Does this mean that there is functionality going unused? Certainly. But the alternative is to waste an enormous amount of time, and also potentially turning off some people to the usefulness of the applications, for functions that will never be used in any case.
The benefits from a business perspective should be obvious: software would be simpler and less convoluted. There would be more basic or generic programs (say, a spreadsheet) that are highly adaptable and simple to comprehend, and less purpose-designed software. The former is more inexpensive and easier to use. Consequently, it is more easily learned and becomes intuitive over time much more quickly. Conversely, specialized or complicated software is more expensive, both to produce and to maintain, and it also takes longer to learn. This makes ROI dubious at best.
Lesson 7 – Leave room for bottom-up inventiveness and initiative in how applications are used.
Military users seem to prefer simplicity of design and application to cleverness and complication. They would rather use a spreadsheet to track important events and information about the battle environment and the enemy than to have to “feed a data monster.”
This process is primarily driven by serendipity and evolutionary discovery, rather than a top-down systems engineering approach. In fact, the inventiveness of users sometimes drives the systems managers crazy trying to keep up with unintended applications of program. This is sometimes equivalent to hammering nails with a bowling ball, but the users don’t mind, because they are getting something useful out of the software—even if it wasn’t intended by its designers.
The obvious lesson for business is it should be the end user who determines the best applications of digititization. This is largely an exploratory and serendipitous process. The role of systems management therefore becomes one of supporting the users of the systems, rather than the masters of “one right way” of doing things. By extension, corporate trainers and mentors should be capable of adjusting quickly to the new applications and supporting follow on users in their training.
Lesson 8 – Use it or lose it.
Skill fade is always a major issue. For instance, the Canadian army devotes a lot of resources to training uniformed systems administrators for operational duty. However, systems management is so centralized that when they get back to their units these individuals are not able to use and maintain their skills.
Their ability to use these skill sets when they are needed is severely hampered and the training is proving to be a waste. The lesson here is that training only goes so far for ensuring the proper skill sets. The organization must support this training with the proper work processes and organizational structures, and allow people to use and maintain their skills.
Digitization is ultimately about improving productivity. However, it isn’t enough just to invest in software and systems. There must also be a concomitant investment in the training and skills to be able to use the new tools.
If a factory worker is given a better widget making machine, but isn’t given the opportunity to learn how to use it, then there will likely be little or no productivity gains. All of the lessons learned listed here are really about making the right investments to ensure that productivity is gained, and not hampered, by digitization.
Richard Martin is president of Alcera Consulting, a management consulting firm that helps individuals and organizations to thrive in the face of risks, threats and uncertainty.