Slow and steady wins the technology race

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The use of technology is having an impact on how our products are ordered, inventoried, fabricated and installed. How you manage that resource is important. The key is to remain in control of the ship.

We’re probably all familiar with the “success story” of a struggling shop that turned things around with added technology. What they used to do by hand is now being done by a new CNC machine in a quarter of the time. And it doesn’t get sick or complain and it can work around the clock.

But, in reality, CNC machinery breaks down, behaves badly at times and will only work around the clock if it has a human babysitter. I’m not a Luddite suggesting technology is somehow bad, but I am trying to strike a nerve in those who have experienced success with technology. We’re too often enamored with a new way of doing things. If not monitored in your business plan, purchasing a better mousetrap can make you lose sight of the bigger picture: Are you driving your business or is the technology?

Bringing the 21st century into the shop environment is nothing short of exercising basic common sense. But thinking it alone will be your savior is shortsighted. Consider modern-day weaponry design. Every century has developed a new way of killing in order to gain an advantage over the adversary. The basic premise is if you create or desire a more powerful weapon, you will gain an edge over your opponent. However, you must consider how to manage it, not just how to develop and use it. But if you advance simply for the sake of advancement without a plan of implementation, you will escalate the odds of technology driving your business.

The first step, from one craftsman to another, is to choose technology that fits your business model. It’s tempting to get what the competition has or the latest new gadget, but results will vary from shop to shop.

Your first battle will be with the perception that technology is dangerous to the working class. Your employees will always be your greatest asset, so resist the urge to place more value on the machines.

New ways of thinking and doing things can be scary and intimidating. That’s why some people never change. They’re content with how things have always been done and they don’t want to have to learn something new. The key to making it work is to know what to embrace in the new and what to hold onto from the old.

Consider the wise investing advice: “Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.” Diversification provides balance and security because you’re not “all-in” on one system that might or might not succeed. In like manner, completely buying into technology’s offerings could leave you high and dry if things go south.

And, in a business that will always have some reliance on a maker’s skill, the last thing you want to do is burn bridges to the past.

We’re all in business to make money. But we should also strive to honor the craft. True craftspeople take pride in their work. That means implementing the best of the new technology by building it upon the firm and established foundation of the past.

David Getts is a certified kitchen designer and owner of David Getts Designer Builder Inc. in Seattle.

This article originally appeared in the March 2017 issue.

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