Why do we not make the most of technology?

Where do I start? If only there was an app to tell me. The good thing is that I can type a few sentences and if I am not happy with them, then I just delete them and start again. Nothing lost except a few moments of my time, but they have not been lost in vain: at least I now know what not to write. If I cast my mind back (OK, hurl my mind back) to when I first started work, any written work had to be generated by hand. After a couple of re-writes and a legible draft had been produced, you would pluck up the courage to brave the laughter of the typing pool that accompanied the “you want it when?”. Note, this is not a gender thing because the same initial response was meted out by the workshop when wanting something manufactured.

As you will have noticed, if I see something that I think may be of interest to a majority of you then I will refer to it in these articles. Similarly, anything I come across that I think may be of interest to my children I will bring to their notice. Most recently, this took the form of three articles torn out of the sports sections of newspapers, put in an envelope and posted to my son. I am reliably told that he took a photograph of the three pieces of newspaper and the envelope and posted it on WhatsApp with the caption: “This is how dad posts links to newspaper articles!” In my defence, I’m not a complete Luddite. I do send out links to web pages and I scan in and send bits of text. But, in this instance, the simplest thing was to stick them in an envelope along with a handwritten note. I will refrain from rambling on about the pros and cons of handwriting and receiving letters compared to typing and receiving emails.

The two examples above show how new technology has made tasks easier, although, in the latter example, I would argue that it has the potential to make it easier, but not in all cases (good job I have the last word in these articles!). In these examples, the process that is applied is not changed by the technology. The second is the simplest: I see an article and I send it off, either by looking for it online and sending a ‘modern day’ link or by scanning it in and sending it as an image, or by putting it in an envelope and posting it in a red letter box. In the first example, the technology removes the need for a specialist typist, so the generation of the document is done by one person rather than two, but the process remains the same. In fact, it could be argued that the process is slightly degraded because the originator no longer has an imposed wait between completing the original text and then checking it to ensure that it is correct.

There are times when new technology can force changes in processes. In the goal to reduce the effort involved in sitting in a comfy chair and watching TV, it is now possible to get voice-activated televisions that remove the need to press buttons on a remote. If you have any siblings or young relatives, it is easy to imagine the chaos and noise that is likely to ensue without the ability to take control of a remote. This will only be managed by changing the process of interacting with the TV. Even those of you who live alone, or with subservient house guests, will have to change your TV-watching process. Evidently, once you have the voice activation on, the TV records all conversations and this recording goes to a third party!

There are many examples out there of technology being implemented without a concurrent alteration in the business process in which the technology is applied. What is the point of being able to track your parcel, only to be told that it has been returned to the depot? You still have to make that phone call and be further annoyed by new technology. Whilst the application of technology can reduce costs, it is the changes to the process it enables that generate the largest benefits. The importance of process is described in a recent article[1], which says that there is little point in implementing online monitoring if your processes are not up to dealing with the output that it will generate. (Please note that I am passing on a modern link and the option of a ‘Dad link’ is not available in this instance.)

The NDT process has stayed constant over many years, whilst the introduction of new technology has made measurements more efficient and allowed new techniques to be applied to improve the signals. There are some initiatives, such as the use of remote communications and the use of permanently-installed sensors, which could lead to step changes in the NDT process. The challenge to us all is to not just focus on using technology to simply improve existing processes, but to seek out the technology that allows us to change, and possibly radically change, our processes to the benefit of the NDT business.

1.    http://www.plantservices.com/articles/2015/human-capital-roi-condition-monitoring/

Please note that the views expressed in this column are the author’s own personal ramblings for the purpose of encouraging discussion within the NDT Newspaper. They do not represent the views of Amec Foster Wheeler or the HSE who funded the PANI projects.

Letters can be mailed to The Editor, NDT News, Newton Building, St George’s Avenue, Northampton NN2 6JB. Fax: 01604 89 3861; Email: ndtnews@bindt.org or email Bernard McGrath direct at bernard.mcgrath@amec.com

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