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17 Feb 2011

When Best Technology Isn’t Best

Sometimes we become enamored with technology for its own sake, automatically assuming that the most advanced technology delivers the best. Since the U.S. military tends to be at the fore of technological implementation, observing how strategies and tactics change with technology can be instructive.

Such is the case found in the article, “Air Power on the Cheap,” from the December 11th, 2010 issue of The Economist which discusses the advantages militaries are discovering with less costly, propeller-drive planes over jet fighters and armed drones:XXXXX

  • Cheaper to build, fly and maintain
  • Greater operational independence; no need for highly technical staffs and systems in support
  • Greater reliability and flexibility in assessing targets and minimizing collateral damage

I’ve been fascinated by businesses who succeed with low-tech approaches. They tend to be smaller ones involving tremendous customization, high technology costs to scale the product and markets with relatively small potential. Consequently, it ensures that businesses, especially larger ones, can’t justify the technological investment to drive out smaller competitors.

Translating these needs to a business, we could say the best technology isn’t best when it:

  • Costs too much to install, run, maintain and upgrade
  • Requires too much training to learn and too much skill to support
  • Cannot assess situations better or more flexibly than humans
  • Generates returns inferior to low-tech alternatives
  • Narrows product and service delivery options too much in situations requiring an integrated, highly customized, multi-faceted approach better served by various low-tech alternatives

The article is a case-study for these points. Furthermore, its examples can trigger insights into how they apply to a specific business.

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