Why can't we let go?

By Laura Haight

Not everyone is excited when new technology hits the cloud. In fact, most of us would just as soon stick to something we know. That finding comes from a Pew Research Center study of technology adaptation released this month.

Pew found only 28 percent of adults in the U.S. consider themselves strong adapters to new technology, with a hefty 52 percent saying they feel more comfortable using technology that is familiar to them.

That may help explain why the #1 desktop operating system in use globally is Windows 7 (nee October 2009) with 49 percent of the market. The closest competitors are Windows 10, although at a mere 19 percent of installs, and - wait for it - Windows XP, which still has 9.78 percent of the market despite the fact that it has been unsupported, unpatched and unprotected for more than two years.

It shouldn’t be particularly surprising then that it is hard to make inroads in the office with new ways of working, managing data and protecting information.

Email, document portability and validation are just three places where we cling irrationally to old and underwhelming tools. Tech startups launch new services and collaboration software nearly daily. Witness the ubiquitous TV ads showing engaged employees collaborating on tablets, smartphones and laptops with nary an email message in sight.

But in many businesses that is often not the experience. And the big problem with collaboration is that it only really works if the whole team uses it. If team members insist on getting emails and attachments, collaboration breaks down. Eventually, the Slackers give up, beaten into submission by familiarity despite contempt.

5 top uses for Email

76% - Exchanging Docs

69% - Sending info to groups

61% - Improving communication across time zones

60% - Accountability

59% - Searching for info (filing/storage)
Source: Harvard Business Review, 2013  

And that has consequences that go far beyond the frustration of more adaptable employees. A Harvard Business Review survey in 2013 found that the number one function most people relied on email for was document sharing (76 percent). In addition to being the one tool we can’t seem to live without, email is also the interstate highway system for hackers and cybercriminals. Hacking into anyone’s email at a reasonably sized business will reveal a motherlode of sensitive business information in the form of shared documents, business plans, contracts, sensitive employee information, diagrams, proposals, product testing results, you name it. If it’s important to your company and you need to protect it, chances are it is sitting, unprotected and unencrypted, in someone’s email.

Shadow data, risky business

Security: 68% of all healthcare data breaches come from lost or stolen devices**

Accuracy: 42% of employees say they use inaccurate data at least once a week*

Productivity: 57% have significant amounts of data in shadow databases that are not where they are supposed to be and not in sync.*

*Accenture survey
** BitGlass, 2014

For some, the alternative to moving documents by email is shuffling them around on flash drives. This legacy technology has many drawbacks: Drives – and the sensitive data they store – are easily lost, corrupted or hacked. In fact, at many more secure businesses, usb ports are disabled on company equipment and flash drives are not permitted. At others, however, the “sneakernet” method reigns. That facilitates a culture where creating “shadow” copies is accepted, often resulting in inaccurate, incomplete or conflicting copies of databases or documents in the hands of untold numbers of employees.

Encryption capabilities are built into Windows and Mac operating systems (no, not XP), and most cloud services tout their encryption capabilities. However, the hype about encryption belies the reality: not enough people or businesses use it.

Sophos, an endpoint security company, released the results of its global survey on encryption in January 2016, including: highly sensitive information about employees from banking to healthcare is often not encrypted, one-third of companies’ own key financial information is never encrypted, and 84 percent of US businesses have doubts about the security of data in the cloud and yet only 39 percent take the step of encrypting data that they store there.

And what about contracts, agreements, sales commitments, and approvals? Despite 20 years of digital signatures and the mobile workforce, the multi-step process of approving a document that starts out electronic has remained maddeningly unchanged.

Print. Sign. Scan. Email. Print. Sign. Scan. Email. Print. File. Repeat.

That’s a laborious and time-consuming process that is neither legally required in most cases, nor particularly verifiable. Who is to say the scanned signature emailed back to you was actually signed by the named person? Digital signatures are verifiable, mobile and getting easier and easier to use. And yet, we cannot seem to shed them.

Clinging to the familiar may be comfortable for some, but risky business for you, resulting in lost productivity, wasted expense, lack of security, and inaccuracies.

In part 2: How do we engage recalcitrant staff with new technology?