Managing New Technology

July 2005
by Curt Matthews

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Very few people go into the publishing business because of their love for high-speed technological change. And yet here we are in a field that has been a leader in using new computer applications for several decades, and that is now experiencing a rate of change that is dizzying.

I have devoted much of my time over the last two years at Independent Publishers Group to implementing–some IPG employees would say inflicting–technological innovation. I have no credentials as an information-technology expert (like many of you, I was an English major), but I think I have learned some valuable lessons about the special problems attendant on managing this sort of change; and I am even willing to hazard some guesses about what might be in store for us, judging from recent developments, in the near future.

The technological initiatives we chose and implemented were a much more computerized picking-and-packing system for the warehouse, and a very large title-management database. And the hard part, it turned out, was not dreaming up or locating the right software and hardware, although this takes time and care. The hard part was getting people to use the new stuff the way it is supposed to be used. A recent news story noted that an FBI computer system that cost $10 billion to develop has been rejected as useless. This, I am told, is the fate of somewhere between one-third and one-half of the new systems companies have tried to implement.

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