Phase Shift’s Jim Wolf explains why it takes a true expert to know when cutting-edge technology solutions are the best call for your organization. And when they aren’t.
2020 is an interesting time for technology. With smartphones in every pocket and high-speed internet in almost every home, our endless supply of gadgets makes all of us feel like tech experts. That’s one of the reasons that technology trend articles and future-casting opinions are so much fun to read. But when it comes to finding pragmatic, long-term IT solutions, the hype of a lot of these trends, from AI to IoT to automated everything, often doesn’t hold up in the real world.
Take the Internet of Things. This concept has been everywhere for the last few years, with promises that your coffee pot and refrigerator can talk to your home assistant to completely streamline your life so you’ll never lift a finger again. This is all certainly possible, and plenty of people have integrated parts of their home lives (including me), but when it comes to integrating different technologies within a large organization or educational environment, these solutions get infinitely more complex and need an expert’s eye, knowledge and a huge amount of coordination to make sure they work reliably and securely.
Integrating different systems is something our team does frequently, but it has to be done with a comprehensive plan and long-term strategy to avoid major pitfalls. One of the biggest drawbacks to integrating multiple systems is security. There have been real-world cases where companies have had digital security breaches because all their systems were networked. Once a hacker is into, say, the lighting system, which certainly seems innocuous enough, it can be possible to access much more sensitive areas of a company’s digital network (although, having someone remotely controlling the lights for a large company would be disconcerting enough).
The technology solutions that allows us to have audiovisual capabilities on a fully integrated network is wonderful, and we all want to see it happen, but we more typically see companies using physically separate networks because they don’t want to go through the time, effort and cost it may take to coordinate everything. It’s a great example of when we hear a client ask for next-wave technology, fully integrated systems and a simple UI/UX—the hype is often very different from the reality of implementation.
In fact, while CIOs and other tech experts are certainly focused on specific technologies like AI and data analytics platforms, it’s far too easy to get caught up in the hype when a simpler, proven approach may be more in order. It’s not uncommon for us to end up at an Occam’s Razor solution when the obvious solution is the right one.
Hidden Costs and Unintended Consequences
The promises of new tech innovations often don’t mention hidden costs or unintended consequences, which is perhaps the greatest contributor to a client’s frustration factor. Time and time again we are brought onto a project late in the schedule to install and implement a new, typically complex system. We often have to bear the bad news that even though it will work on day one after we finish our work, the company really needs a person to manage updates, train employees, troubleshoot and deal with the system on a daily basis. That conversation sometimes ends with the question “Well, what can we do without having to hire and train a new employee?”
And that’s when we’re at our best, looking at a client’s true goals and not just the latest gadgets, and figuring out how to create an elegantly simple interface with an intuitive user experience within budget.
Don’t Believe the Hype: Here’s How
It’s easy to tell companies to avoid “hype,” but here’s what decision-makers can actually do to make sure the technology solutions they’re considering will stand up to reality.
1. Ask the right questions
Don’t ask your IT team or consultant for the latest technology or shiny object. Discuss what your company and employees really need on a regular basis and let the experts come to you with a solution—after all, that’s what you’re paying for.
2. Ignore Untested Technology
There will always be a certain amount of satisfaction with being an early adopter who thrives with a new piece of equipment or technology, but that’s pretty rare; and, chances are, your team will have a difficult time designing long-term solutions around software and systems that have just been released.
3. Choose the solution with long-term, big picture potential
Clients often make the mistake of selecting the very latest, up-to-the-minute technology because they believe it will be used longer and save money. This usually isn’t the case. By choosing a solution that works for your organization now and incorporates your longer-term goals, not just your IT goals, there is a greater likelihood that your IT expert can find a way to make the system grow with you, which minimizes wide-scale upgrades and costly mistakes.
4. Don’t underestimate culture
The success of technology in the workplace often has more to do with workplace culture than reliability. It’s no secret that some generations of workers simply aren’t as adept at certain things as those who have grown up as digital natives. An understanding of the user and context goes a long way to defining righteous solutions.
In the end, technology’s true value is pegged to how often (and reliably) it is used for its intended purpose, and not how much it costs or how cool it is. It takes solid experience, and a lot of listening, to know when to believe the hype. And when to let it flash in the pan.
About the Author
Jim Wolf, CTS-D, is an associate with Phase Shift Consulting, experts in technology solutions in the built environment. He is currently working with his clients on developing fully integrated, broadcast-grade A/V and teleconferencing systems that are secure, scalable and easy to use.