On a recent visit to my alma mater, I sat in on a Machine Learning class.
It was fascinating. Being in the room with 20 or so students talking about a technology trend I have little real world experience with was a thrill.
But as thrilling as it was, and as talented and intelligent as those students were, I left the class with the words of my father in my head. He'd always say, "No one ever asked for my law school GPA two years after I graduated." The strong point that made to me as a child was that school is important, but the real world will be different.
Put another way: the theoretical is great, but the rubber meets the road in the practical.
15 years removed from the classroom, away from the field I originally studied, and after hiring many people in the technology field (and interviewing even more), I find his professional philosophy to be truer than ever.
Technology is full of incredibly smart people. No doubt about it. However, what those in technology miss too often that impacts particularly small and medium-sized, non-technology companies is a business first, technology second mindset.
If that doesn't quite resonate, simpler put: if an organization is struggling to get out of spreadsheets, machine learning is likely not the solution.
Now in full disclosure, and to his credit, the Professor made this point to his class. I believe his exact words were, "if you can solve a problem with out machine learning, you probably should." But what that Professor understood is very often missed by businesses vetting technology providers. And when missed, it becomes a big part of their frustration down the road.
Instead, those vetting technology providers should ask themselves, is this a Technology first or a Business first solution?
- Technology first asks, what is the latest and greatest?
Business first asks, with out sacrificing the objective, how can we make this the least disruptive to our workforce?
- Technology first asks, what is everyone in the industry doing?
Business first asks, what does this particular business need?
- Technology first asks, what will garner the most respect of my peers?
Business first asks, what will make the largest impact to this company's goals?
Sometimes these answers are the same. Usually they are not.
There is something great about being cutting edge, no doubt about it. But if it is incredibly expensive, it is incredibly disruptive, it takes longer than expected, and ultimately doesn't produce the desired results, there is no value in it. And providing more service value than you take in payment is the foundation of all great businesses.
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