Shopping is Fun

You may or may not agree with the title with specific reference to the actual act of going out and buying something, and given some of my experiences in the UK on a busy Saturday lunch time I’d be hard pressed to disagree with you, but I think that nearly everyone appreciates the moment when they unwrap, physically or metaphorically, their latest toy.

That instant when you take something out of its wrapper and get your first proper look at it, or have your first go is a special moment. There’s something so very visceral about it. And it’s not just a human trait either. Whenever I buy a new ball for my dog, his excitement level is far greater than when he plays with what remains of the old one.

Lucky for me then that he doesn’t have the wherewithal to buy them for himself. The house would end up like one of those ball pits that kids play in.

“Ze plane, ze plane”

But, while dogs and household pets in general lack the skills to satisfy their shopping bug, the same cannot be said for those holding the purse strings in business, and to make matter worse, temptation is all around. Companies as I’ve written before are in the business of selling something, so it behoves us to ensure that we’re not sucked in by their promises of a corporate technological Utopia.

All too often we see a new software package arrive, or a new module added to an existing solution, that is touted to solve an array of issues. But, just like the folk who visited the enigmatic Fantasy Island, when it came to actually living the dream, they found to their chagrin that nothing was free.

Consider this graphic from Gartner showing how expectation and time combine to find a happy medium where we put aside disappointment and disillusionment and settle for that barely satisfying, and all too often, not overly comfortable middle ground.

We start off identifying a need, or at least a desire. This is followed by rampant enthusiasm when the slick sales machine gets in to full flow, only to be dashed by the harsh reality of implementation and collective ignorance as the users struggle with the their new found functionality. Over time, their expertise level rises and productivity returns to a level that is ideally some way above the previous systems.

“Get rich or die trying”

Of course, not all new system implementations go well and some don’t even get to the end. We need only look at the lemming like rush to implement Java around the turn of the century. I’ve encountered many companies that tried to develop their own internal applications, only to find the sheer complexity of the code and performance problems left them with failed projects that were canned after a couple of years with a bucket load of money down the gurgler.

And should that not be sufficient to frighten you a tiny bit, have a think about the resources wasted by these 6 SAP failures.

I even have a friend who wrote her degree dissertation on companies that actually went broke while implementing SAP, so the previous half dozen are just the tip of a huge, and very costly iceberg.

The Simpsons

Still, such cautionary tales are just that, cautionary tales, but forewarned is forearmed or so I’m told, so we would be well advised to try to learn from the mistakes of those who’ve gone before. We could I suppose follow Homer’s advice and “never try”, but that would defeat the purpose somewhat, and as seen, buying something new always comes at a cost, and some times a VERY BIG ONE!

So that just leaves the middle ground, which as ever is reliably boring and sensible. But that of course is as it should be. When we look at back office systems for business such as accounting, inventory, HR and orders, there’s nothing remotely fun and exciting about them, but they are the backbone of the company and without them working effectively, things will go badly very quickly.

Hidden treasure

Some systems will need replacing. It is the way of the world. But more often than not, there is enormous untapped potential in existing systems. Rather than looking for a silver bullet or the next big thing, we should look at how an organisation operates. We should ask if the staff are correctly trained and whether they’re making effective use of the software. What can we streamline? What can we modify and enhance?

In short, what can we do TODAY that will ensure that we wring every dollar of value out of our existing systems. And when we’ve done that, we can have another look to determine what we need for tomorrow.

By doing this, you’ll continue to strengthen your organisation every day and help deliver an improved profit per person.


Today’s Top Takeaway

In today’s increasingly disposable society, it’s always worth remembering the ethos behind “make do and mend”.


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Getting Your Priorities Right

It’s been a good week for the IT security business. It seems that some of the modern world was held hostage by a group of hackers who apparently made very little considering the trouble they caused by unleashing some ransomeware on the unsuspecting masses.

The vast majority of the commentary on this subject has been about the need for business to ensure that they have up to date virus software, proper backups and all the other good, sensible stuff that business should be doing.

Once Bitten?

The Conversation had an interesting piece about how it is that the malware was able to gain traction, particularly in light of the fact that Microsoft patched the vulnerability a couple of months ago. The long and the short of it is that users very often don’t want to restart their machines and when confronted by a number of updates, some of which aren’t flagged as being critical, they tend to be even less enthusiastic.

This lack of interest in updating machines goes hand in hand with a majority of users having a negative reaction when the prospect of upgrades is mentioned.

