I wrote Sometimes a phone is just a phone and a web site is just a web site because different people adopt different technologies at different rates. Those rates depend on need, cost, peer influence, job responsibilities, and many other factors.
Today lots of interest is swirling around mobile and semantic technologies. The former enables access to communication and data services from anywhere via increasingly powerful smartphones that are really small computers. The latter enables better communication and interoperabilty across different systems including human, computer, and organizational.
For some folks being an “early adopter” is a way of life. But not everyone is an early adopter or tied in — yet — to the “mobile revolution.” Not everyone “needs” the latest app or the latest Android phone, just as not everyone “needs” the latest edition of a print newspaper or the last novel by Stieg Larson.
Both technologies have evangelists, early adopters, snake oil sellers, devotees, honest practitioners, skeptics, and footsoldiers. I “believe” in them both since I see the advantages.
But I’m also wary about the difficulties involved in getting everybody together on the same page when new technologies and technology-based services are introduced. As problems get larger and involve more and more groups, technologies, and systems in their solution, the challenge of supporting efficient communication and collaboration can increase as well. While technology is important, it’s also the personal and organizational changes that are enabled by that technology that requires time, attention — and money.
It’s just no longer realistic to get everyone together in one physical location, the way it was with the Manhattan Project. Now in solving complex problems we have to deal with people, systems, and organizations all over the world. Based on my own background in technology-related research, development, and project management, I’m a firm believer in the benefits that technology can provide.
But I’m also concerned that not placing enough attention on the human and organizational aspects of technology adoption can strangle the benefits that technology-enabled collaboration and innovation can bring to solving a problem.
One thing that’s needed is management of the interfaces among systems and processes that are incompatible or which require conversion or translation that may — initially — be too expensive to automate.
One example of this is a complex project where group communication and collaboration are often required but where it is unrealistic — for political or economic reasons, perhaps — for all participants to use the same network based system for sharing information on a one-to-one or group basis. Some folks just won’t be willing to give up email and attachments no matter how much expense or friction this causes to the rest of the team. Others who have a “meeting mindset” will feel uncomfortable making decisions without being face to face.
Accommodating such real-world variations in communication and collaboration style requires planning, time, patience, and money, even in military and other hierarchically-structured environments. In some cases adoption of common languages and technologies can promote more efficient communication and collaboration.
But as long as we need to have different types of organizations, roles, and personalities involved solving complex problems, we’ll need to accommodate a variety of communication styles and preferences. Managing this requires more than just new technology; it also requires that we incorporate communication and collaboration management into any complex project.
Copyright (c) 2010 by Dennis D. McDonald