In 1975, Bill Gates and Paul Allen partnered to set up Microsoft. Their vision was “huge” a computer on every desktop and in every home. Thirty-five years later, computers are not just in our homes, they are everywhere; in our hands, at our workplaces, hospitals, shopping malls, etc.
Before we go ahead, let us set up a common ground: Drawing from various definitions of technology, we shall agree that by definition, technology is any tool (whether hardware or software) designed from scientific knowledge that helps to make work and general life easier. Examples of technologies used in organizations include phones, computers, printers, data centers, human resource management software, among others.
Like Microsoft and other businesses, technology start-ups have sought to flood the global market with their inventions. It has become seemingly impossible to live without technology. Perhaps, one of the innumerable reasons why technology has become so pervasive is its ability to simplify to some extent, very complex and somewhat difficult tasks. Does this mean that the more technology one has the better? Technology’s relevance to discussions in the field of human resources cannot be overemphasized. In one way or the other, technology is created, used, and managed by human resources with differing expertise. Here, we will discuss the role technology plays in sustaining businesses.
To help this discussion, we will borrow from Nolan & McFarlan’s grid classification of technology dependency. The grid has four components namely; the Factory Mode, the Strategic Mode, the Support Mode and the Turnaround Mode. Every organization belongs to one of these four quadrants. An organization in the Factory Mode quadrant is one that has a high dependency on technology. However, unlike the Strategic mode, technology has a low strategic impact on the business. A low strategic impact means that the use of technology does not result in any significant increase in business process outcomes, volumes or profit margins. Let us imagine a restaurant that has its menu saved on iPads. So instead of a printed menu, a waiter or waitress walks up to you and presents you with an iPad from which to select your order. Aside handling “interesting” customers, the staff of this restaurant will be preoccupied with making sure that all iPads are charged, software is upgraded, etc. To top all that, “operating an iPad” will be added to the list of job requirements. Some organizations in this quadrant have a close-to-innovative appearance but a constructive analysis will reveal that perhaps investment in technology is not the way to go.
In the Strategic Mode quadrant, organizations have a high dependency on technology. In addition, technology has a high strategic impact on the organization. A high strategic impact means that the increased use of technology directly contributes to increased profit margins, business volumes, etc. Organizations in this category require robust systems to ensure that technology interruptions are minimal. In this case the more technology, the better. For instance, Netflix is an online movie rental company. Their business model is such that, their movies are stored online and made available to customers for rent on demand. In this case they will need to invest in software, servers, security systems, and the like to keep their competitive edge.
Organizations in the Turnaround Mode quadrant are those who currently operate with a low dependency on technology. However, if technology is acquired, it has the potential to tremendously improve business processes and
profit margins. Although some organizations in this quadrant may have identified the need to acquire technology, setbacks like lack of funds, may prevent them from doing so. Take a traditional coconut seller whose only tool is a cutlass. If he or she is able to serve one hundred customers every sixty minutes, he can increase his output by acquiring for example a coconut- cutting machine. This will ultimately lead to reduced customer-waiting-time, increased profits, among others.
An organization in the Support Mode quadrant has a low need for technology. Technology is also believed to have a low strategic impact on the operations of the organization. Organizations in this quadrant do not need technology to thrive. In some cases, technology only plays a supporting role in the business process. As mentioned earlier, technology has become so pervasive that it is
difficult to identify organizations that fall in this quadrant.
To conclude this discussion, organizations must first find out which of these four quadrants they belong to before allocating funds for the procurement of technology. Evidently, this will play a vital role in determining the sustainability of a business.
By: Kofi Arhin