Sometimes Technology Misses the Point

I’ve wanted to write this post for some time, but have been reticent because it is not necessarily related too much else.

Several years ago, I heard Don Peppers tell this story (I found this version on the web):

Roger Dow of Marriott discovered that a $1.5 million IT investment was not the answer to hotel sector CRM. A nod and a wink achieved the same result at no charge.

Roger Dow, a senior VP at Marriott, asked his IT staff to come up with something that would give them a fraction of the ‘customer recognition’ capacity of the Ritz-Carlton hotels — just enough to enable a clerk at the check-in desk to say “Welcome back” to a guest because the computer tells them that guest has stayed there before.

The IT team came back a few weeks later and said they could do it for $1.3 million and it would take 18 months. Dow went ballistic. Shortly after, he was visiting a small mid-western Marriott. As he approached the check-in desk, the clerk smiled warmly. “Welcome back, sir,” she said.

Dow dropped his bag in astonishment “What did you say? I’ve been trying to get our IT people to make that work for months. Do you know who I am? I’m the VP of Marketing. I didn’t tell you I’d been here before! It can’t say that on the computer system!” he blustered.

The check-in clerk, feeling she had done wrong, explained: “Well, you see, when the bellboy picks up the luggage from the car, he says to the guest: ‘Is this your first visit?’ You must have said ‘no’ and forgotten. Because, when he puts the bag down next to the desk here he winks at me. That’s code. It means you’re a returning guest, so I say “Welcome back, sir.”

This is a great illustration of what I have believed for years — many professionals are lured to solve problems with technology that do not need technology to solve. Time after time I have spoken to audiences about project management and inevitable someone will ask what kind of technology should they use to track projects. In some cases it is a genuine wanting, but in most situations it is usually a question designed to be an excuse as to why they cannot do what I am suggesting.

What problems are you trying to solve via technology that perhaps you don’t need technology to solve?


  1. Ed,

    Great insight. I am reminded of the story about NASA’s multi-million dollar investement to create the “moon” pen that would write in zero gravity. After like a $5 or $10 million dollar investement they found success.

    Years later as NASA and the Russian space agency were working on the first joint space projects, one of NASA’s engineers asked how Russia had solved the zero-gravity pen issue. And the response was……..”simple, we used a pencil”.

    Keep up that thinking and challenging.


    Dan Morris

  2. Brenda,

    I am humbled. You said in one sentence the essence of my post.

    Thanks for the comment!


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