How Technology Can Fail in the Absence of Humanity - Envision Technology Advisors' blog

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How Technology Can Fail in the Absence of Humanity

At Envision, we often talk about the importance of the “human element” in any technology decisions. How those decisions will impact your company’s people, as well as the people who your business serves, is a key factor to consider when deploying any new technology solution.

The “human element” in technology also concerns how your people will actually use that tech to achieve your business goals. Without the right plan in place, even the best technology solutions can fall flat. I was recently reminded of this important principal when Envision exhibited at a conference and I saw a first-hand example of how technology can fail in the absence of humanity.

Setting Up

Like all conferences that feature an area for companies to exhibit, this event included some time before attendees began to arrive for the companies to set up their displays and tables. It was during this set-up period that I overheard a very interesting, and somewhat misguided, conversation.

Across the room from where Envision was setting up, there was a display with a kiosk-style screen positioned front and center on the table. Apparently, this company came in and set up their display and then completely left the event, leaving that touch screen to be their company’s representative at this conference. As I set up Envision’s area, I heard some fellow exhibitors discussing this display, including this comment:

“They’ve definitely got the right idea. This conference is about technology, and they totally replaced the people at their booth with that screen! That’s the way to do it.”

I shook my head at the misguided sentiment behind this comment. Yes, there are certainly things that are better handled by automation, but technology alone is not the answer to every single business challenge. For example, consider the point behind exhibiting at a conference in the first place. Companies do this so that they can meet and interact with people. They are there to have conversations and make connections, ideally with people who are looking for the product or service that they have to offer. As cool and engaging as a touch-screen display can be, is it really an adequate replacement for people from your company being on hand to meet with conference attendees? I would argue that it is not, and what happened later at this event would totally prove my point.

The Conference Begins

From the very beginning of this conference, I was curious to see what the attendees’ reaction to the unmanned booth would be.

As people began to filter into the exhibit space, I saw conversations being had throughout the room, while attendees looked at this unmanned table and the touch screen with what seemed like a mix of curiosity and confusion. I saw many people stare at the table for a few seconds before walking away. While a handful of people did touch the screen a few times, even they left the table after 30 seconds or so. In the meantime, at the Envision table, we were having meaningful conversations with conference attendees and making real connections. People = 1, Touchscreen = 0.

The Situation Gets Worse

As the day moved past the midway point, I began to notice that no one was spending any time at the unmanned table. At least a few people had stopped to touch the screen at the start of the conference, but now it was attracting no attention at all. I discovered why a short while later when I overhead an attendee mention that the screen was displaying an error message of some kind.

Curious to learn more, I made my way over to this table. Sure enough, the touch screen had experienced a failure and was no longer operational. Instead of engaging attendees, the screen was showing an error message. Since there was no one from the company at the booth, there was no one present to resolve this situation and reboot the touch screen. Instead, that error message is the impression that conference attendees were left with for that company. This is a perfect example of what could’ve been a cool technology solution failing in the absence of the human element.

A Better Way

This touch screen presentation was especially interesting to me because Envision had actually used an interactive touch presentation at a few events we did earlier in the year. Of course, we didn’t remove the human element from our booth at these events. The technology we brought to those conferences was used to enhance the visitor experience in our booth. The team we had on hand at these events used our touch screen to help further conversations and demonstrate some of the ideas we were there presenting. Never once did we rely on the touch screen alone to do the job of engaging attendees.

Interestingly enough, we also had an error with our screen at one of the events, but since our team was on hand at our booth, we were able to resolve the minor issue in minutes and our presentation was running once again. This is the right way to use technology – as an enhancement to the human element, not as a replacement for it.

If You Automate it, Monitor it

As I said earlier in this article, there are absolutely aspects of your business that make sense to automate, but if you are going to do so, you also need to ensure that these activities are monitored in some way.

When we work with our clients to identify opportunities for automation in their business, we also use our Ground Control suite of Managed Services to provide remote monitoring and management capabilities. This way, if something does go wrong, everyone involved can be notified of the problem immediately and corrective actions can be taken to minimize the impact of any failures. Had this company been monitoring their unmanned touch screen, they may have been able to correct the issue and not turn people away. Yes, I still think completely replacing people with technology is the wrong decision in this instance, but if the technology had been properly managed, at least it wouldn’t have gone as wrong as it did!

The Human Side of Technology

Envision are experts when it comes to understanding the human side of technology decisions. If your company is considering a new initiative, contact our team and allow us to help you determine what the human impact of your IT decisions will be, and ensure that you have the right plan in place to make the most out of your technology and the people who will use it.

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