It’s Not About the Technology… Except When It Is.

Steve Boese Employee Communications, HR Tech, Social Recruiting, Steve Boese

‘It’s not about the technology’.

‘The technology should not be the first consideration in any Human Resources project’.

‘Decide what business problem you need to solve, only then start thinking about the technology’.

Blah. Blah. Blah.

I am sure you have heard (or said) many of these old chestnuts before. I am honestly getting sick of them. These arguments fail to take into consideration several realities in many organizations and the enormous untapped potential in the technologies themselves.

Reality number one – Most ‘knowledge’ workers, and these days that is pretty much everyone, spend obscene amounts of time simply searching for information. Information buried in email chains or hiding in Word documents six levels down on an obscure shared network drive with a name like U:/srv0145/docs/whatthehelldoesthismean. And even if you have deciphered that arcane naming convention, good luck actually gaining access to the directory, or finding anything therein.

Even the simplest modern platforms for storing and sharing content like a wiki or a slightly more robust internal social sharing platform will almost immediately reduce the time spent ‘searching’ and increase the time available to analyze, assess, create, and innovate.  But folks mesmerized by the ‘It’s not about the technology’ mantra will often delay, quibble, or endlessly debate the business issues and continue to spin their wheels since  simply obtaining and applying a technology solution has to be the last step in the process. Go ahead, keep using the shared drive, make sure to ‘save changes’ as U:/srv0145/docs/whatthehelldoesthismean/project_plans/big_critical_project/risks-v27.doc.

Reality number two – We don’t know what we don’t know.  There is a classic old yarn about how when IBM created some of the earliest computers that they estimated the total market to be about 5 units.  They could not imagine anyone else needing access to significant computing power.  Today we often make the same erroneous assumptions about our employees.  Why would every manager need access to powerful workforce analytics on their desktops?  Why would our recruiters need an iPhone app to capture and import candidate information into our ATS?  What possible benefit to the company is there by allowing the staff to access social networks at the office?

Leading with the technology is often the best way to discover ideas, unearth creative solutions, and develop and cultivate a mindset of ‘let’s see what is possible’.  Or you could continue to wait to determine the ‘business problems’ a bit longer before making any hasty decisions.

Reality number three – Technology, and those who apply technical solutions (yes, geeks like me), are almost never held in the same problem solving and innovative light as those in the traditional ‘creative’ disciplines like design, marketing, or development. This week I watched a replay of a 2007 documentary about Pixar, the innovative and ground-breaking digital animation company that has produced a string of hits (Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Cars). Pixar knows that the ‘story’ is the essential component of a successful film, but the technical skills of the animators combined with the sheer capability and power of the technology must work in concert to create a magical result.

One of the senior leaders of Pixar recognized this technical input to the creative process as critical to their effort by observing – “The best scientists and engineers are just as creative as the best storytellers.” The best ‘story’ executed with amazing technical skill and creativity is the goal and the measure of success.  Pixar started with the technology first, then found the best people to tell great stories leveraging the tools.

Sure, it is not about the technology.  Keep telling yourself that while you keep cranking on that Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet and prettying up your Harvard Graphics pie chart.