Is technology a cure-all or a cog?

Investment in technology is a waste of money so as long as organisations expect it to deliver "magical" solutions when what we...

Investment in technology is a waste of money so as long as organisations expect it to deliver "magical" solutions when what we need to do is overhaul how we do business.

The dotcom era saw technology become burdened with a label it was never going to be able to live up to. Technology was never going to completely change the way we live overnight. Unfortunately - and it is a tale that has been told many times - most of us were sucked in.

And though the bubble bursting did kill most of our unrealistic ideas about the all-conquering power of technology, it did not kill them all - one of the most damaging remains. It is the idea that the only factor in the success of IT projects is technology itself. And, ironically enough, it is an idea getting in the way of technology's progress.

Successful implementations are about a lot more than just technology. How do we know that? By looking at implementations that have failed. A good example, and the one most pertinent to my business, is security. Over the past year we have witnessed an abundance of high profile hacks and damaging viruses. We now know that no business is exempt from risk. Any organisation could be attacked at any time by something that could fundamentally cripple it.

Inevitably this has contributed to many businesses now viewing security as a critical issue essential to their survival, rather than a luxury item that only some can afford. However, what we have also witnessed is that despite the large sums of money being spent on this area, many companies are still suffering from breaches that are leaving lasting effects.

Why? Because they think that security technology on its own is a cure-all remedy. It is not.

Another example of this is the world of customer relationship management (CRM). In the past two years we have witnessed a surge of multimillion-pound investments in this field.

However, many CRM systems are just not living up to initial expectations. Despite numerous analyst forecasts for industry growth, the media last year was inundated with stories of organisations that had not seen the expected return on investment. Why? Because too many eager organisations launched into CRM projects under the impression that the applications alone could transform the way the business served its customers.

So what is the answer? Unfortunately it is by no means as simple as it might sound - there are three other key factors to bear in mind: vision, people and process.
Technology projects can serve up business benefits that will make the board's tongues hang out, but only with project managers who can see the bigger picture. It is all very well deploying world-leading technology, but without the other fully working parts of the equation you might as well have saved your money.

To return to the security example, investing huge amounts of one's IT budget on improving and upgrading a current security system is one thing, but without a water-tight understanding of what you want to achieve you will face an uphill challenge to get there.

For example, do you want protection to focus on your servers, your routers, the integrity of your data, or on all of these areas? And when you have figured that out, and you have bought the technology, what human implications are thrown up? Do you need to run workshops to communicate to all staff their own responsibilities when it comes to security? Because, let's face it, employees do things on a daily basis that leave you exposed to potentially fatal security breaches, irrespective of the software or hardware you've invested in.

The CRM example gives us just as many instances of errors relating directly to an over-emphasis on technology. It is all very well deploying the most expensive CRM system on the market, but, without initial buy-in from all directly involved with the new system, and a correctly implemented change management programme, the project money that your IT director fought so hard to get, should really have been spent elsewhere.

As with all technology, it is a two way process, and only by ensuring that the people who will work with the new system understand fully the reasons for its deployment, as well as how it can help the business on a long-term basis, the systems effectiveness can be fully maximised. It is necessary to embrace CRM as a way of doing business rather than merely another IT project.

We are in the grips of a dangerous trend. But it is one we can do something about. By appreciating that technology is only one piece of the jigsaw and taking a holistic approach, return on investment just might go from being an ideal to a reality.

Peter Turner is managing director, NSC Global

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