Are You Thinking Digitally? by Kevin McManus
I grew up the analog age, and in turn, I had to learn to think digitally (it’s actually a work in progress). When I was in college, cable had just been introduced, VCRs were the thing to have, and CD players had yet to make it onto the dorm room shelves. I did not use a personal computer to perform my daily work until I had been in the workplace for four years as an Industrial Engineer.
In the classic “Back to the Future” movie, Doc chides Marty for not being able to think fourth dimensionally. In today’s business world, many of our younger employees wish they could give their managers ‘the business’ as well for not being able think digitally. The gap is still growing between the ‘before computers’ crowd and the ‘after computers’ crowd.
There are two potential dangers associated with this widening gap. First and foremost, if we don’t begin to close this gap, the younger crowd will begin to take advantage of, if not control, the older crowd, even though it is the wealth of the older crowd that is paying for all of the neat toys (the technological infrastructure if you want to sound professional).
The second danger presents an even greater downside however. By failing to acquire a digital acumen, we are also failing to learn how to save a lot of time and money. At the same time as people are feeling stressed out because of their workloads and Americans at least are working more and more hours per week on average, we are missing out on the potential to reduce our workloads significantly. We want to say it is the capital cost of new technology that is keeping us ‘as we are’, but I think that is just an excuse. We just can’t comprehend the potential value of technology itself.
Think about it. We have managers who do pretty well with their cell phones and their e-mails, but still struggle with programming the VCR or creating a Powerpoint presentation. The cost of slow typing alone would pay for the typing classes, just as the cost of continuing to use paper would pay for the intranets that all too few companies have.
Are you thinking digitally?
Where are Your Data Mines?
I can remember what it was like to do work without the aid of a computer. Armed with a calculator and white out tape, I would crank out version after version of cost estimates for the process engineers at the pen plant. In hindsight, having a PC to work with probably would have meant that I had one less IE peer to hang out with, but it sure would have made things a lot easier, faster, and less frustrating.
Today, we have the means to both collect and crunch data very easily. That said, we also have too many people who don’t know how to even use the pivot table feature in Excel, even though Bill Gates himself said that it was the most important and powerful feature of that package when Excel was introduced. This indicator, along with others, leads me to believe that (1) we are not collecting as much data as we could and (2) we are failing to effectively crunch the important data that we are collecting.
The database has played a key role in my own process improvement efforts over the years. In addition to capturing waste events as they occur (such as material loss, downtime, or accidents), databases allow us to capture the details, and in particular the causes, of such events. Before computers, we might have filled out a form each time one of these events occurred, but no one wanted to be the person who had to sort through all of those forms looking for possible problem causes. Opinion ruled in the problem solving arena to a much greater degree that it should have, but what cost effective options did we have?.
There’s a lot of gold in them there data mines. Our failure to understand queries and the software features for creating them however is keeping us from finding that gold. Additionally, bar coding and PDA technology has gotten so cheap that it is almost archaic to be hand entering anything! Maybe the problem is not a lack of understanding as much as it is remaining locked in the mindsets of how things used to be done. Are you getting the most out of your data mines? How much gold are you leaving in the ground each day?
In the digital world, things are actually pretty simple. We enter things into the fields of a database and reports pull things from them. When we fill out a web form (entry screen), we are filling in the fields of a new database record. The same thing occurs when we fill in the blanks on any computer-based form. The graphic on the left shows this similarity for several common workplace applications.
One Simple Application
Unless you want to be fancy, posting pages on a website is not any different than creating a Word document with pictures in it. You basically open a file, make your changes, and insert your pictures into text box-like tables. You save the file to the intranet (just another file folder) and you have either an updated or new web page.
It used to be a lot harder to both create and post web pages. It also used to be pretty costly to set up an intranet, but not any more. Given the ease of installation and use that now exists, I believe that all managers and supervisors should know how to create, update, and post web pages. I’ve done it myself, so I know it’s not that hard.
Now, assume that all of your managers and supervisors had this basic skill. No one would have to make and distribute copies of the monthly report any more. We could sit at our desks or in the airport with a WiFi connection and almost instantly look over performance reports, complete with graphs. The time lag to get the information would also be reduced.
I am amazed that more organizations, even the small ones, have not gotten rid of more paper in favor of using their internal web sites. By simply requiring each leader to learn and use this skill, we could save a whole lot of time and money.
For an example of a simple technology utilization plan, click here! Oh, and by the way, don't forget that a similar chart can be created for your support processes as well (such as human resources, information technology, and maintenance). How much waste and clarity do you think you might find in those areas??
Would You Like Some Help?
Over the past 14 or so years, I have been involved with setting technology infrastructures in two different companies - both small and large - in the manufacturing and service arenas. This experience has helped me discover value added, simple ways to set up digital systems for measuring daily performance, creating balanced scorecards that link process performance to company goals, and helping an organization best utilize the emerging technologies that are out there. Failing to think digitally is the primary power restrictor for this power system, so if you are interested in helping yourself and others move this direction, check out my Avoiding Extinction process.
If you are interested in the technology infrastructure ideas that I have to offer, send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Better yet, give some thought to working further with me to help you improve your technology utilization efforts through my interactive technology utilization plan development workshop.
Keep improving! -- Kevin McManus, the Systems Guy
Would You Like to Learn More?
Click on one of the following links to learn even more about Great Systems! and the types of systems improvements I can help you make:
“The only thing I know is that I do not know it all.” -- Socrates