Technology

Is Your Technology Seamless?

By / May 26, 2015 (iStock/Thinkstock)

Too often, it seems like we’re fighting things that should be making our lives easier. A few smart words from a guy who built his life in technology could help you figure out your own technology balance.

What if Woz was one of us?

That sounds like an unusual question, but it was posed to me recently in the form of a blog post by an association management company. The Markens Group, a Springfield, Massachusetts-based AMC, recently sponsored a talk by Steve Wozniak, the cofounder of Apple.

(It was a pretty smart sponsorship opportunity on their part—free tickets to the event sold out so quickly that they had to upgrade the venue for the May 1 speech.)

And according to the company, it got more relevant stuff for associations out of Woz’s talk than it anticipated.

Among the many things the Apple II mastermind brought up during his panel discussion at the MassMutual Center was the idea of technology needing to enable us to be better, rather than getting in the way of what makes us best. During his speech, for example, he pushed back on the idea of artificial intelligence ultimately becoming smarter than humans—by noting that we’ve already given in to the machines.

“The machines won 200 years ago. We made them too important,” he said, according to the event’s media sponsor, MassLive. “That makes us the family pet.”

Wozniak’s presentation emphasized that, even with the many benefits of the technology we use on a daily basis, “we really don’t want technology for technology’s sake,” according to the Markens Group blog post.

“Rather, we want technology to be invisible, to provide value seamlessly,” the company explained. “In other words, just because there’s a hot new platform out there doesn’t mean that it’s right for your association—especially if it is cumbersome to use.”

Seamlessness in the Enterprise

Woz’s point is sound. Hot new platforms come along almost daily—as the endlessly fascinating site Product Hunt reminds us—and their features often amount to new twists on an old mousetrap. It’s good that people are trying to create better mousetraps, because eventually one will hit on a way to solve the problem even more efficiently than before.

But this mindset cuts both ways. Enterprise platforms get long in the tooth in the context of hipper systems that don’t reach enterprise scale. We hold onto one-size-fits-all platforms too long. We don’t upgrade them often enough. And inevitably, users go elsewhere, outside SharePoint or your enterprise cloud system of choice. Why work in SharePoint when Slack does nearly everything we want to do and doesn’t require a week of training to figure out how to use it?

Here’s an example of this in action: Consumers love Dropbox because it “just works.” It has a massive user base already and, even compared with cheaper platforms like Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive, it still holds its own because it feels natural to most users.

But inevitably, Dropbox is a nonstarter with many enterprises because of the very simplicity and freedom that makes it so easy to use. Security is a factor, yes, but so is cost. You pay a little bit more for that extra ease of use, and you let go of some control in the process.

And, too often, the IT person may be missing the point of why Dropbox is useful in the first place. It’s not simply about sharing large files with other people—quite often, it’s about sharing files with yourself. Modern platforms like Dropbox are great because they play nicely with Evernote, with IFTTT, with nearly every other app in your digital life. Heck, you even blog with it.

You may have a vendor that says, “Well, we can do what Dropbox does.” Sure, it probably can, but is it seamless? Is it something your users would use without many complaints? Or are we more focused on our own comfort level than of that of the people who actually have to use the software every day?

This is the point that Woz was getting at by speaking of “technology for technology’s sake.” We want things to just work, but at what point does that come into the equation for an organization that has stakeholders and board members to impress?

At what point are we letting vendors control ease of use too much? Where too many features in one app drown out a simple experience?

Taking a Test Drive

Recently, I had the opportunity to upgrade one of the products that Wozniak’s former company created—but what I found most interesting about getting a new iPhone 6 Plus was not the product itself, but the fact that the company I bought it from, T-Mobile, offers free test drives of what generally is considered the weak link of its offering: its wireless network.

I knew what I wanted (a new phone, unlimited wireless access, a lower price than I had been paying previously) but I also knew what I didn’t want (a cruddy network, poor service). The fact that the company let me test these things first, so I could see what the usability was actually like, ensured that I was making a decision that worked for me. (For the curious: T-Mobile holds up incredibly well in big cities, which surprised me.)

What if we tried our enterprise apps like this? Where the user experience and our ability to get things done with software was put ahead of a long checklist of theoretical needs put in front of a boardroom? Where working our own way—that is, seamlessly—was put ahead of a monolithic corporate need? In the end, we might find ourselves happier with the result.

That’s how we beat the machines.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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