Things Were Supposed To Get Better – Part 4 - Technology.

Like many people of my generation, I grew up full of wonder and anticipation at the emerging technological revolution. I can still remember doing work experience at one of my father’s companies in the 1960’s when they employed one of the first mainframe computer systems in Australia. A machine the size of a house that was really nothing more than a glorified adding machine linked to a ledger.

From those early days technology has advanced in leaps and bounds. It has opened up possibilities, both for consumers and companies, that we never thought possible as little as twenty years ago. Technology has revolutionised our lives. And I like many people love it and are hooked. When it delivers!

For technology has also promised – and continues to promise – a great many things that it fails to deliver in practical application. Like a politician wanting to get elected, never letting truth stand between them and getting elected.

In many instances, technology has not made businesses faster to act. It floods management teams with too much information, doesn’t always integrate well and often requires lengthy process to change or even use.

In many instances, technology has not reduced costs when the cost of the technology and the real cost of using it, integrating it and maintaining it and the time it takes are factored into the analysis.

In many instances, technology has not made things simpler or more enjoyable or more profitable or more productive. It has just made things different and dependent on it. Budgets that used to employ people have been diverted into acquiring, running, maintaining and upgrading technology. Technology has changed everything and embedded itself so fundamentally in the way we do things today that it is impossible to extricate. Modern retail businesses today are totally reliant on technology and often at a competitive disadvantage if they don’t invest in it.

Smart retailers however understand that retail is still about fundamentals and – far from running the business – technology’s role is to enhance the organisation’s capability to deliver on the fundamentals. Retailers need to think very carefully before they commit to technology paths because they often take twice as long and cost twice as much and are twice as hard to implement as originally estimated. And while they are hard to integrate, often technology paths are even harder to move away from. Increasingly we need to be very clear on what we need from any technological solution we are considering and pragmatically what it will take from the organisation in terms of time, cost and opportunity. We also better be pretty darn sure the benefit is worth it in profit terms.

Technology when employed poorly is a creeping cancer that debilitates. Technology when employed cleverly is a brilliant asset that can fuel the business top to bottom. There are intended and unintended consequences at play. Make sure you consult with an independent source who has been there before. Many of the pitfalls are easy to avoid with hindsight.