I recall Norm Abrams, of the PBS series “This Old House” and “New Yankee Workshop” once saying that when remodeling an old house, you “could only do what the house would let you do.” That’s true of investing in convergence technology too, but the smaller the house (or business), the fewer limitations you have. With a small house, you can often build a huge addition without much concern for the original house. But with a large house, you often choose to knock down walls instead of just adding-on to the existing space; and if a wall is discovered to be load-bearing, you’ll either have to abandon some aspect of your original plans or pay exorbitant costs to reinforce the structure.
So it is with convergence technology. A small business can often implement new convergence technology without much concern for what is in place; whereas, a large business has to be careful of those “load bearing walls.” The advantage goes to the technology savvy business, large or small. I use the qualifier “technology savvy” because, using my “three pillars of technology investment” model, it will be easy to see why not all small businesses can achieve an ROI on convergence investments.
Picture the front façade of a small Greek temple, with a foundation and three pillars holding up the roof structure. The loss of any one pillar jeopardizes the integrity of the structure. In my model, the foundation is corporate strategy, on top of which lies your foundation of technology strategy. The three pillars are “Capital Investment,” “Operating Efficiency,” and “Business Process Convergence.” Unless all three are solid, the roof structure (the “ROI”) is at risk and may collapse completely.
Capital Investment is about making the right decisions about what technology to invest in. Obviously, when you spend capital that returns nothing, your ROI is at least negative 100 percent. Not zero, because zero is break-even. The actual ROI would be more than negative 100 percent because of the opportunity loss on alternate uses for that capital and the associated ripple effect, such as other expenditures relying on the bad investment paying dividends.
Operating Efficiency is about the way that you manage, maintain, and monitor your new capital investment. The cost of the hardware is not the major expense, of course. When a company thinks about operating efficiency, it often asks whether it is better to build its own staff or contract out portions of it. That is never an easy decision, but the ROI is usually easy to calculate as I explained in The Six Month Rule of Technology Investment Payback post.
Converging Business Processes is about “doorstops,” a term I picked up when consulting with a Fortune 100 company and a Big Four consultancy about five years ago. A “doorstop” is a technology that is purchased (capital) and implemented (operating) but which fails to change the underlying business process that it was intended to make more efficient. This particular “doorstop” was a popular PDA in the years before those devices had wireless connectivity (you had to dock or tether them to sync.) Field reps in that company found the devices totally impractical. They preferred using the paper forms, and the entire “Temple of Technology” came crashing down.
So in remodeling your technology “house,” you can only do what your culture and infrastructure will allow. If once you start your demolition, you find that paper forms are a “load-bearing wall” of your culture, the best approach is to roll the technology out slowly, with early adopters using the technology while laggards continue to use their paper forms. Leaping from an old to a new technology too quickly can indeed cause the infrastructure to collapse when proper planning could have avoided such a disaster; and since you have to plan for disaster recovery anyway, paper forms are not a bad thing to keep around.
When technology fails, you want people to have manual alternatives. So why completely kill off an old method all at once? It’s always better for a person to be convinced by an early-adopting peer that they need to switch to new technology than to feel forced into change by a faceless corporate mandate. Furthermore, you can minimize implementation and support costs if you phase in a technology rollout in correlation with your support staff resources and the likely adoption/resistance rate of your users.
This is what “Converging Business Processes” is all about: bringing together the old way of running the business and a new way over a well-planned period of time. When to invest and how quickly to converge business processes is a question to ask by inspecting the foundation of your corporate culture: force change too quickly and great technologies that could transform your business will be relegated to “doorstops.”
Remodeling your technology house takes time. It’s only through the magic of TV that Norm Abrams can build a five-drawer Mission-style computer desk in Red Oak in under 30 minutes. If Norm was writing this article, he might say, “before you implement new technology, let's take a moment to talk about technology safety. Always plan, consult and communicate all aspects of your technology migration; and, there’s no more important piece of technology safety than these: disaster plans.” I guess I will have to cover that in a future post.