Making Better Tech Choices
Technology is a strategic imperative for businesses of all sizes. It can help you create better customer experiences, scale your operations, reach new markets, and improve your efficiency. But just adding technology doesn’t guarantee success. If you don't choose the right technologies or implement them correctly, you could end up wasting time and money.
I spoke with RUSH’s CTO, Danu Abeysuriya, and Head of Engineering, Hamish Friedlander to get a pulse on their approach to solving modern problems with technology.
Step into someone else's shoes
“What’s the key to creating impact and mitigating risks? Put opinions to one side and provoke questions that put everyone in someone else's shoes.”
Danu’s talking about the ethical considerations that are part of RUSH’s R/Vision AI software release process, but it's equally applicable to every part of our business.
When we test a computer vision model to detect humans, we test the supplied model data against a diverse data set that represents broad demographics. When we design a product for a particular user group, that design is informed by human-centred practices that have unveiled jobs to be done, pain points, desired outcomes. When we interrogate quality control, we have a specific feature and requirement set to check off. And when we’re evaluating technical possibilities to solve clients’ needs, that has to be done by stepping into the shoes behind the business strategy and the limitations and opportunities they face day-to-day.
The RUSH team are professional question-askers. We have a strong belief in facilitating diverse discussion and asking provocative questions that address unconscious bias. We want to know if we’re doing the right thing, including the right people, asking the right questions and making the impact that we believe we will.
We all know what people say about assumptions.
We're seeing, through the rise of algorithmic systems, a regression to the mean. Exceptions are becoming harder to deal with. For example this can lead to people getting kicked out of accounts because they've acted in a way that was unexpected and technology has decided that they're a risk to the system.
When we're designing and building technology, we need to make sure we do consider exceptions. The systems we build can’t only work for the average. As digital becomes the primary mode of transactions in particular, tech has to work in an equal way for all possible uses of that system.
When the facts change, I change my mind
It comes down to understanding what problem you are really solving, and a willingness to adapt as new information comes to light.
“If you take electric vehicles as an example, the ultimately we're trying to help eliminate one of the fundamental causes of climate change, global heating and pollution. But in elements of that solution there are other impacts; for example, human rights issues with battery metals such as cobalt. That's not a reason to stop working on the problem. But it is a reason to adapt and prioritise change.” Danu
When we are evaluating the design and build of a piece of technology, we must consider the short term and long term usage and impact. What problem are we trying to solve both now, and in the future? And be open to asking, if we're not reaching our goals, what are we doing to optimise the solution for that problem over the next available time frame?
“We need to discuss these challenges in collaboration with our clients. Is the solution we’re chasing going to help us solve the right problem in an order of magnitude such that it’s worth the investment? And can we be patient enough to wait for that change to happen and also proactively drive that change?” Hamish
Our clients really care about their business. They’re focused on the problem they want to solve, and sometimes the output they believe they need. The best scenario is that we start from a point of connection, trust, and a shared understanding of the goal.
This also opens up the possibility that, through discovery and research, we discover a more pressing problem to solve or an alternative solution that wasn’t planned for.
Validation that goes against prior understanding can be a tricky spot to be in. This is why being technology “agnostic, but opinionated” is important for RUSH. When a digital channel has been predetermined, or an enterprise solution committed to, it narrows the opportunity to enter the problem from different angles.
Our main priority is to show our clients how technology can help them achieve their outcomes in a better way that aligns with the things they’re trying to achieve.
A complex future, made simple
It comes back to how we make tasks easier, more enjoyable, and fairer for users.
With technology, it is easy to over-complicate it. Many of the cultural references to technology are that it is inherently complicated.
“When making choices for better tech, I come back to considering how to make it simple. How do you reduce a solution down to its simplest, most elegant form? And how do you solve problems in a continuous manner rather than one concrete solution?” Danu
Thinking historically, we’ve had very thin abstractions, with a lot of the underlying operation of how a computer works being exposed to the end user. And at the same time, a lot of people were not familiar with computers or how they worked. This limited both the audience and the sorts of problems they would want to solve themselves.
“Historically, making better digital products was focused on how to present an interface to the user that doesn’t require putting unnecessary cognitive load on the user (who really cares about C drive?).” Hamish
Over the last ten years, we’ve built up better abstractions that deal with more of that complexity. Unnecessary information is hidden from the user, and at the same time, the population and culture have a better understanding of how to use computers and how they function.
The rising tide of seamless, personalised, and frictionless digital experiences has elevated user expectations to unprecedented heights. As consumers become accustomed to the convenience and tailored interactions offered by cutting-edge technologies, we face an increasing challenge to meet and exceed evolving demands.
Adaptability and foresight are indispensable assets to not only meet current expectations but also to set new benchmarks for digital experience excellence.
The elephant in the room
Let’s touch on the elephant in the room for a moment.
Transitioning from legacy technology or managing accumulated tech debt is a real challenge for anyone aspiring to keep pace in a rapidly evolving digital landscape.
The burden of outdated systems is heavy and often inherited, casting a long shadow over the pursuit of innovation. Choosing to break out of the cage requires meticulous planning and a strategic vision. It’s facing disruption, investment, dependencies, and risks (known and unknown) head on, knowing that the freedom to scale, optimise, and innovate is not only desirable but essential.
Going through a digital transformation is not an all-or-nothing exercise. There is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.
A careful blend of strategic planning, technological expertise, decision-making frameworks that result in movements towards the strategic goals, and organisational design can shift organisations from the constraints of legacy tech towards a future shaped by efficiency, creativity and adaptability.
When considering the opportunity for improvement, and innovation, we must address the biggest problems - threats - and find a new way to solve them.
“Most of our global technical innovation has come from times of threat. Economic instability, a pandemic, climate change.” Danu
History has shown that our greatest technological leaps have emerged when we confront pressing issues head-on. By leaning into the challenge, the uncomfortable, we can push the limits of what is possible and redefine the trajectory of progress.
Not future-proof, but future-ready
“Technology is constantly evolving and improving, and if we’re still using the same core technology of 20 years ago, then we’ve plateaued in terms of improvement and capability.” Hamish
We assess the goals for any project against what is realistic in terms of a sustainable lifetime. We talk with clients to consider what are the things that we know are going to persist, how long will they persist for, what's their reasonable lifetime, and ultimately what’s the return on investment.
With awareness of reasonable timeframes and constraints, we can then collectively build that into a design process; what and how we’re going to build the solution. A strong business case for a digital product with relevance between five and ten years can justify more time and effort into engineering a system for operational performance.
Technology is a tool; it’s ultimately about people
“Technology is just a tool, like a hammer. With a hammer you can build something - and you can also destroy something. We have a responsibility to use technology to change the world for the better." Danu
The true essence and impact of technology lies in the hands of people. While advancements in artificial intelligence, automation, and connectivity continue to reshape the world, it’s people who guide these innovations toward meaningful outcomes.
People envision the future, set goals, and harness technology to address challenges and improve lives. Beyond its functional aspects, technology becomes a reflection of human values, intentions, and aspirations.
In our organisation, we tend to hire people with a sense of duty and purpose, and understanding that the work that they do matters. Our people want to design and build technology solutions that solve problems and make an impact.
Our clients come from public and private organisations, from government and corporates to scaling start-ups. They all share one thing in common, to make a real, measurable impact by using technology to the best of its capability.
“We're part of a society that wants to be better and we're heading in the right direction. There’s bound to be missteps and mistakes, but these are part of the journey. It’s the attitude we bring to the table and how we decide how we're going to solve a problem.” Danu