Stay outcomes focused when looking at technology

April 3, 2018
by Lawrie Breen

Every business, large or small, will face challenges in a variety of ways. We work in an environment where change happens rapidly, managing cost is a struggle, and projects can escape from you pretty quickly if you don’t have it all worked out.

We’re seeing it across both the public and private sectors. Look at the NBN rollout, a project that was supposed to deliver for consumers and businesses in terms of Internet speed. Instead, cost blowouts, an incredibly poor rollout, and major speed issues have plagued the project. It seems that the trust of the customer in all of this, i.e. Australians, has been completely lost.

A challenge for all businesses in rolling out new technology is to not forget about the end user, whether it is your employees or your customers, in terms of delivering the right outcome.

Process overload

We see it often in technology rollouts: Process overload. Many technology projects begin as a way of untangling processes to make a business more efficient, and that absolutely should be one of the key outcomes. However, an issue we often see is businesses trying to replicate an overly complicated process. Process is a necessary function of business, but it is easy to be caught up in automating an existing broken one simply because ‘you’ve always done it this way.’

In this type of scenario, process can work against you. Technology is an enabler, not the end outcome itself, so chances are if your process is too complicated or simply doesn’t work, then technology alone is unlikely to change that.

That said, I’m still a firm believer that automating manual processes such as sales orders, accounts payable, and internal sign off forms is the right way to go, especially as the laws and regulations around how we manage our business data are changing. But does automation for automations sake deliver the results you need?

Focus on an outcome, not the process

The key component to ensuring you have the right approach is to focus on the outcome, not the process itself. Use the NBN rollout as an example: I’d hazard a guess that NBN Co were at times more focused on the costs, unrealistic deadlines, and political implications of the project, rather than the outcome they needed, which was a better result for all Australian Internet users. Now that maybe a simplistic view and I’m sure there are many factors and excuses that experts would point to, but the reality is other distractions took them away from focusing on the outcome.

It’s the same with any technology project you run in your business: You need to start with the outcome in mind. What are you trying to achieve? If it’s reducing administration time for your staff, then make that the core focus of the project. Digitising a process can give you a better outcome, as long as you take the time to ensure that the change gives you real efficiencies.

I would suggest looking at these four areas when considering replacing a process with technology:

  1. Find a real, measurable outcome. Focus on finding something that’s tangible. For example, if it’s automating an admin process your target should be something that can be measured, like reducing the time taken to complete the process by 40%.
  2. Look at why, not how. By this I mean: Don’t make the implementation of the technology itself your outcome. Remember, the technology is the enabler to the change. It’s how you’re making the change, not the change itself. Make sure your team understand the why behind the change, for example: “We’re automating accounts payable to save up to 50% of the time it takes today to manage this process.” Don’t communicate something like: “We’re installing a new piece of accounts payable software.”
  3. Be prepared to change. This might sound simple, but it’s often resistance to change, or even fear of it, that stops you focusing on the real outcome you want. Our teams become comfortable with the way we do things, so invest in making sure you’ve factored change management into your project.
  4. Ensure the outcome is the priority. Always come back to the outcome when reviewing any decision you make on the project. If it doesn’t contribute to the outcome you’re after, then question why you’re doing it.

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