Technology does not guarantee success

Technology does not guarantee success

Have you ever poured water on dirt and hoped to produce crops? I’m sure something might grow – most likely some kind of inedible weed which will just as likely be poisonous or maybe even give you a rash. Seriously, unless the ground has been tilled, seeded and fertilized, watering is just a waste of resources and time.

I bring this up because that’s how I see the effort of some technology initiatives. The intent of introducing any technology is to make improvements. In schools, it’s to help kids learn and to assist teachers in classrooms. In businesses, it’s to improve communications and manage workloads. There are commercials that promote providing workers with smartphones will improve communications resulting in greater sales or efficiencies. Schools are introducing Chromebooks or iPads with the intent to improve learning outcomes. Does it work?

Studies are finding the contrary. Introducing technology in schools is not necessarily the answer. If a company is failing to produce sales, I don’t think anyone really expects upgrading laptops and giving workers phones will improve the problem.

Before making any technology investment, ask yourself the following:

What is being solved by introducing the new technology?
Generally, this assessment is part of any business case or grant request to fund a technology purchase. Are there actual problems that can be solved with a specific piece of hardware or software? Does using a Chromebook to Google for information improve learning? Is there a significant advantage compared to using a textbook? Raising and answering these types of questions will provide guidance on how technology will be used.

Are there metrics in place to determine if the technology is adding any value?
How do you know if technology has made any improvements? Is increased profits the result of technology or perhaps the improved business climate? There needs to be metrics in place that can assess if technology is making a difference. For example, a retail company that makes purchasing decisions based on real-time access to inventory and sales will not re-purchase items that are not selling well.  In this case, improved purchasing decisions is the metric.

Are there plan to review proper adoption?
Does training students on using a Chromebook mean that learning objectives will be met? Will installing a smart board in a classroom ensure better results than using a traditional chalkboard? After introducing something new, there’s a responsibility to follow up for feedback and then make improvements or adjustments as needed.  Without a plan to review how technology is used to gather feedback, any objectives expected from technology will not succeed.

When it comes to technology, I believe Kentaro Toyama’s “Law of Amplification” best explains this:

“Technology’s primary effect is to amplify human forces, so in education, technologies amplify whatever pedagogical capacity is already there.”

If a school has a good program in place, technology will add value to learning outcomes.  However, a business with a history of not delivering products on time, will not benefit from simply introducing software to track the fulfillment process.  The software will simply reinforce what the company already knows.

For any technology initiative, simply remember these eight words:

“Have a Plan. Involve People. Review and Improve.”

Mike Chow

A 18+ year veteran in the IT industry with a penchant for 80's video games, science fiction, cute small animals, and binding it altogether with the Dark Side of the Force. I'm a co-founder of Atmist Inc. and have helped many researchers, non-profits, and private companies with web-based and mobile solutions.

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