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When good tech goes bad - the challenge of complexity

09 Nov 2018

Article by Simplify Work founder and CEO Jesse Newton

Is the surge in tech creating too much complexity?

Too many employees struggle to find the information they need within their company’s information systems.

The technology boom over the past few decades has brought a software solution for everything. Thousands of IT companies trying to hawk their little piece of functionality to IT functions has resulted in organisations having a rich tapestry of systems that enable day-to-day operations.

These beautiful system tapestries have created confusing labyrinths that people have to navigate through to get their job done. This ongoing day-to-day navigation wastes a significant amount of time and energy just to do core day-to-day tasks, such as:

  • Find information on the various shared drives, intranet sites, and subsites or track down the person that has it on their hard drive.

  • Remember your sixth username and password to access the HR self-service program so that you can attempt to figure out how many vacation days you have left or your retirement contributions to date.

  • Keep track of all the messages from the various communication platforms - Yammer, Slack, Google, WhatsApp, and Facebook.

I experienced this last example recently at a client’s.

This large global organisation of over 50,000 employees had a typical instant messenger function that was tied to their email application. Along with that was a clunky old tailored solution and then a number of public communication platforms that groups used to various degrees throughout the global organisation, including WhatsApp and country-specific platforms in China and India.

In an effort to improve online collaboration, the company then rolled out Yammer, the Microsoft collaboration solution. The intent was laudable, but there was no plan for simplifying and consolidating the platforms in existence, so it simply added another communication vehicle to add to the confusion.

My team was working on a global initiative to “crush complexity” at the time, so we noticed this development and tucked this opportunity under the wings of our effort. In order to help migrate various teams across the organisation to Yammer and then encourage the sun-setting of the other collaboration tools, we had to carefully engage the right cheerleaders in each market.

Leaders were tasked with increasing their presence on Yammer by contributing content, responding to conversations, and recognising team members for excellent work.

With commitment from leaders and effective awareness and reinforcement building via the global intranet, Yammer uptake significantly increased and online collaboration progressively became simplified.

A healthy way to assess system complexity is to take time biannually or annually to do a consumer review. Put yourself in your users’ shoes and try to understand their user experience by asking questions such as:

  • How many systems do users need to interact with to get their job done?

  • What are the most valuable pieces of information users need ready access to?

  • How can priority information be accessed more easily?

  • How can systems improve collaboration?

  • How can we limit system enabled distractions and interruptions?

  • How can we simplify the user interface across systems?

With so much technology now, the challenge for IT professionals is how to deliver a streamlined, integrated, and, most importantly, simple experience to users.

Large enterprise resource planning companies like Oracle and SAP continue to acquire smaller leading system providers in an ongoing effort to deliver a simplified integrated system solution for organisations, but they can’t keep up with the number of new software offerings being delivered almost weekly.

Any ambition to consolidate systems is almost mission impossible.

Target has built their systems to be cloud agnostic so that applications can be designed without consideration of the underlying infrastructure, which saves time and enhances focus on the front-end design.

It is easy to see that IT professionals have an increasingly challenging task of connecting the tapestry of systems behind the scenes so that users do not have to click through 10 different systems to get their job done.

There will continue to be big opportunities for tech companies to create solutions to simplify the collection, analysis, and provision of data and insights.

Even if there are many different systems operating in the background, IT functions need to deliver simple and user-friendly solutions for employees so the complexity is contained as much as possible and people get the right information or connectivity when they need it, in a form that is digestible and useable so that focus and energy can be used on the highest priority activities.

For more on this topic see Jesse's recent book Simplify Work, Crushing Complexity to Liberate Innovation, Productivity and Engagement.

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