Consumer technology will trump business technology every time

People turn to consumer technology on a daily basis because it’s well-designed, easy to use and driven by market forces to improve. Conversely ‘learning’ technology in corporate business or indeed most technology in corporate business is frustrating, outdated and develops at a snails pace. My question is, do we need it?

Short of giving an actual cost figure, Chris Doig (Advisor to CIO.com) lists no less than 16 different ways bad software can cost organisations. It ranges from time and people, to replacement and customisation costs. I know Chris to be right from bitter experience, just today I descended on the poor internal IT team, to bemoan the lack of a reasonable way to send a colleague a big file. It took me about 2 hours to find a solution.

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Click to play the classic scene from Office Space


The Learning and Performance Innovation team at PA, of which I’m a part, don’t just offer consulting services, we offer digital products. When we joined the company just over a year ago, this was quite a new thing in the People and Talent team. We’ve spent a significant period refining commercial models and building up our bank of products to deliver performance support and behaviour changing Apps.

Portal and app images

The reason we’re successful and, to be honest, why companies buy our products and services, is because our inspiration is drawn from consumer technology not from traditional business ‘learning’ technology.

However, I believe we’re potentially as culpable as many of these learning technology companies, of creating unnecessary work. If we as learning professionals are realistic about our strengths, we’re not going to be as effective at designing digital products as companies that have only this to worry about. We need to juggle a lot of different things from project management to stakeholder and change management. Are we seriously arrogant enough to think we’re going to do a better job than Google at storing and delivering content at point of need?

Our value is not in the technology we can provide, I think it’s the user-centred design thinking and perception of ‘Organisational Usability’. For me this manifests itself in a general mistrust and vocal criticism of any unusable or counter-intuitive business processes, systems and cultural norms. My passion isn’t ‘learning’ is getting rid of these problems.

Conceivably we could have a project where we use Google Drive to store documents, WhatsApp for ‘social collaboration’ and WordPress for content. By the same token are we going to be better at writing content than Inc., HBR and Forbes? Why not just create an RSS feed of these sources to your audiences smartphones? Our product and content development efforts should sit firmly in the innovation space, where we have a new idea for affecting behaviour change. Where something doesn’t already or it needs to be tailored specifically to the organisation.

This blog is a really a challenge to the work of any learning team that thinks building new technology or writing new content is a good use of time. It’s harder to sell the idea to a client that you are just going to rock up and have the target audience use WhatsApp. But if we’re truly about user experience, why aren’t we using what many are already using, rather than trying to introduce another thing ? What we can build may be pretty good, but it’s not going to be as good as what exists in the consumer market.

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