First things First- PROCESS before technology…

Here is is post I wrote a few years back. I was reminded of it while on a call today on Sales Enablement and Automation. Not surprising that it always comes back to “doing the RIGHT things RIGHT”.  BTW- an update on the below article- 3 years later, the process at EWR is STILL THE SAME!!!!                                          ———————————

Here’s a brief story I encountered while leaving Newark International Airport following a recent business trip. Hard to believe, but true.

After a long flight home from the West Coast, I took a short train ride to the long term parking facility, located my car (which is becoming more difficult with age it seems), and proceeded to the parking exit. Note that it’s been a while since I’ve used the long term parking facility, as I normally use a car or taxi service, so I was largely unfamiliar with their new “high tech” customer solutions.

As I pulled up to the pay station (expecting the attendant to inform me of my charge), she immediately looked at me with the gaze of a very frustrated woman who’s obviously done this before. In a short tone, she barked out an instruction suggesting that I had passed an automated ticket booth, from which I should have inserted my ticket and noted the charge. I complied with the instruction, quietly wondering why this woman was in the booth at all, given the fact that the machine and I pretty much had this thing licked. I concluded of course that she must be there to collect the money, so I proceeded to pay her. Not a good assumption as she pointed me back to the machine to insert my payment. OK, I get it, I interact with the machine for this too…no problem, thinking that this is a pretty good solution. I wait for the machine to give me my receipt, an obvious assumption given how the first two steps went. Nope…wrong again. This time she wants me to drive to her and pick up my receipt, at which point she presses a button, lifts the gate, and I’m on my merry way.

I can’t help thinking about all the time and money went into implementing this slick new solution, that probably cost an arm and a leg, had little to no impact on cost savings, destroyed customer satisfaction, and obviously put the employee in a perpetual stae of ‘grumpy’. No…what this was, is yet another example of “technology for technology’s sake”.

When I work with organizations on business impovement, one of the most important themes I try to drill home is PROCESS FIRST, then technology. You don’t implement technology on top of a broken process. Nor do you attempt to fix a broken brocess with technology only.

The right path is to measure the effectiveness of the process before you begin. Establish a baseline. Understand how the process works today (‘As Is’ State). Look for places to improve the process. Define changes. Examine the effect of each potential change on overall performance. Then, and only then, define the technology, systems, skills, and organization needed to support the new process. Develop cost benefits and business cases. Re-examine the degree to which performance will be improved over baseline. And then your almost ready for implementation.

It’s a simple principle, but one that often get overlooked. Try to pay some attention to this in your everyday life and you’ll probably see many similar examples. Then, use these as lessons learned, and start living by the mantra- “First Things First”- process first, technology later.



Author: Bob Champagne is Managing Partner of onVector Consulting Group, a privately held international management consulting organization specializing in the design and deployment of Performance Management tools, systems, and solutions. Bob has over 25 years of Performance Management experience and has consulted with hundreds of companies across numerous industries and geographies. Bob can be contacted at


  1. #1 by Redge on February 21, 2011 - 11:58 pm

    I have made similar observations at companies I have worked with. I typically direct companies to focus on the process first with an attempt to keep the data local to the people that will be required to work with it. Any automation follows only when the team understands what should be automated and why.

    Before we hand out calculators to our kids, we teach them how to do the math first. Once they understand the math, they appreciate the calculator and know what the “answer” actually means. At least in their minds eye, the kids will have some appreciation for what the calculator is doing. Similarly, they will recognize when the result is incorrect and deduce that something is wrong with the input.

    By the way, we have machines that take tokens in our train stations, however, we still “man” the gate. Technology!

    In short, hands-on (manual) before hands-off (automation).

  1. Links Customer Service Articles from “Performance Perspectives”… « Performance Perspectives
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