Three things that leaders most often get wrong about technology

Almost 10 years ago (yes, time flies), our founder Peter Hinssen, wrote a book titled “The New Normal”. The book describes how companies must align their innovation strategy with their...

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February 8, 2021

And yet, here we are. A lot of organizations are still struggling with technology and digitization. That’s why I thought it would be useful to share the three things that leaders most often forget about technology.

Data is king but intelligence rules the house

From the printer in your office over the machines in your manufacturing facility to the smart coffee mug owned by the bearded hipster in your marketing department, nowadays everything seems to come with sensors. Not only is this just the beginning (5G will unleash an enormous potential here), all these “things” create an enormous amount of data.

All this data offers major opportunities for companies. Every major AI firm nowadays will tell you this: data is king and the more data you can gather, the better. While they are absolutely right, gathering data is only the starting point.

Imagine this: you have the smartest factory in the world, with thousands of sensors gathering data. What happens next? Are you ready to use that data? Were you prepared for those data streams? And can you use it intelligently to improve your processes, predict problems or deliver a better customer experience?

The disappointing answer is often“no” and the intelligence behind that data is where the real value is hidden.

Therefore, it is critical to outline how data will improve your business at both strategic and tactical levels. Do not forget to invest in BI tools and train your staff for data-driven decision making. And no, Excel is not a BI-tool. (although I still believe that its inventor should get a Noble prize someday.) Also, please don’t make the mistake of thinking that an analytics tool is something that can be installed once and then will work perfectly without any intervention: someone has to keep asking if your data streams are still relevant, if you can add other data from other sources or if the context has changed and so the algorithms should too.

Technology is here to augment people.

In the past century, technology has enabled companies to do more with less people. AI, IoT and big data will speed up this process even more in the coming years. Ray Kurzweil, director of engineering at Google assumes that computers will achieve humanlike intelligence by 2029 and singularity by 2045.

Depending on who you are, that might sound exciting or frightening. It will change the way we work forever and that’s why technology needs to be approached from another perspective.

In my opinion, companies investing in a way to augment humans with technology, rather than replacing them by technology will be stronger, more agile and more resilient than their competitors.

To do so, it is necessary to start exploring the world of the augmented employee today. Some companies are already doing just that with Augmented Reality (for order picking, medical operations, etc.) but many more opportunities lie ahead in the field.

In a way, our smartphones are already a step towards the augmented human because they help us navigate, calculate, translate, meditate and so much more.

It might be a good idea to start there and see what technological advances from the well-known smartphone world you can bring into the workplace. After all, our smartphones are packed with sensors and developing software for them can be hardly called rocket-science. Especially combined with smart wearables or smart textiles, they offer a lot of potential. Think about dangerous environments where these sensors can monitor the heart rate, body temperature, location, and situation (standing, lying on the ground, etc.) from your employees to check whether they are ok or not.

Do not forget there is a human side to technology on the work floor as well. Stimulate the use of wellbeing apps, use them to help employees to eat healthy or engage in sports from time to time. Not everybody will be open to it but the credo “Mens sana in corpore sano” (healthy mind in a healthy body) is still very much true.

Technology should be implemented from the bottom up.

I am a geek and I love new technology. It makes me happy and so do its advantages. Over the years however, I have experienced that I am an outlier and that is something to think about.

Before joining nexxworks, a colleague of mine at an IT company migrated a customer from Windows XP to Windows 7. When he came into that office, the morning after the migration, one of the users was crying in front of her computer because she could not figure out how to work with that “new computer”.

While my story might be the exception rather than the rule, it illustrates why technology adoption is often very slow: users need to be on board before you can make any changes.

People embrace technology in their personal lives all the time. They use banking apps, fitness apps, heck, people even milk cows on their phones. The essence here is that these apps make things simpler, more efficient, and more convenient.

The OS upgrade in my example achieved none of the things above. From a security perspective it absolutely makes sense to upgrade but not from a user perspective. Therefore, a couple of things to consider before implementing something new. Whether it is a new machine, a new app or a new way of working, consider this:

  • If you invest in technology, also invest in reskilling and learning.
  • Involve people in the process. Let them test, comment and suggest improvements.
  • When you involve people: never, ever try to change your new tools so they fit the way you are working today. Adapt your way of working to the tools you want to work with or select another tool. If not, nothing will ever change within your organization.
  • Dare to try something new. It’s not because none of the Fortune500 companies are currently using that new technology that it might not be a fit for your organization.

Technology is a wonderful tool, which can help your company achieve many things. But it is also “just” a tool. It’s those companies that use tech to create better lives and better work for humans - customers and employees - that will keep themselves relevant in the future.

Joren Lemiegre
Joren Lemiegre
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February 8, 2021