Contributed article by Yvonne Burton of Burton Consulting International and Silicon Valley Alliance Associate.
Technological fluency is a major part of global business skills and in the age of remote work, the need for companies to have Tech Fluency has become more and more apparent. I work mainly with Japanese companies and although many major corporations are proactive in utilizing technology to the fullest, I find that an equal number are not. Whether, small, medium, or large, many Japanese companies are behind in using technology tools for maximum benefit and suffering for it.
This first article provides a general introduction to the theme, a look at what is missing and the state that a lot of companies found themselves in when the pandemic propelled all of the world into remote work. Some companies seamlessly adapted, but for many others, it was and continues to be more of a challenge. Going forward, I will be writing more on this theme and what companies can and should be doing to increase fluency.
‘Tech Fluency’ was first published on JapanCulture-NYC where, as Business Editor, I write a bi-monthly column. I am re-posting the complete article here.
That is a mouthful. I call it Tech Fluency.
What is Tech Fluency?
Let me define it by looking at its components.
Technology: Techniques, skills, methods, and processes used in the production of goods or services or in the accomplishment of objectives.
Fluency: The quality or condition of being fluent. In addition, it is also defined as the ability to express oneself easily and articulately. It is usually applied to languages.
In this article, I am taking creative license and applying fluency to the language of technology to describe the level of proficiency and/or comfort in using the technological tools and applications that are needed to perform work responsibilities.
The pandemic exposed and strained technological infrastructures of companies the world over. However, many companies were able to adapt more quickly due to having stronger tech proficiency and usage already. Tech Fluency makes adjusting to disruptions faster and can lessen the magnitude of those disruptions.
On the other hand, some Japanese companies, not having a strong foundation of proficiency and usage beforehand, suffered more. Over the course of the past year, I have witnessed the major challenges facing some Japanese companies and their employees when they use existing tools such as MS Teams, WebEx, Slack, and the pandemic-created juggernaut that is Zoom.
The pandemic exposed the seriousness of many Japanese companies’ inadequate technological infrastructure. Not just from hardware and software perspectives, but also proficiency and usage. Part of infrastructure includes people skilled in relevant applications’ functionality and using them to perform job responsibilities and tasks.
Japan has dominated in consumer electronic goods and the auto industry, to name just two, and is “cutting edge in areas such as robotics, supercomputing, and artificial Intelligence. Where there is a need for more widespread growth is in areas that are driven by information technology.”*
A comment I hear from several Japanese managers I have worked with is, “We need to train Japanese (business) people how to use modern IT tools.” These managers recognize the need and are making the push to increase the levels of Tech Fluency within their companies.
The ability to use modern IT tools to perform at higher levels and efficiency in the course of your work was important pre-pandemic; now it is essential.
Lack of Tech Fluency in workers translates into lost time, ineffective use of resources, lost opportunities, bloated workflows, redundancies, and at the bottom line, loss of money. It can also lead to frustration with oneself (if you’re not “getting” it) or between employees who have varying skill levels.
Tech Fluency is a major part of global business skills.
Why should you pay attention to your Tech Fluency, or the lack thereof?
As the saying goes, technology drives business. Yes, and I think people effectively using technologies drives personal and business success.
In case anyone is wondering, remote/virtual work on a large scale is here to stay—this will be the new normal.
More and more applications are being created to address business needs. If you are not familiar (or at ease) with working with the current mainstream applications, it will only get more difficult.
Many companies are suffering with issues of security, implementation, training, and general know-how and usage of these tools. IT departments implement tools that are meant to service business needs and streamline workflows, but workers are either not using them at all or lack minimum levels of proficiency. This applies to offices in Japan and their overseas branches. Yes, it takes time to become proficient in these tools, and it should be regarded as an investment that is well worth the ROI. The only way to become proficient is through training and usage.
Companies must implement a strategy to build tech infrastructure that includes training and USAGE.
This is an issue for large Japanese companies as well as medium and small firms. Technology usage can lead to efficient and cost-effective ways of fulfilling workflows. Platforms such as MS Teams can help large companies eliminate redundancies in business operations as well as to communicate across and within branches, departments, and teams. That same technology can help smaller companies automate many functions so that resources’ time can be spent on tasks that are more critical to business success.
The excerpt below is from a blog article I wrote more than ten years ago in relation to Japanese companies and technology, and it still applies today:
Companies need to proactively identify opportunities for system and business process improvement by assessing current and emerging systems/applications for their ability to meet business requirements, saving themselves time and money.”
At the end of last year, I collaborated on a team working with a major Japanese corporation that, at first, was unsure of how virtualized workshops could be as engaging and impactful as past in-person ones. With training and practice to gain familiarity with the applications to be used and redesigning activities using the features of the apps, the workshops were so successful that a large percentage of the feedback we received was “the virtual sessions surpassed the in-person sessions in many ways.”
Still, many Japanese companies are behind in harnessing the power of technology in daily work in comparison to companies in Europe and the United States. One of the contributing factors for this gap is the risk-avoidance policies practiced at many large companies, which impede access and usage of some mainstream applications.
At the employee level, in addition to the anxiety caused by using English (Global English) in business, the discomfort and lack of “articulation” with technological tools will continue to hinder professional development and productivity. This deficit causes many Japanese professionals to lag behind their foreign counterparts, business partners, and clients.
On a larger scale, Japan is facing issues in terms of an aging population, decreasing workforce, and the increasing reliance on revenue growth from outside the country. Effectively using technology is one of the best ways to manage these risks.
Using Technology enables Companies to:
- Streamline functions
- Improve efficiency
- Inform and Educate
- Standardize procedures
It is important to note that there can be issues with just having tech for tech’s sake. The market is flooded with applications, so part of building a good tech infrastructure is to make sure you are selecting the correct tools to address your business’s needs.
One of my workshop participants complained that he was trained in a new application, but he did not know why he should use it when his manual process worked fine. This “usage” component is often missed.
My software development lifecycle analysis experience has taught me the criticality of the define phase in everything. Without understanding of the problem to be solved, the solution reached will not wholly address the problem/need. It is the same when implementing tech tools in your business.
There are often overall best practices given for an application but not RIGHT practices to meet specific needs. There should be clarity around for what the application is needed and the desired impact of using it.
In summary, Tech Fluency is a critical component in doing business and doing business globally. Integration with and interaction within the global business community will only continue to rise. The need to increase Tech Fluency levels for both employees and companies is paramount for a company to maintain competitive advantage.
Companies that do not develop proactive plans to improve Tech Fluency overall and within their employee ranks will continue to experience reductions in efficiency, productivity, competitive ability, and ultimately revenue. It will continue to hold them back as the rest of the world forges ahead in the new normal.
Yvonne Burton provides services to Japanese firms operating internationally and companies operating in the Japanese market. To learn more, please visit burtonconsulting.biz.by