Technology is a Co-Star

echnology the knack of so arranging the world that we don't have to experience it. So said the late Swiss novelist and playwright Max Frisch. Today's technology could automate our daily activities so that we would never have to leave our homes to the world. Retailers can't approach these technologies with the same attitude as Mr. Frisch because no technology works wonders on its own. It needs the

“echnology … the knack of so arranging the world that we don't have to experience it.”

So said the late Swiss novelist and playwright Max Frisch. Today's technology could automate our daily activities so that we would never have to leave our homes to “experience” the world.

Retailers can't approach these technologies with the same attitude as Mr. Frisch because no technology works wonders on its own. It needs the correct people and processes in place to function in a beneficial manner.

Think about a Personal Desk Assistant (PDA). This is wonderful technology that can drive true efficiencies. But, on its own, without a change in the owner's process, a PDA sits in its cradle doing nothing.

Retailers need to “experience” the world when using these technologies. Sounds simple. But it's surprising how many businesses aren't doing it, especially in today's time-constrained, unpredictable economy where every dollar and every minute counts.

In many business cases, the technology is performing perfectly — it's just not performing in synch with the company's processes and people, much like the PDA in its cradle. The alignment of technology with people and processes is essential to achieving business objectives.

With budget constraints and a shaky economy, companies are now taking a strategic step back and finding ways to maximize their current technology for profitability.

Unfortunately, many businesses still approach technology from the “Industrial Age” mentality of days past.

Here's an example: A new technology is developed that will allow dealership employees to expedite the service estimating process by 50%. The dealership purchases and installs the new technology. Yet, months later, there isn't a 50% increase. Therefore, the technology supposedly isn't performing as touted.

Wrong! It's the process that isn't performing, and it's not performing because it hasn't been adapted and improved to complement the new technology. While the technology had the ability to improve productivity, the organization didn't have the knowledge to improve its processes at the same time. Human and machine processes must be intertwined for technology to deliver maximum value.

If this alignment is so easy, why isn't everyone doing it? The fact of the matter is that it's hard to align people, processes and technology. The steps, though, can be reasonably straightforward.

To re-align an organization for profitability, there must first be a leader and then a vision. The vision can be in the form of a business plan, a strategic plan or a combination of both.

Too often, businesses let technology dictate processes and people. It's important for dealerships to understand that customer service and CRM are processes, not technologies. They are processes performed by humans, with technology taking a supporting role.

Once a strategic business plan has been developed that integrates every business unit of the dealership with the corporate goal, a dealership must then figure out how its people, processes and technology can help the dealership realize its vision. This is where dealerships often get stuck.

Fears of technology, employee turnover, lack of training, and an unwillingness or inability to change processes are primary reasons technology often fails to meet expectations.

What is the solution? Dealerships need to put people and process in the driver's seat, with technology going along for the ride.

Discovering the opportunities takes vision, commitment and the ability to accept the truth. Some dealerships discover the truth by themselves. Others look to consultants to seek the truth for them. But once the truth is known, it's remarkable how effective people, processes and technology can be.

Greg Collins is senior vice president of Reynolds and Reynolds Co.'s Transformation Solutions.

TAGS: Dealers Retail
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