Every so often, DSC is asked by our clients to recommend this or that IT system. No one likes the answer that we give. We do not have a secret list of software that can solve all your problems. Indeed most organisations' difficulties are rarely, if ever, about the technology.
A caveat: We are not talking here about organisations with entirely technology-based business models, like HireUp or The Housing Hub. We are speaking about organisations whose business model is primarily non-technological, and where technology plays a supporting role.
One organisation might have a list of software solutions that perfectly streamline their processes and fulfil their every technological need. However, for a provider down the road, that list might be downright wrong. The point is not so much what you choose, as to whether or not it makes any sense for your business model, your culture, and your operations.
For example, a spreadsheet-based, numbers-heavy software solution may be perfect for a B2B organisation run by accountants and administrators. However, it will probably be a disaster in a service-based organisation with lots of frontline staff. They will probably prefer planning software featuring an intuitive graphical interface, where complex details are largely automated.
We are fond of saying that culture eats strategy for breakfast. Well, culture eats systems for lunch.
Affordable, Lightweight, Simple
So, if it is not about technology, what do I need to do?
Firstly, you don't need to be an expert, but get a bit tech-savvy. It is no longer good enough in 2018 for any leader of any organisation to be technologically ignorant. If you are, you will simply become a target for unscrupulous sales tactics by IT consultants. You don’t have to learn to code, but you do need to understand what technology is for, how it dovetails with your current and future business models, what it is that you actually need, and why. You then need to have an understanding of some basic options available to you depending on your size, strategy and culture, and which path those options take you down.
Secondly, be incredibly wary about where you are getting your advice. Technology has been around long enough and democratised sufficiently that any and every function available can be explained in plain English, particularly as to what benefit it confers and why you need it. Be especially wary of technobabble.
Finally, don’t be afraid of simple solutions. IT consultants like to scare clients that a cheap (or free) solution will lead to problems down the track. They will often offer an expensive, customised alternative instead. I have heard many organisations (even tiny ones) insist that their business model or work is so specialised and unique that they NEED that expensive bespoke solution. This is nonsense. Complex, giant digital and non-digital firms from Google (!) to the New York Times use inexpensive, off-the-shelf subscription software solutions for various functions. It is usually cheaper and easier to solve any unlikely issues when they are encountered rather than overengineering solutions upfront for each and every possibility (a classic IT consulting upsell). Switching costs in 2018 are low and certainly cheaper and faster than designing unnecessarily bloated, proprietary systems.
Remember, the point of technology is to fundamentally simplify your business functions, usually by streamlining and managing information efficiently. In other words, it is supposed to make your life simple or to add significant value. If it’s not doing either, it’s pointless.
Your technology systems are a reflection of your organisation. If you find that you are needing a ridiculously complex maze of systems, that usually means that your organisation is a ridiculously complex mess (or, equally likely, that the NDIA Portal is broken), and technology is the least of your problems.
Technology is not the magic silver bullet solution for the complexity that you’re trying to wrestle or a substitute for urgently required strategy, culture or business model work. Hoping that it will solve all your ills is a recipe for expensive disappointment.
In other words, IT is not about technology!