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Tech first, people second

Is this our modus operandi these days?

Well, it certainly was for me this morning. I got on my commuter train from Hertfordshire and realised to my horror that my wallet was still sat on my sofa. I had Euston Station ticket barriers to negotiate, breakfast to buy, a client lunch to fund and then I had to get home again.

Tech first, people second

This resulted in a feeble plea to my social media networks to provide tech solutions to my problem – I'd seen people pay for things with phones, could I do this too? What App should I download and could I set it up without having my card present??

These questions were whirring through my mind as my phone rang. An old school friend, Lucinda, was calling. She'd seen my plea and asked whether was I coming into Euston and would it be helpful if she met me and gave me a wad of cash to see me through the day?

The answer was yes, yes, and thank you!

It's clear I'm no digital native, I was born in 1978 and go by what is known as Generation Xenial, whereby I am somewhat awkwardly stuck between millennials and generation X (neither of which I particularly relate to).

Despite the fact that my childhood was emphatically analogue rather than digital, my default in this situation was to seek a tech solution rather than reach out to my personal networks and ask nicely for help.

This reflection surprised me, and what struck me later was how this scenario has strong parallels to the problems that my housing association clients often ask me to solve.

Unsurprisingly, a number of my clients are seeking interims to deliver digital transformations. While there are some shining examples of what good likes like (Halton Housing trust, Richmond Housing Partnership), the majority of the time the need for an interim arises because digital programmes have faltered and need rewiring or unpicking.

This is typically because 'digital' is considered in isolation - or as a driving force in its own right - rather than a workstream as part of a wider business/customer transformation. Again - technology first, people second.

I frequently hear that significant time and resources are spent implementing shiny new e-commerce and self-service platforms only for the customer not to engage.

A fundamental lack of customer centricity is often the root cause, which subsequently needs 'back-ending' later on in the process at significantly more time and expense.

Sadly, those very business transformation programmes that aim to improve customer operations and experience, often have the side effect of actually decreasing customer satisfaction and trust in the provider.

So my small incident this morning has made me think. How is it we keep our default as people first, and use tech as an enabler rather than the solution?

Your thoughts are always welcome.


Sarah Stevenson is Principal of Social Housing

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