I’ve been thinking lately about where I have so often found myself over the past 40 years — feeling frozen in place, afraid to make a decision to buy a piece of technology out of fear that as soon as I do, it will be replaced in the market by something better and cheaper.
It started back in the mid-70s when I was in college and contemplating the purchase of a cassette tape player to add to my stereo system. It seemed then that new improvements were coming out every six months and I would be foolish not to wait. And the same feeling of anxiety and inertia set in over the years as I painfully considered each move from desktop PC to laptop, from Blackberry to iPhone, and from electric to induction cook top. This struggle with wanting to keep up and knowing I would get better results if I made a change, counterbalanced with the fear of making a mistake or acting too soon, has often kept me from enjoying the benefits of better technology for too long, and all over the risk of a few hundred dollars.
So, I have empathy for the many companies that are continuing to put off decisions about improving their technology approaches to managing risk, compliance, and business performance. After all, these are expensive decisions, in both dollars and time needed in making a change. And yet, I can’t help but think that the more they wait, the more they fall behind. Just look at what they have to consider.
There’s so much in the news recently about “big data” and the possibilities of knowledge it presents. But as Albert Einstein said “Information is not knowledge.” Indeed. With more information comes the likelihood of more mistakes, more misinterpretation, and more poor decision-making. Without the right analytic structure, data can be misunderstood or manipulated to support just about any conclusion.
The more data we have to consider, the harder it becomes to find what is meaningful and what we need to consider. The need for continuing advances in, and implementation of, methods and mechanisms for collecting but also correctly analyzing data and the information it can yield, is essential. And yet, in many organizations today spreadsheets and already out of date technology systems prevail. Over the past few years I’ve often ask myself, why is this? Why would sophisticated business people who are always looking for an edge, an advantage, put their decision-making and opportunity for success at such risk? But now, when I look at it in the context of my own “technology brain freeze” it makes more sense. The more choice, the more continual change, the more difficult it is to make a decision. And making a mistake in this context is a lot more costly than picking a sub-optimal cassette deck.
I remember back when I was first an associate in private practice in the 1980s, before every attorney (or even every secretary) had a desktop computer. Before the days of Microsoft Word. My law firm made a big investment for us at the time (I recall it was $1 million) in a specialized document formatting system called Barrister. It was a word processing software specifically for legal briefs and other legal style papers. It took weeks to set up, and then it was an epic fail. There were times that we would make some last minute edits, right before a document would have to hit the messenger’s bag for a trip to the courthouse just in time to make a filing deadline, and we would discover on last read through that entire paragraphs (that had not been edited) had suddenly disappeared. I don’t recall how long we kept it, trying to make it work well, but I’m pretty sure it was less than a year. And what happened during that year? Word processors were completely replaced by early generation desktop PCs, a few competing software programs came out that were better, cheaper, and easily adaptable to legal needs, and our investment in Barrister went in the trash.
So I get that sense of being frozen, of not wanting to make a decision that might be wrong as soon as something better and cheaper becomes available. And yet, in today’s business environment, I am certain that doing nothing is doing the wrong thing. And waiting for the next big thing will prevent achievement of the very things, the objectives of the organization, that mean the most.
Yes, GRC technology is continuing to evolve. Yes, it will get better and cheaper. But we need to start thinking about it the way I have had to start thinking about my personal technology upgrades in order to prevent being frozen in place and missing out on advantages better technologies provide. It’s a cost that will help us be more productive, contribute to achievement of desired outcomes, and thus improve the bottom line. It’s something we need to learn about, stay on top of and consider carefully but not at a snail’s pace. It’s something we have to upgrade more than once over time, but from which we learn more about our needs and how to meet them in each iteration.
That’s why OCEG continues to conduct surveys periodically about GRC technologies, and how companies are using them, plan to use them, and want to use them. Check out the archived webinar led by Michael Rasmussen of GRC 20/20 to learn about the results of the the 2014 GRC Technology Maturity Survey and how to:
- Gauge the maturity of technology improvement projects and plans
- Gain information about the factors that influence the choice of technology solutions
- Evaluate and compare how peers are using technology in various GRC categories
It’s true that information isn’t knowledge. But it is essential to keep up with information that is available, and assess it within your own context and comfort level. That’s the only way to thaw out your feet and keep moving forward.