Technology Truth #4: It’s Not a Technology Problem

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When my phone rings, and a client says, “We have a technology problem,” immediately, I know one thing for sure: They don’t have a technology problem.

A few years ago, I got the “technology problem” call from a client. A private equity group had invested in a new publishing venture in a then-hot sector. The venture was subscription-based and also had potential data revenues in addition to ad dollars. This sounded good. So much better, I thought, than the majority of media companies who spend all their energies trying to convince themselves (and everyone else) that the ad-supported model works.

However, the technology wasn’t working according to plan. Features hadn’t been delivered. Integrations were failing. There was cut-and-paste where there should have been free flowing data. Sounded like a technology problem.

Digging a little deeper, I discovered $7MM had been invested in a proprietary content management system and backend database. To boot, the passwords for the entire system were in the hands of a disgruntled employee threatening to sue. In a scene out of a bad B-movie, I agreed to meet this person in a train station, handed over a check and collected the passwords. All this drama and intrigue for a website that had a total subscriber base of 450 registrants.

That situation was a lot of things. But the one thing it was not was a technology problem.

Though perhaps my most dramatic example of a non-technology-problem problem, I have encountered dozens of similar situations throughout my career, enough to conclude that when I get called in to solve a “technology problem,” my best bet is to look anywhere but the computer room.

It’s odd, perhaps, to hear a technology consultant like me saying she doesn’t solve technology problems. So what is it, then, that I do?

In truth “technology consulting” is business consulting in a modern guise, because so many of our business issues and technology issues intertwine.  And “technology problem” is really a 21st-Century verbal fig leaf disguising all kinds of profound management problems.

It’s safer, however, to blame the machines.

A word of advice, then, to business leaders: When you hear the tell-tale We have technology problem in your company, ask yourself what real business wolf is masquerading in this sheep’s clothing.