Adapting to the pace of IT change

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Bill Todd, business development manager for logistics software firm CargoWise, recently related a highly pertinent vignette concerning the struggles many of us endure (myself especially) when trying to figure out new technology.

“Recently, watching my neighbors trying to figure out the technology in their new car reminded me of something a lot of us do when faced with new and complicated technology: give up,” he said. 

“Indeed, after trying to understand the manual for a while, they just gave up,” Todd noted. “After two hours of struggling with the directions, they decided it was too complicated to actually figure out how to use all the new features that their new car had to offer, and opted instead to use it more or less as the way they used their old car.”

[Oh how I can sympathize with his neighbors about that! Goodness, trying to figure out all the gizmos packed into today’s cars is like trying to figure out how a “turbo encabulator” works.]

Yet from where he sits, that is worst mistake to make when it comes to the adoption of new technology: simply giving up. And it’s not just for those flummoxed by all the gee-whiz stuff packed into today’s automobiles, either.

“A few decades back, reading through a manual was standard practice for every new piece of technology we purchased whether for work or home,” Todd said. “The new technology was often designed as a fairly simple extension of what we were already doing – so adopting new technology usually involved doing the same thing we were already doing, with some small adjustments.”

Because technology was less complex, and in most cases the people buying the technology had more time to figure out how to use it, they would be able to modify their processes in order to use it to its fullest potential, he explained.

Not so anymore. “These days, whether we’re talking about cars, or cameras or software systems, we’re talking about devices which are designed to be replaced every year or two, and corporate systems need to be upgraded or changed on a regular basis,” Todd (above at right) emphasized. “The shift in the way technology is provided and rolled out also means we also need to change the way we learn about, adopt and implement new systems.”

Now, he knows just as well as anyone that the time constraints the business world functions within nowadays – and that goes double for the on-time delivery focused trucking industry – means that we’re all stuck in a difficult situation; because none of us can really afford to spend weeks or even days learning how new technology – especially information technology (IT) – works.

“But neither can we afford not to fully use all the features new technology has to offer,” Todd stressed. “Companies will buy new software in the hope it will boost their productivity, but then adopt only a fraction of the functionality it offers because they struggle to modify their own practices. Like my neighbors and their new car, they read through the manual, decide it’s all a bit too hard to comprehend, and fall back on what they already know how to do. Some will even try hiring new staff to figure it all out for them.”

Yet he believes there are better – and more cost-effective – solutions than the “give up.” Here are some of his suggestions:

  • Pay more attention to the “power” users in your company. There will be people who have an affinity with technology, and who are open to change – take the time to find out who they are.
  • Take the time to benchmark what you are currently achieving – and the resources you are using. Much of the time businesses will balk at paying for automated systems to replace manual processes without really understanding how much the manual processes cost in the first place.
  • Talk to your software provider about the most effective work practices associated with their technology. It’s always more efficient to use the system the way it was designed to be used, rather than to attempt to fit it into pre-existing work practices.
  • Look for how others are using the technology and try to recruit staff with experience in this area.
  • Once you have standardized your procedures with better process control, use your system workflow capabilities to effectively manage the new processes.
  • Ongoing training is the key to success – go back for more training after a few months on a new system. This approach has proven to improve workflow and boost productivity.
  • Give up on manual processing and printing documents. Processing, distributing and storing paper-based documents costs time and money. Keying in data later is a waste of time, and a great way to introduce errors into your data.

The basic idea, according to Todd, is to make the adoption of new technology easy and straightforward by first understanding your internal capabilities, and then working with the technology rather than against it –even if this means changing and upgrading your internal processes.

I’ll be the first one to admit that this all seems too much for the likes of near-Luddites like myself. Yet IT is what powers the world now, so there’s in many cases no choice but to knuckle down and adapt.

“The biggest challenge really isn’tthe adoption of the technology; the biggest challenge is about understanding the changes you need to make in order for IT work effectively,” Todd adapt. “If you can adapt to change, adopting new technology will be easy.”

Let’s hope he’s right about that!

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