Technology is great, isn’t it? As we reflect on some of the greatest advances in technology, we find a list that includes things such as microwave ovens, drones, and touchscreen glass. But we don’t always come away unscathed by the implementation of new technology. Sometimes these new advances are accepted and overutilized long before we realize that we will be paying a high price for a very long time. In no particular order, here is a list of some of our favorite advances in technology that we love to hate.
It will come as a surprise to no one that I begin the list of advances in technology with email. From the start, the concept seemed solid. We were enticed by imagining the ability to instantly send an electronic message to anyone, anywhere, at any time of day. For those of us who grew up with snail mail, the thought of this seemed like nirvana. No more rushing to type up various pieces of correspondence to have them ready for the once-daily courier run and no more driving to the post office during the evening rush hour to drop off heavy boxes of letters. There would be no more repeated phone calls to try to reach someone for a critical piece of information. We would gain the ability to send email from any computer at any location, and the same piece of correspondence could be sent to multiple recipients without having to be retyped. Nirvana!
While email did accomplish the above, it accomplished a lot more and not all of it turned out to be good. What really happened was that servers were brought to their knees due to the constant replicating of email messages and cumbersome attachments. Email inboxes filled up to such a capacity that it became unmanageable and a great stressor to many of us living in an enterprise environment. Email became not only a great distraction but ultimately it became the number 1 workday time waster. We were often left to sort through poorly composed messages often used as an avenue to vent emotion and frustration. In addition, it brought spam and phishing into our day-to-day world causing the need for substantial investment in dollars and time to manage. In terms of advancements in technology, email was an epic failure that we are only now starting to recover from thanks to new collaboration tools.
The concept of the cell phone was another carrot dangled in front of our noses. The ability to carry around our phone would mean the end of pagers and beepers and losing track of employees. Imagine the cost savings by eliminating desktop hard-wired landlines. Imagine the efficiency gained by not having to sort through a 200-page phone bill and break it down to different cost centers and GL codes. It seemed too good to be true that we could eliminate the need for a desktop phone on every employee’s desk and instead push the responsibility off to our employees.
What really happened with the mass adoption of the personal cellphone were security breaches and bizarre amounts of corporate dollars spent on roaming charges. Service carriers were quick to ensure a very profitable cost center dedicated to roaming charges and data. After substantial frustration and push-back, regulatory agencies were required to step in and put guidelines in place to protect consumers and ultimately the enterprise. Sadly, some countries failed horribly at this task and many are left at the mercy of our own discipline. Oh! Canada.
Other than Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, who could have predicted that with the adoption of cellphones would come the addiction to cellphone cameras and social media? Security became an issue as every person gained the ability to take candid photos of corporate data and personal information and instantly post it for all the world to see.
For the average user, electronic banking was a godsend. No more having to clock off early from work on a payday to get the cheque into the bank before the mortgage payment was due to come out. No more standing in line with seven pieces of ID to pay for a purchase with a personal cheque. No more waiting in line at the bank as everyone in front of you took their turn to make payments on their utility bills. The enterprise was on board as it meant employees would no longer need to take time away from the job site to stand in line at the bank on payday. It also meant that since pay would be deposited automatically into employee bank accounts, the need to reissue lost and uncashed checks would, in theory, go away. At least this is the bill of goods that we were sold.
The impact on the enterprise was rather an expensive one. As banks rolled out electronic banking, they also pulled back on check processing. To the enterprise, this meant either coughing up extremely high bank fees to process paychecks or absorb the time and cost to implement a new payroll application that could process everything electronically and send accurate data to the bank. Regulatory agencies stepped in to protect employees by ensuring that checks could still be produced when requested. To the enterprise, this meant not only changes to software to incorporate the new banking requirements but also keeping a second option in operation to compensate for employees who were not the innovators and early adopters of the new banking technology. This change is still ongoing and is still a line item in the budget of most organizations. As an added bonus, there are no standards within the banking industry, which means that a change in bank often means expensive configuration changes to payroll applications. This was definitely not a one and done kind of undertaking.
The most exciting part of online streaming was the hope that we could obliterate those boxes and shelves of DVDs and CDs from our house and car. The idea of a low monthly cost to stream all the music and movies that one could imagine seemed too good to be true. Turns out that it was.
On a personal level, streaming music didn’t turn out to be too bad. One could choose one application to subscribe to and for the most part, any music genre or artist was readily available. The catch was to ensure one selected the application that catered to one’s platform of choice. iTunes decided to not play nicely with Androids. This meant challenges if one wanted to stream both music and movies through a centralized tuner. For the enterprise, streaming music became a nightmare. The reason: everyone in the office started to stream music via the corporate WiFi thereby consuming all the bandwidth and making real work almost impossible. Corporate rules and site blocking were quick to follow. But with that, the number of sites offering music streaming also increased and today we continue the game of cat and mouse.
Streaming video is another story. Between copyrights and trademarks and franchise ownership, one would have to subscribe to about 20 carriers to have access to an average number of current titles. The consensus is that it may have been easier and less expensive when we could walk into a store and purchase or order the desired video.
From a corporate perspective, like audio streaming, it is important that we keep up with blocking sites that offer high-def video streaming to ensure that it doesn’t kill our WiFi. Unfortunately, many video streaming sites are necessary for corporate training and research. Of late, these sites also offer much content that is attractive to the employee looking for a brief distraction from the workday, and once again we find our bandwidth consumed by non-corporate tasks.
But we still love our tech!
Even though there are advances in technology that have caused risk to the enterprise, we didn’t exactly understand that risk as we eagerly jumped into the fire. As is often the case, we were sold the dream and left to live the nightmare. The cost to the enterprise has been extensive. With the rate at which advances in technology are presented, it is more critical than ever to understand the longer-term implications before we assume that all technology will benefit us over time.
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