I read an interesting article the other day that concluded with a statement that is so relevant: “Blindly deciding that IT be substituted for humans is unenlightened. IT is not a magic potion that makes unpleasant or inconvenient things disappear.”
The author did a good job laying out a case for the thoughtful use of technology and giving the reader permission to conclude that technology is not the answer to all problems (counter to today’s culture). Technology brings many, many benefits to business and society in general. This fact can’t be disputed.
The challenge is introduced when we turn to technology before obtaining a reasonable understanding of the real problem. Asking the right questions helps to determine if technology is appropriate – good questions helps to bring enlightenment. There are two questions I ask before pursuing technology solutions:
- What is the problem to be solved and the expected result?
- Should technology be used to solve the problem or can the problem be solved using other methods?
These questions apply to technology considerations in our business and personal life. I’ll share a couple of examples to illustrate the point. On the business side, technology is often seen as a magic potion when a business process is broken. Often times the problem is not technology related but it requires thoughtful leadership to come to this conclusion. Most recently I was involved in a discussion that focused on forms development, workflow modifications, etc. As we took a step back and discussed to real problem it became clear that neither forms nor workflow was the root cause. The real issue was communication. We shifted our focus to address the communication gap and achieved better results almost immediately.
Technology enlightenment is more nuanced on the personal side. The promise of personal technology is that it will make our lives better/easier (e.g., advanced medical monitoring and treatment, productivity tools), facilitate personal connections (e.g., social media such as Facebook), or entertain us (e.g., gaming). In today’s society we use technology in many ways but is it making us better or happier? Does the Internet make us smarter or does it promote apathy towards topics we should have a deeper understanding? Do the games we constantly play (e.g., Angry Birds) simply help us pass the time or do they blunt the development of deeper relationships that make us a better spouse, parent, or sibling? These topics are constantly debated and each individual has to determine what’s right for them. I have my opinion but it’s just that, an opinion.
The point is technology, just as with any tool, is a double-edged sword that brings advantages and disadvantages. What’s most important is to understand how to use the tool to get the best value. Each organization and individual has to understand what’s important to them before turning to technology. As the author stated, there is no magic.