Magazine Feature: A Balancing Act: People And Technology

*A Balancing Act: People And Technology*
**By Barbara Perino and Rebecca Walzak**

balancing-story***Wikipedia says: The word technology refers to the making, modification, usage, and knowledge of tools, machines, techniques, crafts, systems, and methods of organization, in order to solve a problem, improve a preexisting solution to a problem, achieve a goal, handle an applied input/output relation or perform a specific function.

****Businesses small and large need technology to thrive, survive, and be efficient. Technology allows businesses to grow and expand across countries by giving them the strength to spread their wings. Growing businesses create employment opportunities for people through technology. Technology has changed the way people communicate. Communication systems have evolved from pigeons carrying messages, pony express, telegraphs, telephones, e-mails and now instant messaging and social media. The role of computers and the Internet in education has made learning more interesting. Computers enable better storage (now through the Cloud) and presentation of information. Lectures and lessons can be uploaded on websites, as PDFs, and more and more common – through videos. Online degrees and training courses give flexibility to people’s schedules. Mobile communication is the fourth generation of technology through smart phones, tablets and cellular networks.

****At the heart of every piece of technology is automation. Technology automates the most complex of processes – communication, education, medicine, and in the mortgage industry through the ability to analyze risk, share data, approve loans, make collection calls and obtain external data in a matter of seconds. With the application of technology, critical and time-consuming processes can be executed with ease and less time. Laborious and repetitive tasks are completed by machines including robotic equipment. With automation comes efficiencies and speed.

****Remember back in the 90s when the mortgage industry relied on a bank of fax machines to process documents? How about the Motorola mobile phone that was as big as a small appliance. People out in the field would have to lug them into their cars and find a place for the machine to sit on while in use. Remember the boxes and boxes of files that would accumulate and then have to be stored in a storage room or sent offsite to a remote storage facility? Now files are scanned into a computer and stored remotely in the cloud and can be accessed anywhere by the simple click of a mouse. The mortgage industry hasn’t quite embraced the “paperless” environment quite yet but it’s heading in that direction. But … what about the “people” in the industry? Are they now just data pushers, intermediaries between parts of the technological elements of what we do? Who are we talking about when we say mortgage “people”?

****People Are More Important Than Technology

****One description of what “People” means is: “The body of persons who compose a community, tribe, nation, or race; an aggregate of individuals forming a whole; a community.”

****We can never forget the importance of the people in the organization regardless of how automated and technology savvy a company is. Someone has to oversee the processes, systems, communicate with each other, with customers, with clients and vendors. The people behind the scenes, operating and running the organization are by far, the most valuable resource the company has to utilize. The leaders, sales people, operations, managers, IT staff, customer service staff, support staff, etc., no matter what their jobs or responsibilities are they each play a very important role. Because of them the organization could not run efficiently or successfully. Their roles are essential to the effective and successful operation of the organization. The leaders set policy and create the culture and direction of the company. The sales people create new opportunities and strengthen the relationships with the customers/clients; the operations folks make sure the work gets processed in a timely and efficient manner. Management is responsible for creating an atmosphere of cohesiveness, making sure everyone is doing their jobs effectively and gives guidance when needed. The IT person/staff make sure the computer systems and platforms are updated and are constantly working properly. Customer service makes sure the client/customers products and services are being completed and are happy with the organization’s services. HR is responsible for hiring, firing, counseling and supporting the staff through policy and guidelines and protecting people where it’s needed. Support staff, the receptionist and the assistants support the workflow and communication within the organization.

****People are an invaluable resource or the “brains behind the technology.” There are some who come up with new ideas, develop new products, and devise new ways to handle different situations and problems, based on their own experience, through brainstorming, knowledge and various perspectives. These people (and a company should be open to listening to any one employee no matter what their position) are the ones who are responsible for helping the organization progress and come up with newer more innovative ideas. Without people, an organization has little to no chance surviving. Organizational leadership needs to take special care to ensure their employees, no matter what their role is, are satisfied with their work environment. People are the backbone of every organization and play a major role in the success or failure of an organization. Many, both in our industry and in others as well, caution those that are over-enthusiastic about the seeing and using technology as the all-encompassing means to corporate and personal success. Based on the emergence of recent organizations, some seem to be listening to their concerns.

****For example, the new company, Direct Valuation Solutions (DVS) heard the reports of numerous people regarding how automation in managing appraisals was creating a frustrating environment for obtaining appraisals and resolving issues and concerns. In response, they have launched their program that supports stronger relationships between appraisers and lenders. Utilizing the DVS platform, lenders can compliantly communicate with appraisers through the system. The system allows them to engage in conversations, communicating on various status milestones and to share questions and answers directly. All interaction is also tracked for auditing purposes. Mike Ousley, CEO of DVS shared, “We put people together, building strong relationships. We want to create a good experience for the borrower dealing with the appraiser and to allow better dialog with the appraiser and the underwriters. More times than not, the appraiser is treated like a number, paid poorly and discounted for the value they bring to the transaction. We want to change this perception and provide a higher quality experience for the lender and borrower as well.”

****Remember Millennials (Generation Y folks) and Technology?

****It is going to be very important going forward for companies to instill the value of establishing and maintaining relationships in the workforce through connections and human communication to the younger generations who are very comfortable communicating in the world of social media, text message and email. Yes, these modes of communication are efficient and convenient but they don’t take the place of relating to a human being. There is a perfect opportunity for the Baby Boomer generation in companies to build that bridge between the two as boomers are really good at relationship building. It will be up to leadership and management of companies to create the balance.

****Jeff Wuorio shared seven strategies in a blog on Microsoft’s Small Business website. He said “Recognize that balance works for your business – understand the differing dependencies on people and technology.”

****>> Find your balance and inform your employees – hiring the right kind of people for your culture. If your company is people centered, hire people who value interaction. If you are heavy on a technology focus, hire people to love to come to work and do nothing more than write code or interface with data all day.

****>> Technology shouldn’t exist just for the technology’s sake. Technology should be a means, not an end. Be sure of the outcome you expect from the new technology – monitor it at specific milestones to make sure you are on the right track.

****>> Follow up with training – commit resources so people can get the most out of new technical systems or products. Comprehensive, detailed training to make certain everyone is as comfortable as possible.

****>> Technology and people aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. Leveraging technology such as personal online contact for employees working remotely is efficient and it brings parties together to share.

****>> Recognize the value of technology – approach technology as an attractive workplace element, which is particularly important for younger people who may place great emphasis on the latest technologies.

****>> Want to know if the balance is work?  Ask. Never assume that your perception of what’s happening naturally translates to an ideal tech/people balance. Ask your employees how they feel. Is the new technology a boon or a hindrance to their productivity and satisfaction?

****While we must continue to make progress in technology, the people part of the equation cannot be ignored.  It would be wise for anyone integrating technology and people to “Remember the 80/20 rule: if 80% of your clients and employees are happy about the system, you’re on the right track. If only 20% are happy, you may have some tweaking or re-thinking to do,” concluded Duperval.