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Realising the Value of New Technology: Put Your People First

It is difficult to escape technology these days, both in the workplace and at home. The pace of progress is staggering, things we take for granted nowadays – reliable 4G data connections almost everywhere we want to use our smartphones, for example – were unheard of 10 or 20 years ago.

To many people, these changes are enthralling. To others, they can be confusing, frustrating and not entirely welcome. Yet another group sits somewhere in the middle and accepts it all without much of a view on it either way.

As with most things, our attitudes towards and aptitudes for technology form a broad spectrum, ranging from the extremes of geeky tech-head obsession to the most trenchant luddite determined to have nothing to do with the stuff whatsoever.

This is important, especially when it comes to introducing new technology in the workplace. Because behind every new device or new piece of software there is a human story – the story of the people who have to use it.

Adoption over deployment

We are not yet at the stage where the machines have taken over completely, where digital systems are self-replicating, self-managing autonomous entities that quite frankly don’t need human interference. Technology, no matter how clever, remains a tool, and without the people who use it, it provides little value.

This is where so many companies go wrong. They invest significant sums in migrating their entire IT infrastructure into the cloud, introducing the latest cross-organisational management platform and setting up the most sophisticated analytics platform money can buy so they always have clear real-time intelligence on what is happening everywhere across the business.

A year later, there is still no discernible upturn in efficiency, productivity or financial performance. It appears it was all an expensive waste of time – why did they listen to all that clap-trap about technology being some kind of golden egg for improving margins, anyway?

In most such cases, businesses think all they have to do is roll out the technology and the riches will follow. They forget about a vital ingredient – people. All the focus is on deployment rather than adoption, i.e. getting staff onboard with the new systems and using them effectively.

People over technology

This is where the tech spectrum becomes important. Some people will take to new technology like a duck to water, relishing the chance to do things differently and immediately seeing the benefits both to their own work and to the business as a whole.

Others will take a little more convincing to say the least. They may lack confidence in their own technological capabilities and therefore see the changes not as an opportunity but as a threat. Some people naturally equate change with disruption and don’t welcome any upheaval to long-established routines and habits. Left unaddressed, people who hold these views and attitudes will struggle to use or resist using new technology effectively, making it difficult for the company to realise its value.

New technology cannot simply be dumped on people. It takes careful and thoughtful management. For those who lack confidence in their skills and feel new tech pushes them out of their comfort zone, it takes training and support. For those disinclined towards change who can’t see what’s wrong with the old ways of doing things, it requires the case to be made patiently and convincingly, focusing especially on the benefits to them.

Overall, it requires a cooperative approach. If people are expected to change the way they work by adopting new technology, they deserve to be made to feel a part of the process, to have their ideas, opinions and concerns listened to. Perhaps most crucially, they need to feel that they are still valued above the technology.