Technology is perfect; it’s the people and processes that aren’t.

With the exception of bugs, the simple fact is that technology does exactly what we tell it to do. The system follows the programs that were written and executes things as directed.

In my 18 years of consulting, in the vast majority of cases, problems with data management systems (e.g., errors, mistakes) are usually a result of bad process or human error, not buggy technology. (I’m making a distinction here between software bugs and outdated technology, as noted below.)

Here are some specific examples of what I mean:

Example 1: “Our database is broken. We run the same report and get different results.” I’ve heard variations of this since before I started consulting. And in all that time I can’t recall one instance where, when the exact same report or query was run twice, the system provided different results.

What is typically happening in these cases is the staff is running what appear to be identical queries or reports, but in fact are different. For example, both queries are titled “Member Count,” but when executed the queries provide different totals. Upon further review, what is learned is that the first query is looking at all records with a member type equal to “member” while the second query is looking at member type equal to “member” AND status equal to “active.” So what looks like the same query is actually two different queries. The technology is working but the people using it are not fully aware of what they are doing (i.e., this is a training issue).

Example 2: “The website allows our members to create duplicate records.” While there are exceptions, most websites these days are checking for duplicate email when new profiles are created. That is, if an individual tried to create a new profile on your website and uses the same email address, the system will tell the user that a record with that email address already exists, and should prompt the user to use the “forgot login” prompt to reset his or her login and/or password. Often the member will then use a different email address and proceed with creating a new record.

What is typically happening in these cases is that the process for logging in is confusing or difficult and/or the process for retrieving or resetting login/password credentials is confusing, difficult, or non-existent. First, in most cases, usernames should default to the user’s email address. Most people cannot remember their username or member ID, but they can certainly remember their email address. This is why email address should equal username.

Second, the process for resetting the password should be obvious and easy to execute. If the system says “enter your email address here and we’ll send you a link to reset your password,” most members and customers will do that. In this case, we have a process issue. The technology is working as designed, we just haven’t provided an easy and effective enough process for our customers to follow.

Technology, or people and process?

To be fair, yes, sometimes technology IS the problem. For example, if you have very old technology that doesn’t allow for open APIs or doesn’t provide responsive design, then yes, technology is part of your problem.

But as often as not, process and people are your greatest challenge. For better or worse, people are not computers. You cannot program them to do exactly what you want them to do, and therefore they will make mistakes. It also means that people can help manage the exceptions, which most technology cannot do.

We must also be vigilant about examining our processes and making sure they are as efficient and effective as possible. This may mean changing our business rules. Often technology can be made to support our crazy processes, but that can be expensive to build and maintain. Better processes are easier to manage and easier to change, when needed.

Technology typically does exactly what we tell it to do. No more, no less. So when there are problems, make sure you review your people and your processes, too.

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