Using tech to improve service, not just cut costs

‘Innovative technology can be revolutionary but we need to think hard about its use’

Technology is changing our world faster, and more completely, than ever before. All sectors have to be aware of developments such as automation and the internet of things, innovations which might yet prove to be godsends, or fresh hells. Workplace and facilities professionals are not immune with increasing developments in the technology we employ to manage buildings.

I’m not going to argue that these technologies aren’t important or aren’t going to have an impact. They do. But I do believe that people, in my industry and outside, have missed out on its true impact. We are so fascinated with what technology can do for us as professionals that we have lost sight of wider potential.

Learning from the cautionary tale of self-checkouts

When a breakthrough is made that is supposedly going to help us work better, smarter or more effectively, facility managers don’t sufficiently consider how the new technology can benefit the working experience for everyone else instead of simply helping to manage the building better.

At the end of the day, that is what we should be concerned about. Some companies, in other sectors, have already grasped this. Amazon has risen to dominate the world, not because they embrace every technological novelty going and use it to create efficiency, but because they carefully decide which ones improve the experience of their customers.

The company strives more and more for same-day delivery of anything to anyone. It already knows exactly what a customer is going to order, before the customer does. This might sound vaguely Orwellian, but it’s this that has allowed it to continue to shorten delivery times.

Those of us building the workplaces of the future need to learn from this mindset and adopt similar ambitions. It’s possible, but only when technology is positioned right. There is, however, a cautionary tale in every supermarket in the UK. Self-service checkouts have become ubiquitous across the country in recent years, but while shops will insist they make customers’ lives easier, we all know the truth.

Self-service checkouts benefit supermarkets by letting them employ fewer people and therefore save money. Their customers up and down the UK have come to loathe the robotic voice telling them “there is an unidentified item in the bagging area”.

Innovative technology must be used to benefit workplaces

So what of our workplaces? Innovative technology can be revolutionary but, to make sure it ultimately benefits us, we need to think hard about its use. At first glance, employers and managers might love the idea of tracking staff movements; we know how to do it, but what sort of impact will this have on people while they are at work?

The aim for all workplace professionals should be to use technology not for its own sake, or to drive efficiencies, but to improve the overall experience. In my opinion, the company that has understood this the best is Uber. They removed the old frustrations involved in getting a taxi and replaced it with an almost seamless, personalised and convenient service.

But the Californian company, not yet ten years old, has completely revolutionised the way people get around globally. It didn’t only use technology for streamlining or to drive up profits. Instead, it used the latest methods of communication, GPS locators, payment methods and more to make getting from A to B as simple, cost effective and pleasant as possible for the customer. The profits will take care of themselves.

In short, the technology itself doesn’t matter, the experience does; and the best role of the former is to improve the latter. That is where the value of technology lies.