Everyone working in the tech industry eventually gets hit with a wave of frustration — it's inevitable. After a few years, every project starts to look the same. An industry colleague lamented the other day that he was tired of doing scanning project after scanning project and needed a change. I shared some standard advice, but the most important revelation didn’t occur to me until later ...

No one should ever do a scanning project.

And while we're at it, don’t ever do a cloud project. Or a mobile project. Collaboration project? Drop it off in the circular filing cabinet. SharePoint projects are the absolute worst. 

I haven’t done a lot of these projects, and when I am offered them I typically turn them down. Why would I do that when these projects are the core of my career?

Because any project centered on a technology is focused on the wrong thing.

Scanning is as Scanning Does

There are a lot of projects that involve scanning. I worked on one just this year. But it wasn’t treated as a scanning project. The project was centered on streamlining the educational experience. This involved taking information and digitizing it for the rest of the backend processes and avoiding the creation of paper in other parts of the business. Sure, scanners were involved but those scanners were merely tools to accommodate situations where information could not be collected digitally.

The goal was to make the system more efficient. This would give the organization the bandwidth to offer more classes and would reduce the chance of mistakes by removing people from some of the steps. The project helped the organization execute on its mission — not simply remove paper.

Focus on Progress

We have all been in at least one of these conversations in the past year. A new project kicks-off with a snazzy new name — the X project. The X could be a technology grouping like ECM or a specific vendor, like Marketo. This name may be shorthand, a warning sign, or both.

When a business approaches me about a new project, I assume it is shorthand. In our first conversation I work to ensure that the project's purpose is bigger than simply deploying a technology. If it's just a technology project, I pass. Substituting out one technology for another is not the recipe for a successful project. It is often smoke and mirrors, designed to look like progress is being made to the powers-that-be that read a cool article on a website.

Don’t tell me you want to implement Marketo. Tell me that you want to get a better handle on marketing to your customers and prospects. Tell me you want to measure the success of your marketing efforts so you can refine your message and approach. Tell me that you want your different systems to share information so that people have a consistently positive experience with your organization.

If you tell me those things and then mention that you use Marketo I can say to you, “Not a problem. Let’s start mapping things out.”

Updated Advice

My new advice to my colleague is simple: If you are faced with an endless supply of scanning projects, you need to broaden your scope. Focus on bigger problems, bigger projects. Maybe skip the invoice processing system which is heavy on scanning and basic processing. Let other vendors solve that problem. Start focusing on what you can offer to organizations that are ready to solve problems.

Let’s face it. When a company comes to you and says that they need help selecting a scanning solution, they likely aren’t ready to commit to a broader effort. There are always exceptions, so it could be worthwhile to dig deeper before moving on to something else. But start those discussions early in the process before it becomes another scanning project. Shift the discussion so that they ask for your help with how to better execute on their mission.

There will always be scanning projects. Sometimes we have to take them to pay the bills. Basic implementation of scanning and other technology is almost a commodity. The value is in making a business better at what it does.

If you can do that, then you will never tire of your job.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License Title image by  Aditya Virendra Doshi