Technology Gap

29 Oct 2013

Ben Parkison Photo
Mike Nash

A Decade of Business Processes

Over the past ten years, corporations have developed internal business processes to support everything from budget forecasts to timekeeping. These processes often develop dependencies to software applications, and as the processes mature, the applications become more deeply embedded. Microsoft Excel is a good example. Excel has become tied directly to business processes to the point where replacing it was neither cost effective nor practical. The process was built around the capabilities of the tools available (Excel), and over time the tool itself evolved to better support the process as users built macros and VBA modules.

Until recently, businesses have had to design business processes in an environment limited by the feature constraints of commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) applications, else justify steep custom application development costs. Today, web-applications are beginning to offer cost-effective means of building highly customized, user-centered solutions that not only facilitate existing business processes, but allow corporations to redesign their processes in open platforms with fewer limitations.

Technology Got Better

Building custom applications used to be expensive. Waterfall development lacked feedback loops or end-user involvement until months or years into a project, and this often meant costly solutions with significant risk of missing the intended business need. Today, user-centered design methodologies, better tools, lightweight frameworks and agile development are helping businesses build better applications, faster. The tools to build the applications have matured, from editors, to debugging, to project management. Development used to depend on operating system dependencies, picking the right technology platform, and integrating with existing legacy systems. Today, web applications are shedding light on a lower risk development path that is increasingly operating system and hardware platform agnostic, and that relies on a modern browser as its engine. Driven by the vibrant open-source community, the web application conversation is stabilizing, and it points to HTML, Javascript, and CSS as the front-runners to ensuring future facing technology investments for businesses.

Expectations are Higher

So why should businesses care? They have existing processes and the tools they have get the job done. The COTS tools aren’t perfect, but they’re "good enough”. They aren’t cheap, but they’re within budget. The problem isn’t necessarily broken business processes, rather it’s that "good enough” isn’t anymore. Your employees live in a world today where the technologies they use outside of work are increasingly better than the technologies they’re expected to use when they show up at the office. Smartphone and tablet apps are leading the way in the mind of the consumer as to what constitutes a good or bad application, design, user interface, and overall user experience. Web applications have emerged that help simplify our daily activities, manage our email, stream music, transfer files, and take notes. These applications sync across our laptops, smartphones, and tablets, and the only place they don’t sync is at work or offline.

work vs home technology gap

The consumer technology market is progressing the definition of 'modern application' at a pace that enterprises are only now realizing they need to try and keep up with. The longer corporations take to modernize their internal tools and redesign business processes to facilitate workflows and automate the mundane, the greater this perceived technology gap will grow in the mind of your employees. The greater the gap, the more you’re asking your employees to take a cognitive step backwards when they come into the office. As an employee, I want the tools that I use at work to make my job easier, not harder, and I want them to be intuitive and easy to use.

It's Time to Change

The companies that are going to succeed will be the ones that embrace technology and embed it into their culture. Business processes can be better optimized because the application solutions available today are cost effective and virtually limitless if companies are willing to take the risk. Beyond simply adopting new technologies, businesses should step back and understand how they can use new toolsets to build more elegant and simplistic solutions to otherwise convoluted and manually intensive ones that exist today. The payoff is a toolset that allows for more employee attentiveness, better quality, less rework, and reduced turnover.


Mike Nash