(Hive Note: I wrote this to help people who do not understand tech but figured I would post it here because it is also a good method to talk to owners about tech, and I use it with clients.)
As a construction technologist (ConTech), I get asked all the time how to select technology or how to align it with-in a business. This is almost always a challenge, but it’s a good strategy to look at technology selection like you would hiring a new employee. You can look for a lot of the same qualities, just in a slightly different way. When you are hiring, you look at the job description, wages, whether the position is full-time or part-time, experience level, talent level, and even cultural fit. These are some of the same things to look at when selecting new technology. There are several more, but understanding these five can clear up a lot of the more common questions and give you a solid foundation for your technology search.
The Job Description
Perhaps the most important thing to think about when looking to hire a new employee is, what is the job description? Put simply, what is the job you want them to do. It’s surprising how often people purchase technology before deciding the job it is to do. Finding a technology cool or exciting is not a good reason to hire. It’s like hiring someone based on how they look and then searching for a place to put them.
When you’re looking for a new employee, you need to have a specific job or jobs in mind. When selecting tech, you should go in with the same mindset. As an exercise, I typically have my clients work with me to write down tasks and jobs within their business process. We then take that list of jobs to be done and align it with the current technology solutions they use. This defines the existing technology workforce. It is also defining open technology positions. Not all jobs can be done by technology, but it’s good to think about what jobs you wish technology could do. This will define possible future technology staffing goals. Future goals are important because, as we make our technology selections, we want to focus on candidates who are likely to be able to perform not only the jobs we want today but the jobs we want to fill down the road.
As you are defining new job descriptions, it is important to evaluate your existing technology workforce. Doing the job is important, but doing it well is essential also. Existing technologies that are underperforming or are overly expensive should prompt the creation of a replacement job description.
Wages and Hours
As you’re defining the job descriptions, you also need to define the wages. Different jobs demand different wage rates. As in hiring people, determining how much you think the job is worth before you start looking will help ensure you get a good return on your investment. Also, knowing a target wage can help when negotiating a technology purchase. Large technology purchases are almost always opened to negotiation, so do not be afraid to push for a fair price.
Full-Time vs. Part-Time
Another thing to consider is whether the job requires full-time or part-time positions. As a rule of thumb, I consider the technology used daily, or even every other day, full-time. Less than that, I consider part-time. Technologies that are full-time are adopted more easily due to the frequency of use. Part-time technology presents challenges similar to part-time employees. Your teams will not know them as well, and as a result, they may be underused and overlooked. Often the tech sitting in the corner unused was purchased to fill a part-time position. I recommend reviewing and combining job descriptions if you notice that your part-time tech is getting out of hand.
Also, if a part-time technology is overly expensive to purchase or support, consider outsourcing. Outsourcing a technology will add a barrier to its use, so it should be done sparingly. If looking at future technology goals, a technology is wanted full-time down the road, avoid outsourcing it. Outsourcing is often seen as adding cost, where using purchased tech is seen as adding value to the investment. A good example is outsourcing 3D Scanners. Many companies never adopt wide-reaching reality capture because outsourcing is costly and hard to schedule. A good test can be renting equipment for an extended time period and challenging people to use it as a full-time technology. Tracking that usage will tell you if it is time to invest.
Much attention is given to new technology. As a technologist, I spend most of my time looking at newer technologies, but they are often not the technologies I typically recommend. Experience is important! Taking on a new technology solution is very similar to taking on employees straight out of school. Like a person right out of school, performing well academically doesn’t mean they’ll be able to meet the challenges of the real world. They are also likely to make more mistakes than those with experience. On the plus side, technology developers in the construction space are often very willing to help adapt newer solutions. This takes an investment of company time and effort beyond simple implementation. Larger firms that prioritize innovation often employ a full-time ConTech for just this reason.
Again though, as in hiring people, the majority of technology hires should have some level of experience. These will start off better adapted to the job and will have better training programs for the people who will be using them. Technology does have a working lifespan. For this reason, you have to determine how long a prospective technology will likely work for your company and how old your existing tech is. Technologies that have been around for two or three decades may be nearing, or past, retirement. Considering the replacement or “apprenticing” new technology is part of keeping a healthy technology workforce.
Good talent is hard to find, even in tech. That’s why there are job recruiters. For technology, those recruiters are often consultants and construction technologists. They are the people going to all the conferences, which are the technology equivalent of a job fair. This, along with research, gives them a good grasp on the existing talent available and those about to graduate into the market. However, recruiters are not always necessary. Determining talent can be tricky, but having a good strategy helps. Misleading marketing and advertising are far too common in the space, so I start with what I think of as the “show me” method. You can’t do this unless you have a clear job description, but having a prospective technology demonstrate the specific jobs you need it to do is a must during evaluation. Free trials or targeted demonstrations are common, and most salespeople are willing to show you examples specific to your company. This can be more difficult with smaller or more inexpensive technologies. In those cases, talking to other users can be an option, but still, if at all possible, try to test the technology using your process or data.
Beyond filling the job description, looking at the technology's other capabilities is still important. It’s like hiring someone that will wear multiple hats in your company. After, and only after, determining the technology can do the job you are hiring for, spend some time looking at the other functionality it has to offer. This is a chance to look outside your job list to value-added functionality and things that expand the capabilities of your company. If you do take on tech that has extra talents make sure you add them to your jobs list and process. This will help solidify the use of those talents.
In a previous article, I talked about poison pills within a technology stack. Poison pills are aspects of technology that will limit your future choices, require special considerations, or negatively affect the other technologies employed by your business. A lot like toxic employees, technology with poison pills may be fine by themselves but have a negative effect on those they work with. Checking for this is like establishing a cultural fit for a person. There are a host of comparison charts and other resources that line up and establish compatibility but don’t be afraid to ask for references. Talking to a company with similar technologies about a specific solution is common and good practice.
It’s also important to determine how technology will interact with people. Some technologies are effective but require a sacrifice of employee privacy, choice, and even dignity. The impact of these technologies varies between companies, based on their individual employee culture. This can make it tough to identify potential problems, but there are some warning signs. Several of these technologies target employee discipline, compelling people to do things they are not doing. Others may monitor or publicly display things employees feel are private or confidential. These technologies are often excused as a necessary evil, but they can be destructive to employee morale and retention. Also, since the advent of websites like Glass Door, they can deter future prospects from even applying. Asking questions like “If I had a person do these jobs, would it be acceptable?” or “Would my people work with them?” can shed real light on technologies that may be damaging to your company culture.
The parallels between hiring people and employing new technology run deeper than what I have outlined in this article. I think I could easily fill a book with the way the two overlap. I hope even this small portion, though, gives you some tools that make you more confident in your technology selections and give you a fresh way to look at your technology workforce.