• April 1, 2016
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

People, ________, and Technology

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Poking aroundTwitter the other day, I came across a tweet from @aaremesar proposing, "#CRM is not about the technology, but about the people involved. What do you feel about it?" Fair's fair—I wasn't just poking around; I was tagged in the tweet along with the inestimable Graham Hill and Jesus Hoyos, gents whom I'm proud to call colleagues because it makes me look good by association.

My reply was about what you'd expect from me. "I hope it's still a little about the technology; we're not allowed to sell people. :-)" Graham and Jesus, of course, decided to think before responding. Their responses, respectively, were "It is not EITHER/OR but AND" and "Technology is moving faster than the business strategy, making change mgmt important." We were all correct in our way, but Messrs. Hill and Hoyos made points I'd like to consider at greater length.

Graham is spot on when he says it's not either/or but and. I also think he takes the Guinness Record for most consecutive conjunctions used in a sentence with proper grammar. There's really no point in having the technology without people to operate and interpret it. Similarly, we've reached a point in the developed world that people simply can't manage their lives and businesses without technology. That's sad and cool at the same time—we dream of uploading our consciousnesses into machines at the same time we watch TV shows about people who live completely off the grid. Businesses can operate without an investment in tech, but they will be limited by that lack.

Jesus's answer is pretty nuanced for so few characters, because it hits several issues simultaneously. Technology is by far the fastest-moving part of a modern enterprise—so fast that we have trouble figuring out what to do with it before something newer comes along. Change management, the way we get people to transition to new technology, is about the adaptability of the human mind, and people who are able to change once can do so again. They become more valuable as human assets. These two concepts surround the piece that's missing from the original premise—process.

Whenever we talk about CRM or pretty much any other enterprise concept, there are three pillars: people, process, and technology. You've got to have all three. Great talent and innovative programming will both fail if there isn't a methodology in place to help the one use the other in the most effective way. People can make up for technological shortcomings, and technology can take tedious or repetitive work out of the hands of people, but they can only do it well if there's a smart process to make it happen.

You can't truly say that one leg of a tripod is more important than another, but maybe CRM isn't a tripod. There aren't any tripedal animals on Earth, and the (arguably) most successful one is bipedal. People are one leg, technology the other, and process is the pelvis, the part in the middle that links them and lets them work together to move the organism forward. I especially like the idea that the pelvis is what makes things happen, because I am a sad and lonely creature. Fortunately, the analogy works anyway.

If I had to pin myself down to either people or technology as laid out in the tweet, I would probably go with the former. People create technology (and process too, but whatever) or learn to do without it. People make things happen, and people are what businesses serve, as well as what businesses use to provide service. Technology is like the honey badger—it don't care. Technology that isn't driven by purpose is meaningless, even if it looks awesome. As it stands, people can do things independent of technology; technology can't do jack without people.

Until the machines take over, anyway. When artificial intelligence conquers the world, technology can do whatever the hell it wants. I, for one, shall welcome our new robotic overlords. 

Marshall Lager is a person whose process involves technology, as the managing principal of Third Idea Consulting. If you can figure out how that makes any sense, contact him at www.3rd-idea.com, or www.twitter.com/Lager.

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