It’s the Technology, Stupid


It’s the Technology, Stupid

Or is it. A throwaway comment by a colleague on the phone this morning got me thinking. Are cities, universities, and commercial parking operations simply buying technology without regard to what it means to their operation.

A well known consultant told me a few months ago that she was concerned about customers that expect technology to solve their problems. Her comment was that technology is like a hoe. You can use it to tend your crops, or you can get a tractor, or a combine, but you still need to decide what to plant, when to plant, where to plant, etc. The technology may make it faster and easier, but it doesn’t tell you how to run your business.

Cities have been inundated with technology. Pay by credit card at single space meters, pay by cell phone, pay and display, in ground sensors, pay by space, complex database management systems running on clouds, internet based data gathering systems, the list is endless.

Many municipalities are making the decision to change equipment, add equipment, remove equipment without considering what the result of the action will be. Technology will solve the problem.

Take a city that decided to remove single space meters and go with pay and display.  It was a cost saving technology, both in maintenance and enforcement. So far so good. It enabled them to accept credit and debit cards, and pay by cell. It may have been the right decision. However when it was put in place, there was a revolution from the merchants and their customers. The technology was the right one, the problems were solved. However the users balked.

The city forgot that it needed to educate its citizens as to the features and benefits of the new technology. They needed to take the  existing knowledge of their users into consideration. What works in Silicon Valley may not work in Fresno. All the DVRs in my house flash 12:00.  And they are supposed to set the time automatically. Do you expect me to run a P and D?  Two bad experiences and I’m your worst nightmare.

The city bought into the story that technology would solve all their problems. They neglected to take into consideration the interface between the technology and the users.

We do it all the time — We have a problem in the office, we get a new computer, a faster internet link, different software,  a better smart phone. None of them, of course, solve the problem, which typically involve people.

My consultant friend tells me that organizations would do well by investing time and a bit of treasure in understanding just what their goals are, what the technology will do, and what needs to change within the organization BEFORE the technology arrives.




Picture of John Van Horn

John Van Horn

One Response

  1. Some of it is customer service. If I don’t have a cell phone (or know how to use it to pay for parking…I don’t go downtown except for special occassions ‘ya know) I don’t want to walk 75 ft to the P&D to walk back to my car to place the slip on my dash when I parked in front of the store for a reason. When the 1 P&D machine on the block is down, now I have to search out another one. Especially in the rain or snow or Texas heat. Give me a parking meter at my bumper!! And that is not even bringing in the issue of being disabled and being required to do it.
    For a pay by space, when I’m trying to keep my kids under control I can get distract…what were we talking about? What was that darn space number? Assuming it is not covered with ice/snow and again having to walk down there & back to go to the store I parked in front of. Up hill both ways…. While I can justify the cost savings of repairs, emptying the coin vault etc. I think we can lose the customer service aspect with a lot of it. Credit card in/out is great….unless a large portion of your users dont have a bank accout/credit card and only deal with cash. Rant off.

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