The 3 C’s Delay Adaptation of New Technologies
Last month, Harvard Business School Professor Willy C Shih wrote an article titled, Breaking the Death Grip of Legacy Technologies. In it he bemoaned that if history is any indicator, large manufacturing companies will be slow to adopt new technologies like 3-D printing, robotics, advanced motion controls, etc. – despite the obvious economic and strategic advantages.
Why? Well says Shih, it’s partly a cost issue. Most manufactures have “legacy assets and capabilities they are reluctant to abandon.” Maybe they’ve finally paid off the cost of their old equipment and do not have the resources to invest in something new.
It can also be a company culture issue. As companies grow they establish norms and routines around the equipment and processes they do have. Sometimes companies may not know how to fit new tech into existing culture.
Beyond cost and culture, insecurity or fear around change is likely a third issue. I’m straying a bit from the Shih article here, but sometimes it’s hard to rewire our brains from all the lessons we learned growing-up like, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
So what does it take to make the switch and embrace new technologies when there are clear economic and strategic benefits? Like any change, it starts with visionary leadership that can set the tone and rejigger the culture if necessary. Clearly communicating changes to employees, providing training on new equipment as appropriate, and establishing clear goals go a long way in making a smooth transition.
Next, says Shih, it may require some baby steps. Companies can move older technology and equipment to areas where it can still be used, or equipment can be leased out to someone else to help recoup some of the costs. It also helps to monitor what others in the field are doing, to make sure you keep on top of the latest technologies. Finally, building in the space and ability to upgrade equipment when needed, can be helpful.
At some point though, according to Shih, you just have to take the leap. Taking the leap may cost money and it may not be comfortable, but ultimately it may be necessary to compete.
Maybe we should create a new cliché for technology upgrades. Something along the lines of, “even if it ain’t broke, can we make it better?” No, that doesn’t quite have the ring that I’m looking for. I’ll have to give it a little more thought.
And to read Shih’s full article, you can link to it here.