Once bitten, twice shy perhaps?

Positive Mental Attitude

What’s missing in much of the narrative, The Conversation notwithstanding, is a failure to address the larger subject matter of the behaviour of organisations when it comes to updates.

The Conversation says,

“computer companies must try to convince us – and we must convince ourselves – that updates are important.”

Amen!

But we need to go further than that. Computers, while no different in practical terms to a chef’s knives or a truck used for deliveries, are rarely thought of as tools of the trade. All too often they’re though of as a necessary burden, a cost, a metaphorical ball and chain that one is forced to drag around while going about one’s job.

Look After Kit and Your Kit Will Look After You

What business needs to remember is that IT systems are a critical facet of corporate infrastructure, tools that are fundamental to the success of an organisation.

A chef will sharpen his knife the moment it becomes dull. The kitchen will be cleaned after each service, and fridges and stoves are maintained regularly. A delivery company will ensure that its fleet of vehicles is clean, well serviced and roadworthy. Even aircraft are out of service every once in a while.

So why would anyone let computers be updated when the end user deems it appropriate?

A Little Fat in the System

It is utterly unreasonable for you to expect your IT systems to just keep running without any maintenance schedule and without any interruptions. Such a dream is just that; a dream.

So make sure you factor in the costs of having machines down for a short while as and when is necessary. Build sufficient fat in to your systems so that users don’t feel obliged to keep working. Encourage your users to look after their PC and actively encourage them, or even force them to install updates, regardless of the time it will take.

It’s a small price to pay for peace of mind.


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It’s All About The People

I read an article recently that discussed the relative merits of half a dozen competitive products that are all designed to bring your staff closer together, making it easier for them to communicate, collaborate, share documents, screens, and so on.

The article was ostensibly about the products themselves, highlighting the super-duper features that each had, or didn’t in some cases, and how adoption of these products would simplify the day to day existence of the many users. This in turn would save time, money, and improve the customer experience meaning that the many thousands of dollars invested in these products would be returned many fold.

How optimistic!

Dreams

This of course may well be the case for some organisations, but what such articles nearly always fail to mention is that adoption of new shiny IT systems is rarely as bright and cheery as it might at first appear.  Sure, these things look great in advertising copy, and when assessed by someone writing an opinion piece, but the reality is often rather different.

I’m reminded at this point of comedian Ben Elton who used to do a little piece on car advertising. What ground his gears was that when we see a car being driven in an ad, it invariably contains a happy loving couple driving along a beautiful road in beautiful country side, enjoying beautiful weather. Birds are singing in the trees, flowers are blooming and all in the world is wonderful and light.

This heavenly environment is of course utterly unrelated to the somewhat dystopian reality that is sitting in traffic, in a city, in the rain, with thousands of other disillusioned souls trying to get to their jobs or homes.

They never show them scraping the ice of the windscreen in the dark, first thing in the morning either, which is another motoring experience that isn’t remotely close to being as much fun as it sounds.

And yes, I’m well aware it doesn’t even sound the slightest bit enjoyable in the first place.

PEBCAK

It’s easy to understand how advertising is so divorced from reality when it comes to cars, but it’s perhaps not so obvious when it comes to IT and software packages. After all, we need do little more than install it on a few devices and we’re good to go, or so we’re told.

There is however, one tiny little wrinkle that ensures that no matter how well designed it is, how brilliant the developers or how well written the help, we’re likely to run in to a few implementation issues.

PEOPLE!

Relationships

Software has bugs: It’s just about inevitable. But as all programmers will tell you, ID-10T errors and users on a picnic (Problem in chair, not in computer) will out number the reports of real issues many times over.

It’s imperative then that when we’re choosing a package or building a tailored solution, the functionality must match not only the needs of the business, but more importantly, those of the user as well. We can make something that has all the bells, whistles and thingummies that we can dream of, but if it fails to engage the user sufficiently, it will not be a success.

And remember, your staff are going to be married to your new solution for many years. If the first date doesn’t go well, the resulting union will likely be somewhat tempestuous.

Invest in People

So, when deciding to invest thousands or perhaps millions of dollars in a solution, remember that the money you spend on the software itself will pale into insignificance compared to the money you’ll spend on the wages of those who use it.

Perhaps then, you should make doubly sure that your users are adequately trained, engaged and motivated, so that using your new technological marvel will be more like a nice drive in the country, and less like the misery of rush hour.


Today’s Top Takeaway

People are expensive and a failure to train them is an opportunity lost.


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