There are amusing and horrific stories of the trials and tribulations associated with the transfer of technology, and the implementation of new systems and architecture. There are lessons that we can learn from those who have blazed the trails before us, and those who have been burned by the blaze. Get your fingers ready to count the five fundamental considerations for implementing new technology.
What we learned from Oracle
"The original plan was to transition the existing IT infrastructure to Oracle over a period of three months. It is three years later, and we think that we are almost done with our Oracle implementation." Does this sound familiar? If so, you have plenty of good company. Oracle is a powerful engine. It is high octane, scalable, and has flexible object oriented architecture to allow continuous growth and integration. So, what went wrong?
Quite often, in the eager anticipation to install the latest and greatest engine, the other parts of the car were forgotten or overlooked. Sure you have a powerful new engine, but your steering wheel is gone. It was replaced by a series of point and click drop down boxes to precisely instruct the car to turn at a specific angle. Do you want to make a 30 degree turn, a forty degree turn, or a 90 degree turn, right or left? Simply choose the appropriate item from the drop down menu and you will have the exact turn that you desire. Gone is that old fashioned and inaccurate steering wheel that required manual intervention and guidance to gradually adjust the turn in process, and installed is the precision turning device that is managed by your mouse. The problem is, nobody mentioned that the new steering mechanism was sold separately, and would take another six months to program. Nobody mentioned that everyone responsible for driving the car would have to learn a new steering methodology, lose the ability to make manual adjustments along the way, and need to learn to be more predictive and accurate in the selection of the accurate turn. Adjustments can be made along the way to correct a turn, with more point and click menu selections, if necessary. The extra time, design and development costs, and employee training are sold separately. You see, Oracles sells that powerful engine, not the steering wheel.
Does that sound funny or familiar? If it sounds familiar, then the humor is bitter-sweet. If it sounds ridiculous, then you have not experienced it yet. The steering wheel is only one example. Once the steering mechanism is programmed and put into place, then the other discoveries begin. That powerful engine comes with a speedometer and tachometer, so you can see your performance and the RPM of the engine. Is not is exciting to see that you have only partially tapped into the incredible power of this magnificent Oracle engine? Unfortunately, if you rely on other dashboard devices like signals for turns, air conditioning, or a radio, then you have to build these things yourself. After all, the engineers of the engine realize that you turn on different roads than everyone else, you have personal preferences for your climate controls, and you have personal preferences for terrestrial or Sirius satellite radio stations. Therefore, you need to build the point and click objects, menus, and radio buttons to accommodate your personal preferences, and all the possible variations thereof. Someone forgot to mention that all of these functions and amenities need to be custom designed for each driver.
Once the common dashboard and control devices are designed, developed, and implemented, then the next wave of discovery begins. The old buttons, knobs, and dials are gone. Everything has been replaced with the convenient control of a single device, your mouse. That seemed like a wonderful convenience when it was first described to you. All of the controls are at two fingers on one hand. Once you are past the pain of installing all of the other controls at additional cost, it happens to you that it might be a little complicated to switch between steering the car, sending a command to roll up the windows, turning on the air conditioner, Selecting a radio station, and signaling your turn, all at the same time with one device. All of these things require a different set of menus, so you need to choose your work stream very carefully. Otherwise, you may run into the back of a truck while trying to turn off the heater, and turn on Howard Stern. Just then, it begins to rain, and you realize that the windshield wipers have not been coded yet.
Dear Larry Ellison, please forgive me if my sense of irony has inadvertently presented what could be perceived as an unflattering commentary. It is purely intended to make a point about proper planning for transition of technology. After all, you do build a beautiful engine.
So, what should we do?
1) Be Aggressive
It is appropriate to be aggressive when implementing new technology that provides a competitive edge. The competitive edge may be related to overall system performance that empowers employees to become more productive. A competitive edge may be a utility that empowers clients and customers to become more self-sufficient, like installing the ATM machine outside the bank for customer self-sufficient convenience. The competitive advantage may integrate multiple functions, partners, or streams of data that allow for more intelligent decisions or effective business. If the implementation, integration, or transfer to new technology is going to have a substantial and measured competitive advantage, then be aggressive about the pursuit of technology.
