Technology Must Not Be Used To Automate Inefficiency

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Every effective organization must carefully analyze and document its business processes and must continuously assess the efficiency and effectiveness of those processes to minimize cost and make full use of the enterprise architecture. Otherwise, the integration of new technology would merely automate inefficiencies or inefficient processes.

Over the years we have seen organizations invest in Information and Communications Technology (ICT) with no visible change in their business processes. There are many reasons for this and one of them I believe, is our (ICT departments) failure to identify how processes can be automated to improve operations before deploying new technology. Another reason is our failure to provide adequate and quality end user training and support. Failure to build the capacity of the end users to leverage a new technology often leads to the automation of inefficient processes or a colossal underutilization of the  new technology.

An example of a situation that automates inefficiency is when the organization spends thousands of dollars on computers and servers and those devices are only used to do the same things in more inefficient ways. Let’s say, the Human Resource/Personnel Department had been using typewriters to prepare leave requests for staff, that has to go through several channels before it is consummated. Somewhere along the way, the head of the organization or the ICT department decides that it’s time to automate this process.  The equipment is bought and the new system is deployed, but the process remains unchanged. Now, the Human Resource/Personnel department develops the leave requests on the computer using Microsoft Word instead of the typewriter. This is ostensibly NOT automation, but rather, using new and modern tools to perform the same task. Automation would be developing a database-driven system that allows each personnel/staff to use a digital (web-based) form to request a leave of absence. The form, when filled out will go through an automated/processing system which allows the HR manager to allow or deny the request, after receiving a notification from the new system. This is just a simple example but there are many ways that this process could be further automated. 

Automating business processes can have several benefits for the organization including minimizing errors and inefficiencies, streamlining communications, increasing accountability and compliance, establishing a clear approval hierarchy and reducing cost. But automating processes is one part of technology integration in the organization. Preparing users to adopt and leverage the new process is another. Hence, a thorough understanding of processes and user needs must be garnered before providing solutions.

One of the problems I have noticed over the years is that many ICT professionals focus on the TECHNOLOGY aspect of ICT and forget about the INFORMATION and COMMUNICATIONS aspects. The result of this is a totally underutilized ICT platform that was put together from tax payers’ money but the return on investment was not gotten. This focus on the “Technology aspect” is not necessarily about training users to use the technology and how to leverage the technology to garner the information that leads to decision-making, but how well that technology is deployed by them (ICT folks).

A robust training and awareness initiative is also needed to ensure that the efforts to automate processes do not simply automate inefficiency.  In order to prevent automating inefficiency in the organization, we have to first get end users to buy into the idea of automating processes, and then make them cognizant of the stakes that they have in this new endeavor. We have to assure them that what we have done will benefit them whether in the short or long term. Training will require patience because taking someone from his/her comfort zone can sometimes be extremely difficult. But this is achievable! Many of our end users want new applications to work for them. They don't want to bother with user manuals or even online help. They want to be trained and able to use the system otherwise, they will revert to the old ways of doing things. This is why training should be a major component in every ICT implementation.

Every one of us knows that Ebola has kindled certain changes in our culture. These changes have also affected organizations, especially Government institutions. Post-Ebola, we should expect to see a lot of changes that will impact traditional Government processes for the enhancement of operational effectiveness and efficiency.  For this change to be successful though, a lot of work needs to be done by every one of us.

I am fully cognizant that the road ahead is an exceptionally difficult one. But I see a different and better ICT spectrum; and it will ultimately be embraced by all Liberians. I know that in order to achieve the best results, certain things are required: hard work, patience, tolerance “thinking out of the box”, and selfless contribution. We have reached the genesis of the discontinuation of what unfortunately used to be a dysfunctional and disintegrated ICT landscape. What we should anticipate, is the advent of what will ultimately be a digital Liberia.

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