So what is User-Centered Technology anyway?
Businesses have invested a lot in “digital transformation” over the past decade and now every traditional business has at least put some of these practices into reality. There are also plenty of companies that simply would not have existed without the technology we have available now. For these businesses, technology is an enabler that allows for alternative distribution models, a higher level of efficiency, or access to new markets. While being somewhat "digital" might have been a differentiating factor up to a few years ago, it is now the new status quo; a baseline for every business that wants to be competitive.
This does not mean that the process of digital transformation is over – it’s far from. But we are at a crossroad. There are companies that have simply been moving their processes from paper to screens and made their products available for online ordering, basically as an additional distribution channel. On the other side of the spectrum, we see companies that fully embrace digital practices. Entire departments turn into scrum teams and walls are covered with post-it notes that capture every possible customer journey. While none of these artifacts are proof of successful transformation in itself, they are evidence of an organization that tries to leverage what technology has enabled them to do; serving the needs of their users in a better way.
IT projects seldom pose a technical challenge unless you’re at the cutting edge of technology. Changing people, their behavior, and thus culture is way more complex. Companies that fail to change their behavior will be stuck at this aforementioned crossroad. Even though they invested in digital, they fail to capitalize on these investments; they laid the technological groundwork, but it’s just not used effectively. New technology allows for agility and experimentation unlike we’ve ever seen before, but if you still make decisions based on gut feelings only, it is simply a waste.
So how would you know your company is on the right track in becoming truly digital?
Users are interviewed before new (digital) products or services are initiated and their input is balanced with input from the organization.
Instead of sweating the details you prioritize time-to-market and receiving feedback as soon as possible. This includes sharing experimental prototypes.
Large projects are pared down to discrete small projects as they pose less risk, have fewer dependencies, and shorter development timeframes.
Company-wide systems are put in place to promote the rapid development of new products and services, such as design systems, customer feedback systems, and having an integration layer to access customer data, product data, and ERP data.
Seemingly arbitrary decisions are countered by a healthy dose of skepticism. Decisions are supported by metrics.
Creating stakeholder-value is paramount. Existing processes are simplified in favor of creating custom solutions for low-value processes. Off-the-self solutions that meet 80% of the requirements are favored.
You notice that these decisions are not about the technology itself, but rather decisions on a meta-level on how technology is employed. The concept of User-Centered Technology comes down to making technology decisions that are in the interest of the end-user first and prioritizing stakeholder-value. "Building the right product" has never been easier and is what separates the truly digital companies from those less so.
Some of these attributes might sound familiar if you’re familiar with the Lean Startup methodology, or those that have practiced User-Centered Design. If you have not been introduced to either you might even wonder why we need a name other than just plain “common sense”. Why waste resources when we’re not sure about the result? Why are we not taking advantage of the tools at are our disposal? Reaching a high level for digital maturity is ultimately a culture shift, but luckily a rather unintuitive one.
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