2) Be Cautious
If the transfer of technology touches upon the core competency or revenue of your business, then be cautious about making any significant changes. This does not mean that you avoid improving technology. It sincerely claims that it is appropriate to be more cautious in studying the ramifications and ancillary applications which may be impacted by even a minority change to the code. There are horror stories from companies that implemented seemingly innocuous changes to billing, and then failed to produce invoices or statements for the clients. During this period of the transfer of technology, revenue was suddenly reduced. The result created financial hardship for the billing company, and for the disgruntled customers who suddenly received several months worth of accumulated billing once the invoicing system issues were resolved. Not only was this an impact on cash flow during the interruption in billing, but it affected the relationship with the clients as well. Be aggressive about competitive opportunities to grow your profit and performance, but be cautious when it comes to implementing changes that may impact your core business offerings, clients, or billing.
3) Be Quick
Be quick to implement minor changes, and carefully monitor the impact. When it comes to performance enhancement, internal suggestions for simplifying routines, or improving the customer experience, do not delay. Design the small changes, test the changes thoroughly, and create a schedule to consistently roll out enhancements. Quite often, the little improvements have the biggest impact to business performance.
4) Be Slow
When it comes to major changes in the architecture or systems that sustain your business, be slow in implementing change. Frequently, the core architecture and functions of the business are the most efficient and streamlined. The processes that get the most use are the ones that get the most attention, and are often the most highly evolved. Unfortunately, these are also the processes that are typically selected for the first priority when it comes to implementing a transfer in technology. On the contrary, avoid the allure of focusing on familiar ground, and reserve the primary processes until the transition has been tested on some of the more complex, and less often utilized, utilities. By focusing development on the most complex and least used functions, there is a tremendous knowledge to be gained by the experience, and the least amount of impact to the business. There are too many horror stories of companies that eagerly transferred the main processes, and then spend months or years working out the bugs that could have been identified by developing a much less needed or impactful part of the process.
5) Be Safe
There is no better time to address the vast array of potential security needs than during the design, development, and implementation of new technology. What personal data to you manage, process, forward, or store? This is not limited to credit card transactions or bank account numbers for wire transfers. Somewhere in the intense archives of data, you are probably holding precious private information on every one of your own employees. Employee records contain social security numbers, bank accounts for direct deposit, names and addresses, and possibly even reference to medical coverage. Quite often we think about the pipeline to our customers, and forget about the goldmine of private information inside our own facilities. Do not we owe the same protection to our own employees?
Privacy data can include medical records, financial records, and personal information. Driver's license numbers, credit card numbers, or even matching email address with telephone numbers, are all potential risk to privacy. The threat is not limited to how people access the information from the outside, or the number of firewalls that you put into place. The threat is also from the inside, and what kind of information is available to employees and associates. How easy it is to look up client records and download the information to a thumb drive? How easy is it to copy the entire company database of customer information, account information, or intellectual property? What would it be worth to a disgruntled employee to take valuable client information to a competitor?
There is no better time than the present to have a security expert evaluate the potential gaps of privacy in your organization. If you have customers, credit cards, customer accounts, client information, intellectual property, financial information, medical information, or employee information stored electronically, accessible on a network, or printed in files, then it is time to consider security.
If you are in the middle of preparing for a technology transformation, design, development, integration, or implementation, then it is the perfect time to review all of the related documents with a security and privacy expert. If you are organizing all of this information, then why not take advantage of your efforts to protect your customers, your employees, and your business? Executives and management are increasingly being held responsible for ignoring or overlooking the potential security breaches in their respective organizations, both from protecting customers from external threats, and for controlling the actions of disgruntled employees. Mitigate risk to the company, and the executives of the company, by taking appropriate and reasonable precautions for expert analysis, controls, and privacy.
Words of Wisdom
"Technology is dominated by two types of people: those who understand what they do not manage, and those who manage what they do not understand."
– Putt's Law
"For a list of all the ways technology has failed to improve the quality of life, please press three."
– Alice Kahn
"There is an evil tendency underlying all our technology – the tendency to do what is reasonable even when it is not any good."
– Robert Pirsig
"Humanity is acquiring all the right technology for all the wrong reasons."
– R. Buckminster Fuller