My mother is 93 and living in a rest home. I’m not terribly happy with her situation and I’ve been reading Atul Gawande’s book “Being Mortal” looking for better options for people like her. I was surprised in the first few chapters to find some similarities with business information systems.
So what does geriatric care have to do with business information?
Recently I was working in an organisation of 1500 people that spent $250,000 on record keeping – including staff salaries and storage of paper records. The same organisation spent tens of millions of dollars on IT systems. There is seemingly no problem getting funds for new IT systems but the record-keeping staff can’t get funds to effectively manage the electronic business records and productivity is low because people can’t find information quickly and easily.
This isn’t unusual; I often come across similar situations in my work.
Now the parallel that I see with geriatric health care is that new medical gizmos are sought after and are paid for so doctors can ‘fix’ people; things like pacemakers and stents or new knee and hip joints. Just like IT systems are developed to ‘fix’ business processes. Both can be expensive and still not provide a real or best solution to the problem.
Geriatric care is not always about ‘fixing’ and doesn’t necessarily need new gizmos, it needs people who can work out how elderly people can continue to have a good life and it maybe that recommending a podiatrist to care for feet will help someone stay in their own home because they can manage the stairs again. It’s about managing problems not fixing them. But for doctors there is more money to be made in inserting pacemakers or replacing knee joints than investigating non-invasive ways of maintaining independence in our elderly population.
Likewise businesses don’t necessarily need more and more IT systems. They need to make sure the systems they already have work well so their staff can work effectively and efficiently with what they already have. It means training the staff to use the existing systems. It means managing the problems not trying to fix them with new and often more complex systems.
Less is certainly more in both situations.