Technology Not Answer to Every Problem

    December 6, 2004

Understanding where technology is strong and where people are strong is an essential skill of the modern manager. Too often today, technology is doing things that would be better done by people.

Some years ago I had a conversation with a banker who was very excited about the future of e-banking. His view of the world was based on how much a manual transaction cost and how much he could save by making things self-service.

Removing people from the process definitely makes sense from a cost point of view. However, business is also about relationships, and when a customer is no longer talking to anyone from your bank, the incentive to be loyal is reduced.

Of course, it’s about balance, but focusing too much on technology can leave many organizations reducing operational costs and reducing loyalty. Less loyal customers are more likely to leave, and that will mean increasing marketing costs to gain new customers.

Policing in the UK began to go wrong in 1966 when the government released a white paper, top police officer, Sir John Stevens, told a BBC interviewer in November 2004. This white paper established a policy where policing focused more on technology and less on people. According to Sir Stevens, policing started to get it right again when police got back on the streets, and started rebuilding relationships and trust with the public.

Technology is an absolutely wonderful thing. It has unquestionably made our lives better in many, many ways. But it is not the answer to every problem, and blind faith in technology can create as many problems as it solves.

Porter Goss, the new head of the CIA, has made it known that he wants less of a focus on technological wizardry, and more on “humint” (human intelligence). Unfortunately, there are a lot of people out there that think that every problem can be solved by a new piece of hardware or software.

Very few websites I come across are giving enough attention to human interaction. There is an expectation that the website should solve every problem in every situation. This approach is not going to work. There are certain things that people are better at, and organizations need to realize that the human touch, properly applied, is a valuable asset.

Police chiefs in Ireland and the UK are constantly talking about the need to get back to old style policing; to have police out on the streets getting to know the community. If you’re managing a website, how well do you know your “community”? When was the last time you got out on the streets and talked to the people who come to your website?

Let’s not hide behind our technology. Let’s use our technology as a way to make life better and richer. Let’s use it to automate the mundane and repetitive tasks so that we can allocate our time to do things people do really well. Let’s start walking, talking, and listening more.

Technology is another rich gift of the extraordinary human mind. It has made our lives immeasurably better. But let’s not forget that as long as there are humans, there will be human relationships, and humans do relationships better.

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