Driverless cars. Robot citizens. Facial recognition. For those of us who remember when VCRs were a novelty, the world has undergone quite the technological transformation (post-millennials, stop your sniggering. Your time will come.)
And nowhere is this more apparent than in the workplace. Whether you’re simply coming to grips with the latest version of Office 365 or enthusiastically embracing advanced AI capability, the evolution of technology across every modern work environment remains both rapid and relentless. And while the pace of change may be faster than some of us would like, the opportunities it offers should surely offset any unease.
Or maybe not. It’s interesting that a recent report released by the NZ Productivity Commission found that while “The uptake of technology is needed for both productivity growth and improvements in wellbeing”, in general New Zealand sits more on the fence than at the forefront of technological advances. In fact, notes Inquiry Director Judy Kavanagh, “This country has historically done a poor job of adopting new technologies.”
Change-averse? Us? We took this claim straight to the coalface. As the New Zealand solution engineering manager at global tech titan Salesforce, Stu Jones is well-placed to comment on whether we are indeed a nation of not-so-early adopters. “We are inherently more cautious,” he concedes. “I think that’s partly because we are a nation of comparatively small organisations, so large investments in new technology can be a massive undertaking. We like to wait and see how new processes work out for other organisations around the world.” He also notes that our geographical isolation impacts our ability to adopt new technology. “The fact that we are so far away from the tech hubs of Europe and the US means that generally we don’t have the resources to embrace these advances early. While they’re all based in similar locations, talking and collaborating, we’re on the other side of the world, so it’s more difficult for us to join in.”
Well, there’s not much we can do about geography – but we’re still far from exoneration. If improving our tech adoption will increase productivity and enhance our ability to adapt to rapidly evolving work practices, why are we still so cautious to commit? We asked Jones to identify what he believes to be the most common obstacles to taking on new tech – and how he counters this resistance:
And the fear is real: there’s no denying that any disruption to long-established work processes is a risk. “Change is scary – and it creates unease at all levels of the business, even executive levels,” says Jones. Key to countering this is an understanding of risk versus reward, he says – as well as minimising risk in the first place: “Do your homework. Put your trust only in companies that have a clear track record.” And remember, there’s nothing wrong with starting small. “It is possible to just dip your toe in,” he notes. “Do a proof of concept. Run a pilot. Try things on a smaller scale so that if it fails, any loss of time, money and resources is minor.” Don’t forget: disruption is no longer a dirty word.
Everyone knows that good data means good business decisions. However, observes Jones, “In the past, a lot of organisations haven’t done a great job of capturing and maintaining good quality data about their customers, their competitors, their industry and their markets. And new technology – particularly artificial intelligence, which is based on building algorithms around data patterns – requires decent data to deliver results. So organisations that want to implement AI, for example, often end up spending significant amounts of time, money and resources cleaning up their data before they can use this technology effectively.” His advice? “First up, get a data capturing and cleansing process in place. But also make sure you communicate the importance of this process to your people. Employees may not see the value of data entry. If you can show your people the results that good data will deliver, then you’ll get buy-in from them, you’ll get good clean data and you’ll get the ability to innovate and take action ahead of your competitors.”
Granted, this particular sticking point is stickier than most. Implementing new technology isn’t cheap – and a return on your investment may take some time. However, Jones points out that many major technology companies like Google, Amazon, Microsoft and, of course, Salesforce provide services and capabilities – for example, cloud computing – that smaller organisations can use without having to invest in infrastructure and set-up costs. “It’s the democratisation of technology,” he explains. “A small organisation can use an application like Salesforce for minimal cost, while still enjoying exactly the same capabilities and resources as some of the largest organisations in the world.” Not such a hard sell, then.
New tech doesn’t just necessitate technical training. PEP devotees will know that establishing the right behaviours, protocols and agreements to support the new processes is also essential. “The technical implementation of new technology is often the easiest part of a roll-out,” observes Jones. “The most difficult, but also most important, parts are change management and training. There’s no point providing your people with amazing technology without first understanding how they are currently working and what would help them the most.” Once again, clarity and communication are essential for buy-in, he says (sound familiar?): “You need to explain how this new technology is going to benefit them. In my experience, the best implementations of new technology have been when an organisation involves everybody – or at least wide cross-sections of their employee base – in the process. When people feel they are contributing to a company’s success, there is much better employee engagement.”
So yes, some obstacles to our adoption of technology do exist. But are they insurmountable? Clearly not. So instead of relegating tech to the too-hard basket, let’s embrace what it offers: an opportunity to improve productivity, performance and even people’s lives. “Technology doesn’t have to be intimidating,” says Jones. “It’s just another tool to make life easier. Try it and see where it takes you.” Key word here? Try. “Our biggest ‘competitor’ is the option to do nothing,” observes Jones. “But even if you don’t do anything, chances are your competitors will.”
In other words? We can rise to the challenge – or we can risk falling behind. Nothing new there.
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