Magazine Article | July 1, 1997

Implementing Technology: The Importance Of Being Prepared

Source: Field Technologies Magazine
Integrated Solutions, July 1997
Why do some people resist change? Why is it so difficult to implement new systems… equipment… technology? There is no simple answer. Experience seems to indicate that there are two primary factors that impact implementation: time and complexity. Others have to do with "company culture" and the ability of a company to accept new technology and business concepts. Still others deal with the elements necessary to prepare and then adopt new technology, methods, and systems. Each of these will be dealt with in the course of this article.

Technology Gives A Competitive Edge
Just a few years ago IBM invested millions of dollars in new distribution systems including new facilities and computer systems. IBM needed them. Although at one time its distribution concepts were among the best, it hadn't changed much from the 70s. It had gotten to the point that customers ordered equipment, systems or peripherals and waited…patiently.

IBM market research noticed that PC users were impatient. The massive change that IBM subjected itself to was designed to "recapture" the PC systems market. The new IBM order entry and shipping system responded better to customer orders. It reduced system delivery time from over 30 days down to 10 days and then to just five days. The only problem was that Compaq was delivering the same kind of system in two days. To be fair, we should keep in mind that Compaq didn't have to overcome the inertia that IBM had. But, life isn't fair. Compaq and the impatient PC users they served weren't interested in how far IBM had come. Compaq was interested in what was going to attract customers. Compaq wanted same-day shipping and it was moving to capture the market. IBM was showing that it could improve. The customer and Compaq won.

The same sort of thing occurs in document and image management applications, as well. For many years, vendors and integrators who were involved with workflow tended to be too focused on a "hot" technology - graphical user interface (GUI), such as Windows(tm) 3.1 or 95 - despite the fact that it was inappropriate. According to Jim Minehan, of IMERGE Consulting, trying to use GUI with workflow applications was counterproductive. What the end user wanted was a cascading set of menus which would guide him through what he needed to do. Yet there was nothing in the early workflow programs which would state such tasks as creating the document types needed and determining who would use them and how they would use the documents. In effect, because they wanted to incorporate an inappropriate technology, workflow vendors and integrators ignored the needs and desires of their customers.

Knowing Your Company Culture
If your company has old systems and stand-alone functions with departmental structures, it is going to be difficult to change. The difficulty exists not just because the system is old. It is because the thinking is old. In the earlier example, IBM was accustomed to 30-day delivery and thought 5 days was fantastic. They didn't ask what the distribution technology could do. They focused on what they thought management would accept. They addressed the difficulty of system change, not the difficulty of changing mentality.

Put another way, the worst problem is the one that you - or, in this case IBM - didn't know that you had. When it comes to implementing technology, you must know the change mentality of your company so you do not waste time working on the wrong thing. IBM spent time building new facilities and implementing new computers rather than getting management to realize they needed new concepts supported by the new systems. They simply improved an outdated process.

To determine if information and capabilities are really integrated or not, you must analyze how they are used. For example, do people on an order desk have the ability to see if an order is waiting to be picked? If they can't, the functions are not integrated. If they can not only see that it is ready to be picked but that it is being picked, then it is integrated and real-time. Another example: can people in purchasing or on the order desk see if an item has just been unloaded from an incoming truck? If they can't, then purchasing and order entry are not integrated with receiving. If a document management system is in place, can someone in sales and someone else in purchasing look at a copy of a signed bill of lading "on file" in a document management system from their desks? If not, the system is not integrated. So the acid test is to ask the question; "Can everyone in the organization get to the needed information from computer terminals at their desks?" If the answer is "yes," then the system is integrated.

Adopting New Technology
Now that you have a better handle on where your company stands with regard to technology and its proper implementation, it's time to adopt whatever is needed to bring the company up to date. Taking a long time to change is a luxury that is no longer affordable. Consider this object lesson from the automatic identification & data collection (AIDC) world:

UPS knew that people wanted to track certain packages in the early 1980's but the shipping company didn't provide the service until the early 1990's. Federal Express realized that if a package was "absolutely, positively" going to be there by 10 a.m., the company had to track the package using bar code. FedEx started doing it in the mid-1980's. The company used the tracking advantage to found a company on the market share FedEx took from UPS.

And, from the document imaging world, comes the example of a very successful company which, in fact, was at the forefront of many of the early innovations in document and image management technology. Unfortunately, the company took too long to get involved in one of the later applications in that technology - workflow - and was eventually acquired by another company.

How Do You Know That You Need All Three Elements?
You might think that motivation is all that is needed. In 1990, many suppliers to automotive manufacturers were told, "If you do not bar code your shipments, you will lose my business." That sounds like motivation to me, but the companies that did not comply did not get dumped. In the early 90s, a number of companies who supply products to K-Mart and Walmart were told, "No bar code, no order." Those same suppliers did not get canned back then, either. The reason is simple. The automotive companies and the retail chains realized that their suppliers did not have the "know-how" necessary to meet the bar code requirements. The suppliers were, essentially, issued a reprieve.

To continue the story… By 1996, some of the suppliers that were involved in the earlier part of this story did get the ax. Today it's absolutely futile to try to sell to modern industries or to the government if your products are not bar coded. But back then, after the reprieve, the management of some of the supplier companies misunderstood that they were given a reprieve - not an excuse from having to comply and they eventually did lose the business. Management was not committed to the necessary change. Their customers wanted a commitment. The story is sad because they not only lost business but those suppliers also could have enjoyed the same benefits that their customers wanted - if they had only used the technology.

Technology Enhances Operations
That was a story of mandate. What about the company that just wants to be better - what I call self-help projects? The president of a medium-sized distributor of industrial goods decided in 1992 that his company had to use bar code to reduce shipping errors and increase inventory accuracy. He was committed. He was motivated. He, personally, knew a lot about the technology. He finally got a system up and running late in 1995 - three years later. And this was not a huge system. A distributor of plumbing products went through what he called start up - for six months - two-and-one-half years after he started the planning. These distributors had motivation and know how, but underestimated resources.

The projects took a long time because the executives didn't know all the necessary elements. They started and stopped and tried and retried and wasted time. You don't have to. A large multi-line distributor negotiated a large contract with a huge customer. To meet the requirements, the distributor had to build a large facility to service the contract, implement EDI to receive orders, and use bar code to verify picking and shipment. He did it all in less than 12 months. And, he did it in 1992. Another company which sells and services guitars realized that it had to use bar code. Within six months it was up and running. And that was in 1995.

It is not just a bar code/EDI issue. In document imaging, the problem tends to be somewhat different. In many cases, the customer is unsure of precisely what he wants to accomplish with DIM technology. This is then exacerbated by the fact that virtually none of the products - especially the software - are as easy to install as they purport to be. As a result, both the customer and the systems integrator with whom he works get behind schedule. Often, this situation leads to attempts to fine-tune the system, which in turn leads to delays in the installation.

Quite simply, a company that is motivated to use a technology, which has the know how and has the necessary resources will soon be using it. If a company wants to learn how ready it is to adopt a technology, all it has to do is express each of the variables (motivation, know how and resources) as a decimal value, then multiply them together. Motivation x Know How x Resources = % completed.

If you follow the logic expressed in the equation, you will find that no matter how highly motivated you may be, the level of completion is a result of the strength of the other two variables.