By Joe Igel

Years ago, before my time in Safety, I was placed in charge of various aspects of our accounting department. We had what was, at the time, state-of-the-art computer technology. And because I believed in it, I trusted it. The problem was that my general understanding of some of the more sophisticated accounting principles as well as what really was occurring within the custom programming was lacking. It took some hard lessons and some patient people to help me through these times and often, I would rely more upon what I put on a columnar pad or kept in a separate spreadsheet for accuracy or backup. I have heard the comment that “technology is only a tool” many times, but is it the right tool and do we rely upon it too often, trusting it without understanding what it is doing? As a disclaimer though, let me note that a lot of technology truly amazes me yet in many ways, has passed me by.

Some thoughts, beyond the cost issues, proprietary software concerns and privacy worries:

If you cannot explain the results you have, how do you know they are correct? And are they of any value? I have too often seen reports that look great, but when the results are questioned, the answers leave me feeling less than confident about the data and reasoning that went into them. And frequently, this leads to those using the technology to question the results themselves, going back and reviewing the data and thus losing any efficiencies that they otherwise would have gained. And as we reason forward from our results, are we truly focused on the proper issues? Are we proceeding down the correct course?

Is the technology right for your audience? I am an extremely tactile, visual learner. I appreciate a verbal explanation or a diagram, but the learning process in me solidifies when I see it happening, when I can participate or perform. And many of the people I have encountered in the industry are the same way—that is often why they chose this industry. If the technology involved means sitting a person in front of a screen for lengthy training, you may well lose your audience.

Do we have time for the additional training? Accurately using software does not automatically happen. It requires training and usually ongoing training as new releases become available. These are not a reason to avoid the purchase, just a factor in the decision.

With all these thoughts, it would appear that I do not appreciate what technology has to offer but note my comment above—I am truly amazed. The ability to provide a concise, portable, consistent message is an immense advantage. The potential ability to have real time results is a must in our competitive world. Technology offers an avenue to these conclusions. But understand its shortcomings, what went into developing the answers and the needs of your audience. Only by doing this will the technology allow you to reach your full potential.