If technology overload is keeping you up at night, you are not alone. It impacts personal well-being and productivity all along the fresh supply chain. Decision makers can feel overwhelmed by too many tech choices while people charged with using them often feel like their jobs have become harder instead of easier. Meanwhile, we cope with a steady onslaught of emails, texts, and alerts.
Maria Cox is one grower struggling with overload. She noted recently that information and research have always been fundamental to farming, whether from conversations at the coffee shop or by sales visits or email. But managing that influx has become increasingly daunting as new technologies and information about their benefits flood her inbox. Whether data about the superior results offered by new seed varieties or the advantages of next-generation equipment options, she says she feels like a loser by not embracing them–even if her farm yield remains solid in their absence.
"Instead of information overload, we now deal with an information explosion," she writes. "Because of technology, there has been a rapid increase in the amount of data available to farmers. I can speak for many farmers by saying that I’m having trouble managing it all."
If you can relate to Maria, consider these ideas towards reducing technology overload in your operation:
Think about how to slow down the technology and information barrage. Start with email filtering and limiting smartphone usage. Encourage more direct interaction as an alternative to digital communication, or to implement an e-mail free time frame, or limiting non-urgent communications to a specific time of day.
It may seem counterintuitive in the "always on" supply chain, but sometimes adding more layers of technology can help. For example, Off the Grid is an app that allows users to lock down their phone. It sends auto-reply messages to let people know when you are "off the grid." Another option is the Thrive Away app, which blocks notifications, calls, and texts unless they are from people on your VIP list. It has an auto-reply feature that lets others know you’re taking time away from your phone, and when you are available again.
When it comes to choosing a new technology, keep organizational goals and resource limitations at the forefront. Above all, it is important to understand how it will enable the organization to directly or indirectly improve customer and employee experience. With superior product protection and ease of handling, IFCO RPCs are an example of a packaging technology that ticks all the boxes in terms of improving customer and employee experience as well as in terms of financial benefits.
The shelf life limitations of a technology investment is a significant concern. While outright purchase or long-term contracts often offer cost savings, they also increase the risk of being stuck with dated technology and tools. One way to reduce such risk is to partner with technology providers which offer flexible subscription-based services while avoiding long-term contracts. Technology is rapidly changing in machinery as well. One way to ensure you don’t fall too far behind is to consider a lease model for forklifts and other equipment so that units will be periodically replaced with the latest model.
If you are overwhelmed with product options, start first with clarifying the business needs, and then by evaluating and ranking the available technologies. The next step is to create a pilot project to provide proof of concept. Where possible, start small and cascade the rollout.
The rollout is critical, yet too often under-appreciated. A shaky rollout can spike levels of technology overload through the roof for all involved, impair productivity, and compromise customer experience.
As in any change project, there are several important components that need to get right. Roles of the executive sponsor, project manager/change agent, and the user group need to be considered. Plan for necessary training and communication and make contingencies for additional training or resources if service levels take a dip during the implementation period.
One way to reduce technology-related stress is to hire people with the skills needed for success, but it may come at a cost. Consultant Todd Linskey is seeing more and more employers forced "to hire solely based on statistical and mathematical acumen necessary for their evolving business model." He cautions, however, that the focus on tech hires "will not mitigate the need to meet and effectively communicate with people…Communication is a building block of company culture and how it fares dictates how successfully you translate your message to your customers." Bottom line–make sure you invest in the necessary training and mentoring in soft skills for the emerging tech-savvy workforce.
Ultimately, technology should be making our lives better. While patience is a virtue, if technology is not improving your personal, employee and customer experience, it might be prudent to take a second look.