Technology Kills

Published on: 12:00PM Jul 17, 2008
Vance Ehmke

While I’m a firm believer in technology and rapid adoption of it, after this wheat harvest I became aware of technology’s dark side. Instead of increasing productivity and efficiency, it can kill it.

At one point during harvest, I was sitting in one of four new high capacity, high tech John Deere combines with 40-foot draper heads as the operator finished a field. In the olden days all we had to do was drive the machines across the road and start on the next field. That should have taken just one minute.

However, because we were changing fields, a new field ID had to be entered in the combine’s computer system. But since only one of the four operators knew how to key in the new codes, all four combines sat there probably a half hour while the one skilled operator went from combine to combine making the adjustment.

This is the equivalent of one very expensive combine sitting idle for 2 solid hours during the peak of harvest. What a drag on productivity!

So when is technology too much technology? Or maybe it’s not technology’s fault at all. Maybe the problem is with your labor supply. For technology to be optimized, it has to be coordinated with the skill level of your labor.

In this case, one of two things has to be done. Either much more time has to be spent training employees—and that certainly has to be done well before harvest, rather than on the job. Or if more skilled labor isn’t available, then we need to ask why we’re spending so much money on technological features that no one can use or that actually hurt productivity and increase costs.