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Fighting the fear of new tech with the chief technology evangelist

In an era of constantly evolving technology, it can be difficult to decide what is worth introducing into a workplace environment. New technology promises multi-fold increases in efficiency, better security, and a decrease in overall operating costs. And much of it might deliver on that. However, not all new hardware or software lives up to its expectations.

More troubling is the fact that investing in the wrong technology can sometimes cause more problems down the road than it solves today. The question is, how do organizations tell the difference between those two extremes?

For some organizations, the answer may be found via a rising job role – the chief technology evangelist.

A matter of timing

One surprising factor that can make the difference between a successful implementation and a disaster, is timing. A company is less likely to implement a new set of processes or otherwise make widespread changes to existing infrastructure during their busy season.

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As an example, Amazon would be much less likely to change to a new inventory management system during the holiday season due to the higher volume of orders that could be affected by glitches, employee training issues, or malfunctions.

This issue becomes sort of a chicken and the egg question. Should the company invest in new technology that promises an edge over competitors, but risk causing problems due to unforeseen issues? Or should the company wait until the newer technology has been proven reliable, but lose any advantage gained from being an early adopter of the technology?

These questions have been posed in every industry, from auto makers dealing with E-85 ethanol implementation, to power plants deciding if they should replace their industrial control centers, all the way to large businesses looking for a more efficient human resources program. And this investment in new technologies should be ongoing.

Risks and rewards of being cutting-edge

Everyone probably remembers the cautionary tale of Research in Motion (RIM), which highlights both the advantages of getting out in front of new technologies and the danger of not doing so. When RIM started out, their game-changing enterprise server system for e-mail gave Blackberry smartphones dominance over government and corporate marketplaces in a way seldom ever seen in technology circles. Every portable electronic device in government, and many in corporate networks, was a Blackberry.

However, after achieving that brilliant success, they became complacent, only offering small, incremental changes to the existing standard. They ignored the fact that competing devices like iOS and Android smartphones were starting to offer other features along with e-mail like browsing the Web, productivity software and even things like navigation. Today, RIM has almost no market share in either government or the private sector, and almost nobody chooses a Blackberry, even one of the newer models which finally began to innovate, over an Android or iOS device.

Another new technology that is proving advantageous for companies to back is blockchain. With its decentralized, distributed approach to recording and updating transactions, it was originally created to secure Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

Now however, early adapters are starting to use it to secure everything from the supply chain to medical devices to communications. Feds are using it in over a dozen federal agencies according to the latest Government Services Administration’s Emerging Citizen Technology Atlas. For example, the Department of Homeland Security is now experimenting with using blockchain for asset tracking, and to transmit and store data collected by U.S. Custom and Border Protection agents’ mobile devices.

The impending realization of quantum computers poses a similar situation, and companies across the board will need to decide whether they will invest in quantum computers, or continue to move forward with more traditional architectures.

The human touch

Whenever a new technology is being considered, the human element is almost always a determining factor. Humans at all levels generally dislike the implementation of anything new, especially technology. And this is true from the line workers on a factory floor up to executives in the C-suite.

Everyone knows how to do their job, so introducing a new element is actively resisted. This is especially true if the values and benefits of a new technology aren’t properly communicated, which happens more often than not.

Training is also paramount, and should be conducted in virtual or test environments as much as possible, long before the new technology goes live. It’s also important to remember that every employee will need to transition to a new technology at a pace that works for them which won’t interfere with their primary objectives. This can be especially important in organizations like healthcare, where doctors and other clinicians can’t be pulled away from their patients, or afford to slow down the treatment process due to the implementation of a new technology.

Getting buy-in and acceptance from the workforce that will be using any new system is critical, since they will ultimately make or break the project. And for that to happen, the new technology needs an advocate, someone who can rally the troops and make people actively excited about the pending change long before the wheels start to turn on a new project.

Chief technology evangelists are Key

As noted earlier, a relatively new position within many organizations is the chief technology evangelist (CTE). These individuals are primarily responsible for two things: charting the direction of new technology within a company and getting buy in from all levels when a new project moves to the implementation stage. In many organizations, they are also responsible for experimenting with new tools and deciding which ones are the best fit for the organization’s goals and long-term objectives.

As more organizations come to rely on technology to improve efficiency and provide a competitive edge, the role of the CTE will continue to evolve and grow. With researching relevant technologies as their primary responsibility, CTEs will have freedom to experiment, attend conferences, talk to vendors, and research the direction of technology regardless of the industry in which they are employed.

Armed with a deep knowledge of both organizational needs and evolving technology, a CTE has the foresight to look 10, 15, or even 25 years down the road at trends that could disrupt business. They can then begin planning accordingly while competitors without a CTE are still struggling with, and unable to see beyond, day to day operations.

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