As a trained teacher with over 15 years working in education his experience includes UK state secondary schools, further education and higher education, as well as experience of various international schools teaching various curricula. This has led him to present at a number of educational conferences in the UK and Middle East.

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