Harvesting vs. Harnessing New Technology

Alison Kassel

Chief Information Officer - Outsourcing Solutions, Workforce Management Group at TrueBlue Inc.

Alison Kassel is a versatile business technology leader, with experience in developing strategies, transforming organizations, implementing portfolio management and governance models, and delivering strategic solutions.

Innovations in HR and recruitment technology are coming on fast and furious. As I see it, the job of a CIO is to determine when to grab hold of a new technology and how long to ride it. But it’s not their job to control the flow of new technology ideas into the organization.


Who “owns” new technology?

The IT department doesn’t own new technology ideas, our employees do. Yes, our employees. Some firms even assemble dedicated ‘innovation teams’ to research and harness the vast landscape of potential solutions. I believe it’s a mistake to limit creative thinking to one team or department or person. Instead, I believe in creating an open channel to harvest every employee’s ideas to apply technology for business improvement.

It’s a subtle difference, but one that reinforces IT’s role as a business facilitator and revenue generator, not just a cost center. That’s why we don’t just sit in an office and read articles about the next big thing in staffing technology or participate in demos and pilots, although these are helpful and insightful. We’re out in the field, directly watching people work with our current platform and gathering feedback on how to improve products and services. We listen to what they’re hearing in the market and what they’re seeing with their clients, competitors, or even friends use.

After all, they’re the ones dealing with clients and candidates every day and have a sense of whether a bleeding-edge tech tool will actually achieve expectations.


A downside to democratization?

Of course, you might argue that opening the floodgates may take you down an impractical and costly path. It’s true, a lot of people get drawn in by the “cool stuff,” but they don’t know how to evaluate or deploy it for enterprise use. That’s fine, that’s what my team and I are here to do. You start the conversation and bring the ideas, we’ll add the technology strategy and corporate governance.

There’s only so much budget to go around. Working as a joint business and IT leadership team we will decide how much to allocate to the candidate experience, client delivery, and/or internal efficiency. When we look at emerging technologies, we determine which ones aren’t ready for prime time but are worth tracking. We help determine if there’s a “there there.”


Generating ROI from all angles

Adopt disruptive technology too soon and you pay too much. Too late, and you risk losing first mover advantage. Even when there’s enough perceived value to merit a proof of concept, you should consider the full adoption cycle before moving to a pilot stage. What works in a small group may not scale across the global enterprise. You also must watch the back end: by the time you’re scaling, the risk of obsolescence rises. The speed of technology change and business dynamics must both be taken into account.

Proper investment requires a constant balancing act between new and legacy technology. You can’t just keep spending time, energy, and money shoveling coal into the same furnace day after day. But you also must recognize that emerging technology isn’t the only means to differentiate; applying mature technologies to new problems can also be a gamechanger.

When you decide to harvest, and not harness, new ideas, you’re giving your business the best shot at outpacing the competitive field. Just don’t lose sight of the fact that leveraging existing technology can be a secret weapon for balancing innovation with efficiency.