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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Technology Servant or Keeper?

This last week I spent time with our Internet SEO company, Quantus Creative looking at Google analytics.  I also attend meetings planning a major software purchase that will automate and tie together several front end processes at our company.  I marveled at the capabilities and vast quantity of information these two systems offered. To truly utilize the power and information in these systems is a full time job, hence our relationship with Quantus.  This led me to consider the question, In business today are we utilizing technology to serve us or have we transformed our jobs to manage the technology?

I began my management career in 1979.  This was at the leading edge of the technology boom.  Technology at that point was isolated to large corporate main offices and had not trickled down to the operations level.  Management was considered both an art and a science.  There were proven systems, processes and theories that were widely utilized, the science.  The art of management was still a huge factor.  Managers utilized intuition and gut feelings to make decisions.  Successful managers had a real connection to what was happening and intuitively reacted to capitalize on the circumstances.

Today much of that intuitive art of management has been replaced by technology.  We have real time data available that will communicate the current situation.  Intuitive programs with historical data can accurately guide decisions makers in their response to the data.  Formerly, managers made observations as anecdotal evidence, formulated conclusions and made decisions.  Now managers have real evidence at a touch of a button.  Often we are able to "drill down" several levels for specific data and rearrange the data to identify trends and patterns before they make impacts on the operation.

So it would seem that art of management has been replaced by technology.  I propose that technology has not replaced the art of management but changed it.  The art of management now lies in the ability to discern what information and how much information is utilized by management.

When we become servants to technology, we loose control of the operation.  Managers often feel it is their job to be on top of everything and that is not entirely incorrect.  The art of management is the ability to determine how they will accomplish this.  Many fall into the trap of attempting to analyze every report and date source, to drill down and understand every detail.  This becomes a "can't see the forest for the trees" scenario.  Chances are in their attempt to see everything, time constraints will only allow them to see a few things in detail and never address other topics at all.  They will spend all of their time collecting data and never addressing corrections and opportunities the data presents. Most importantly they loose touch with their most important resource, their team. Failure is imminent.

The art of management now is in the utilization of technology.  Successful managers know how and where to obtain the information they need and to do it quickly.  Sampling data for trends is an effective use of technology.  Entire fields of study have developed in time management centered around the use of technology.  Auto generated reports at pre-determined intervals harnesses the power of technology effectively.  Managers must constantly evaluate the benefit of technological outputs and only utilize those that have utility to them.

One of the most effective management utilization's of technology is exception based management.  It is established on the time proven 80%-20% rule.  Concentrating on the most important 20% of your business will produce 80% of your results.  To impact the remaining 20% will require 80% of your effort.  It makes sense to stay focused on the areas that you can have the greatest impact.  Technology is the best tool to assist you in identifying those areas. Obviously you would not want to see customer service at 81%, quality at 82% and safety at 79% and determine to focus all of your energies on safety. Hopefully no company would be satisfied with 81% customer service and 82% quality.  Each aspect would be looked at individually.  KPIs or Key Performance Indicators would be identified for each area.  Monitoring these KPIs, within each area will allow you to focus your resources effectively.  In customer service you may have identified on time delivery, communication, accurate billing and fast customer response as your key elements. You would establish data reports evaluating all of these aspects.  After identifying the weakest category you can drill down into the data to identify root causes of your performance.  You will then focus your efforts on improvement of that category.  Exception based management should produce a stair stepped progress.  You improve the weakest aspect, after improvements, it is no longer the weakest and you shift your efforts to the next weakest aspect.   You will only spend time with detailed data on the areas of focus.

When evaluating the use of your time utilizing technology it is essential that you NEVER loose focus on your most important resource.  Your team.  Nothing happens, nothing is produced and profits don't exist without them.  Technology is merely a tool.  It is up to you whether you utilize it to serve you or subjugate yourself to maintain it.

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