Technology and the road to progress: Caution — inefficiencies ahead

With all that we have researched, developed, and learned about technology, why are there so many situations when we revert to outdated, manual, and administratively heavy processes? We don’t have to look far to come up with examples of frustrating processes when technology could have saved the day and eased progress. More importantly, what are we going to do about it?

What the fax?

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GFI Software

Why on earth are we still forcing our customers to find a printer, print off a document, manually fill in the blanks, and somehow find a fax machine to get it back to its original home. It is a reason for a bad review when clients are sent a form via email only to find that it is not editable and they will need to use a pen to fill in the blanks.

While I hate to put the onus onto the receiver of such nonsense, there are a number of home office tools that can be used to help alleviate this irritating behavior. Lavanya Rathnam outlined some home office fax options in her article from May 2020. While these tools may not alleviate the need to print off a document and find a pen. At least the home office user will not have to drive to the nearest office supply store or post office to send the document. This is a case of companies not embracing technology and yet assuming that every home user has access to a printer and fax technology. Not a good assumption.

If John Hancock were alive today, he would own a computer

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John Hancock was the first man to sign the Declaration of Independence in 1776. While we often use the slang version of John Henry, it refers to putting one’s signature onto a document. It seems an affront to the field of information technology to continue a practice that was alive and well in the year 1776. Electronic signatures have been considered a legal form of authorization federally in Canada since 2004 and provincially since 1999. In the U.S., electronic signatures were granted the same legal status as hand-written signatures in June 2000. The last time I looked, we are sitting in the year 2021. Once again, why on earth are we still insisting that our customers print off a document, sign the document, scan it, and send it back. Oh yes, now I remember. It’s because this is the way it has always been done.

Fortunately, there are numerous solutions to this archaic practice. To start with, organizationally we need to outline what is acceptable at a corporate level. For simple approvals, it can be deemed acceptable that a confirmation received via a corporate email address is acceptable. At a project level, it can be acceptable to paste PDF signatures onto the signature line of internal documents. For the less technical project team members, email approvals may also be considered for internal documentation. Legal documentation may require a bit more of an investment. Solutions such as DocuSign, HelloSign, and RightSignature have all been known to get the job done. While these options require an investment and an implementation strategy, the return on investment will be more than made up for through savings in time and the frustration of lost documents.

Spinning a web of lies

One of the many luxuries of technology and the web is the ability to complete certain obligatory tasks online. However, one of the most over-used and frustrating phrases to hear in the age of information is, “It’s on our website.” Many a brain has gone missing following hours of searching through poorly developed websites trying to find the one tiny bit of information we seek. Case in point, has anyone tried to book a COVID vaccine? Rather than engaging business authorities who understand the logical process of potential customers who seek specific information, we often assign the development of our websites to the more creative minds. While user interface design will focus on looks and style, we cannot forget that it is the subject matter experts who will understand the process that an inquisitive mind will follow. Remember that requirements gathering and user testing are two very important steps in any system development lifecycle.

So, what exactly is the problem with technology and progress?

The reality is that as humans, we are quite poor at developing efficient business processes. We prefer to do things the way that they have always been done. After all, didn’t we coin the phrase, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”? The problem is that the majority of employees within the enterprise do not see, nor do they care to see, the big picture. Most of us are concerned about the task at hand and whatever we need to get that task done. We don’t spend our time evaluating how our task rolls up into the corporate strategic business plan. In many cases, we are not even aware of what the corporate strategic business plan contains. It’s a sad statement, but it is the reality of business today. Information is shared on a need-to-know basis, and in most cases, the executive does not consider that all employees may need to know. There are many reasons for this, and some of them are good ones. It is difficult for the executive within an organization to communicate all corporate information in a way that can be interpreted by everyone. And if information is interpreted incorrectly, it can be detrimental to the well-being of the organization. This is why so often, while frustrating, many of us are not aware of corporate change until it impacts our direct task at hand.

The future of repetitive administrative tasks

In the case where it is found that outdated processes within an organization are repetitive and high-volume tasks, a relatively recent advancement is that of robotic process automation (RPA). Not all tasks require human intervention, and it is these tasks that are candidates for RPA. RPA is the process of engaging digital robots to maneuver through the virtual world on our behalf and to do it much more efficiently while also removing human error. The downside is that companies who offer RPA have already moved to a service model, therefore, guaranteeing themselves monthly and annual fees. That said, the fees are normally less than the annual salaries we have historically paid for tasks that can be more effectively handled.

It’s 2021, dammit!

The argument echoed around the world is that we have four generations in the workforce for the first time in history and we have to consider each generation’s abilities. This is not, however, a viable excuse to stop progress and ignore the majority of workers who were born into a younger generation and eagerly embrace technology. Moving forward is critical to the viability of any organization. In addition, never underestimate the power of bad reviews from clientele who are forced to maneuver an outdated and labor-intensive process. Remember that they will always have other options.

Featured image: Shutterstock

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