Incoming: How Technology Helps and Hurts Its Aficionados

May 1, 2018
By Terry Halvorsen

Today you can read many articles, absorb numerous interviews and watch programs about the effects of technology on business and personal life. One effect is that more people are putting a true dollar value on their time. Growing technology businesses are focused on giving people back time in their lives. New businesses have recognized that more people, especially those under 40, are willing to pay for it.

Buying time can be done with applications that will do everything from grocery shopping to scheduling medical appointments, transporting children, caring for pets and even planning a wedding. In business today are apps for scheduling and streamlining meeting calls, setting up mobile meeting rooms, and prioritizing emails and chats.

More corporations are investing in information technology through mobility to increase productivity. This could mean outsourcing parts of technology, such as storage, data analysis, video calling and other services. Businesses are using more advanced computer-based training, including virtual reality, to reduce training, travel and instructor costs and to make training available on demand.

Many companies and government agencies are trying to put more information technology tools into the hands of employees to optimize their time, improve productivity and reduce labor costs—fewer people doing more. The improvement in IP-based video conferencing and other collaborative applications has been touted as a means to reduce travel costs, increase employee flexibility and lessen the impact of distance on doing business. Tools to reduce the complexity of data analysis, including artificial intelligence (AI), are promoted as a way to pan for the nugget of gold in a river of information.

However, for every video, news report and article extolling the virtues of technology, there is another discussing the negative effects of technology and its failure to deliver. Many times, the focus of the technology problem is an increased pace driven by continuous connectivity. The ability to be constantly in touch can create an environment of immediate response—one that many technology opponents would describe as an environment of meaningless instant response. Email and text communications, for years, have been attacked for creating an environment where speed is valued over quality. Many companies and government agencies have the goal of an empty inbox at the end of the day, which is fodder for the “no unanswered mail” critics. This gives new meaning and new speed to the expression “an action passed is an action complete.”

Another long-standing complaint is that the sheer volume of data produced by technology is overwhelming the system, employees and individuals. The cry of “too much data but not enough information and intelligence” is heard in many places. The terms digital waste and digital clutter come to mind. The combination of technology producing excessive data, coupled with the pressure and capability to respond instantly, is generating a cycle of rapid but incomplete responses. Making ill-informed decisions is easier and faster than ever.

In addition, digital confusion can be caused by the explosion of new capabilities. The number of ever-changing applications created to help improve time management by organizing data, scheduling events or tagging data for easier searching is growing as fast as the data itself. Of course, the marketing of these tools makes them seem as if employees become better organized or on time just by downloading the apps—no behavioral change required.

The one item I haven’t seen much written about is the leader’s role in helping to manage the impact of new technology. This includes driving the right employee and company or agency behavior to obtain the desired outcomes. The easy solution is to handle it the same as any change management: The leader sets the expectations, communicates the change and desired outcomes clearly, determines reasonable deadlines, provides training, and establishes a feedback and measurement method to ensure the intended results are achieved.

In leading technology transition, leaders must do more. This column must state more as well. In the spirit of that classic TV show Batman, for the thrilling conclusion, join us at the same bat time, same bat channel, next month. As always, your counterfire is welcome and expected:

Terry Halvorsen, the chief information officer (CIO) and an executive vice president with Samsung Electronics, is the former U.S. Defense Department CIO. He also has served as the Department of the Navy CIO.

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