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  • Constituent Associates

Mr Bates vs The Post Office: Mitigating the risks of technology

In the aftermath of the Post Office Horizon scandal, we've all been confronted with a harsh reality check on the potential pitfalls of implementing new technology.  Without delving into the intricate details of the case, it's crucial for business leaders engaged in developing and integrating new technology to heed the overarching lessons from "Mr Bates".

Embracing Technology Responsibly

In an era dominated by technology, it's inevitable for businesses to leverage advanced systems – for many, moving out their comfort zone.  However, the shocking accusations faced by innocent postmasters underscore the importance of robust and transparent systems. Placing blind faith in the supremacy of a "supercomputer" should not come at the cost of human intuition and experience.  This is increasingly difficult with a backtrack that the computer is ever increasingly more powerful and intelligent than us.

The Need for Human Understanding

Efficient new systems can enhance workplace productivity and transparency, but they do not absolve businesses of the responsibility to understand the technology they employ. A key observation was the Horizon software was challenging for the Post Office, let alone the individual postmasters left to trace the errors the perceived.  Software providers must prioritise user-friendly designs and commit to transparent processes to empower users rather than trying to befuddle them. Relying solely on technology without a clear comprehension of its workings leaves organisations vulnerable. Smaller organisations may find it challenging to allocate resources, necessitating guidance from independent experts while being cautious of creating an unhealthy dependence.

Avoiding 'IT Crowd' Dependency

Delegating responsibilities to the "IT crowd" can lead to unhealthy dependencies and risks. Organisations must resist the temptation to rely entirely on external specialists, as this may result in a precarious scenario where key-person risks become prevalent. A well-rounded understanding of technology, AI, and digital complexities is essential for leaders to avoid potential pitfalls.


Proactive Monitoring for Long-term Success

By treating technology projects with the same level of scrutiny as any other critical business function, organisations can elevate their risk awareness.  Just as we wouldn't entrust our finances to anyone without the requisite expertise, technology projects demand diligent oversight by the organisation.  Proactive monitoring, with the support of experienced independent advisors, if necessary, ensures the technology is fit for its intended purpose and is delivered within the allocated budget and timescale.

Conclusion – Rebuilding Systematic Trust

The Post Office Horizon scandal serves as a stark reminder of the consequences of flawed IT systems without the commitment to robust governance.  To prevent such issues, users must always be encouraged to document and report anomalies, and those responsible must ensure they are thoroughly investigated. This dedication to transparency is integral to rebuilding systematic trust and fostering confidence in technology, and, hopefully, moving us beyond the tendency to blindly accept the computer says “no” verdict.

At Constituent we support all aspects of the digital transformational journey with a range of holistic services designed to mitigate risks of accessing new technology. Our Technology Appraisal and Project Management services are specifically designed for business leaders thinking about acquiring new technology or simply looking to consider their options.

Paul Rooney

Director & Founder, Constituent

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