Are you obsessed with digital?

Man using digital technology

I am going to let you into a secret. You won’t tell anyone, will you? Here goes..! Sometimes, I don’t use a digital device, app or online tool. Every now and then, I go “old school” and use pen and paper. There, I’ve admitted it. Yes, the very person who teaches students about digital business and who advises companies on their use of online technology isn’t entirely digital himself.

I will leave you for a second or two, so you can shut your open mouth and take in some breath.

Yes, pen and paper are frequently better than anything digital.

Even so, I am a fan of technology. I have always been an “early adopter” of gadgets. Indeed, I had my first hand-held tablet device in 1985 – a “Psion Organiser”. That was 25 years before the launch of the iPad. After the “organiser” was outdated, I got an “Apple Newton” before getting a “Palm PDA”. I get new computers whenever I can, and it seems as though I’ve had more mobile phones than Carphone Warehouse. Gadget man, they call me.

So, why wouldn’t I use digital technology for everything? Why on earth do I still have a notepad and pen?

The answer came this week from various directions. The first was in a tutorial discussion with some of my business students at university. I was talking about the need for companies to upgrade and keep up with digital developments. I used two examples to back up my ideas. One was the logistics company, UPS. Until three years ago, they tracked their operations on a 30-year-old analogue device that cost $20bn to replace. If only they had been obsessed with digital, they wouldn’t have needed to spend so much.

The other example was the international banking industry. Every day trillions of dollars pass through computers that are almost 60 years old. The banking sector faces an existential crisis unless it rapidly deals with its legacy systems at the cost of billions.

I used these examples to point out the need to always be up-to-date with technology and upgrade at the earliest opportunity. If you don’t do that, it costs more in the future to change your systems. Plus, it means that you lose out to the more up-to-date competition. The top three “challenger banks” now have almost as many customers as the 170-year-old Lloyds Banking Group. And it has only taken these digital banks four years to achieve that.

Within a couple of hours of my discussion with students, I received an email from the business consultancy, McKinsey, pointing their new research, which shows that many sectors are vulnerable because of lack of preparation for digital. They point out in their study that “the highest performing companies made bolder investments in technology”. That confirms my point that waiting too long to invest in technology is a business problem. It’s all suggesting pen and paper is a waste of time…!

Another piece of evidence that supports this idea is the revelation on Thursday that half of the UK Government’s cost of IT goes on trying to keep legacy systems working. That’s £2.3bn a year of taxpayers’ money. And the cost is going to rise to around double that each year for the next five years. If only the Government had invested in upgrades and new technologies. They clearly need to be like gadget man.

Or do they? Not if you read this report from MIT, which was published yesterday. That shows that 70% of digital technology improvement projects end in failure. Yes, seven out of ten “digital transformations” go wrong.

Here’s the problem. If you don’t keep up-to-date with rapidly advancing technology, your business loses a competitive edge, and you end up spending more money. But if you do try to stay up-to-date, there’s a good chance you will fail in your attempts.

Which brings me back to pen and paper. Many “gadget fans” and businesses determined to be at the leading edge of technology are attracted by the “new and shiny”. They get excited about the possibilities of doing something using new technology and head straight for the bright lights. But they don’t stop to think and ask, “what are the significant time and money advantages this new tech provides?”

New technology is great at attracting us. However, much new technology is poorly conceived. How many apps have you downloaded only to ditch because they were rubbish?

Being obsessed with digital could take you away from old-school technologies that do the job better. Yet, avoiding technological change can cost your business dearly.

I mention this because 95% of the business world uses Microsoft Windows. Things are about to change with the impending launch of Windows 11. It means that much hardware will not be able to run the new operating system. Are you ready for that? Have you upgraded?

How often do you review the technology you use? Most businesses do not do this often enough. And remember, pen and paper is technology.

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