Technology is to great extent a synonym to a change. Any time technology makes a step forward, it brings changes to different fields of our life, from industry and medicine to education and even entertainment. Agents use technology on different purposes: they may intend to enhance their products and services, reduce costs, outstrip competitors and simply to survive.
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Thus, the most important task in this case is to choose the right direction of change: as Fitzhugh Dodson said, “Without goals, and plans to reach them, you are like a ship that has set sail with no destination” (quoted in Lombardo, p.46).
The case discussed in this paper is devoted to the attempts of the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission (WSPRC) to introduce technology to make communication with customers more effective and convenient. Today this practice has become customary for numerous parks throughout the country; however, the period discussed in the case (1997-1999), was the period of taking the first steps by trial and error.
The purpose of our study is to develop the optimal “destination” for the “ship”. We will analyze the data on operation of the Washington State Park System provided in the case and try to select the most effective strategy of introducing a new technology to serve the customers and communicate with them.
Approaches to Strategy Development
“During the late 1990s, Washington Governor Gary Locke challenged state agency leaders to think seriously about how their organizations could harness information technology to advance agency missions and objectives” – the case begins with these words (McKiernan, p.1).
This phrase does not provide us with a full notion on the initial considerations of WSPRC and other sides that gave birth to this initiative; neither does the further case text throw light upon the initial intents of the team.
We may assume that having “smelled” the growing scale of using technology to serve the customers in all industries, the leaders had come to the idea that it was time for the Washington State Park System to get modernized as well.
As a rule, to take an action, a manager should have clear understanding of what goals this action addresses. Particularly, actions can be taken in order to nourish strengths, overcome weaknesses, realize opportunities or avoid threats. Considering the discussed Washington State Park System case, implementation of technology can have the following purposes:
Technology is the way to cope with the problems, weaknesses and threats that exist in the Park System. Having chosen this approach to developing the strategy of introducing technology, the leaders would have to:
- Detect the most burning problems and threats that the System has
- Define how exactly technology may solve these problems
- Analyze whether introduction of technology is the optimal way to cope with these problems
Technology is the way to gain competitive advantages. By that moment, other national parks had already introduced elements of online communication with customers and serving them with the help of an electronic system (p.9); we may also assume that other local recreation and entertainment facilities were also involved into this process. Having chosen this approach, the leaders would have to:
- Study how other parks and recreational objects use technology to advance their services and meet customers’ needs.
- Analyze whether introducing technology will help the Park System gain significant competitive advantages.
Technology is the way to optimize operation of the Park System, reduce costs and increase revenues. In this case, the leaders would have to work on the following issues:
- Detect the fields where technology may contribute to reduction of costs and growth of incomes.
- Compare benefits of introducing technology and expenses (or, it is better to say, investment) this introduction would cause.
Technology is introduced with the purpose of creating the basis for the further successful operation of the Park System in the future. As introduction of technology became more and more widespread, the leaders of the Park System could anticipate that sooner or later technology would have to be introduced. In this case, they would have to:
- Study possible directions of introduction of technology and its current condition in other parks.
- Evaluate the prospects that introduction of technology would bring
- Decide whether the current moment would be appropriate for introduction of technology considering incomes, availability of staff members and their readiness to changes.
These four approaches are not mutually exclusive, and each of them is very important; that is why their elements could be combined when developing the strategy of implementation of technology in the Park System.
Having got familiarized with the materials of the case, we can conclude that the leaders had not developed a concrete strategy of implementation technology. The team’s considerations had some elements of four approaches listed above, but they were not integrated and did not have the main purpose.
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Thus, to develop the optimal plan of action for the Park System leaders, we need first to develop a strategy based on the materials provided in the case text.
Purpose and Strategy of Technology Introduction
The mission of the Washington State Park System is “to provide enjoyment and enrichment for all, and a valued legacy to future generations” (p.12). The focus of the System is providing services that will meet customers’ needs, expectations and requirements.
Thus, the purpose of technology introduction is contribution to the capability of the Park System to follow the stated mission. Particularly, technology introduction should:
- Help the park System to improve their services and cope with existing problems
- Correspond to the current condition of the Park System and its services, its income and staff available.
- Increase the revenue of the Parks
- Create the basis for the future technology advancement in the Parks.
Choosing a Program
“Now, they had to decide which of their services and in what form it would be best to launch them on line and begin to advance their strategic objectives”, says the case (p.10).
The case text demonstrates that it is necessary to choose one of the services of the Park System where technology will be introduced in the first place. First, we need to discuss whether the choice should be made between different services, and if it should, we will analyze which services it is reasonable to start with.
To understand the prerequisites of technology introduction in the Park System, we need to consider the following points:
- In 1999, the Park System experienced certain budget pressure: the base budged decreased by $4.35 million (p.3). Thus, it is possible to assume that the spending opportunities for technology introduction are limited.
- Some programs are understaffed (pp.3,6).
- The staff is undertrained and resists to the introduction of a new system. This can be classified by such notion as “inner resistance to change”. This notion is used in change management and characterizes employees’ unwillingness to accept changes initiated by a manager.
- The Park System has its most substantial revenue from the following programs:
- Camping/Overnight – 66 per cent PRSA Revenue, 77 per cent Fee Based Revenues
- Environmental Interpretation Programs – 9 per cent PRSA Revenue, 9 per cent Fee Based Revenues
- Worden Conference Center – 7 per cent PRSA Revenue, 7 per cent Fee Based Revenues.
Other programs bring about 1-2 per cent to the total revenue.
Considering that the Park System has neither substantial funds to introducing innovations, nor a sufficient number of prepared and trained staff, the most reasonable approach is not to introduce a new technology into all programs, as it is not feasible at the moment.
Thus, it is necessary to choose an appropriate program to take the first step in getting “into the digital world of dot.gov” (p.10). Let us compare pluses and minuses of focusing on different programs that the Park System has.
First of all, it will be not effective to introduce the innovation into a program that brings 1-2 cent of the revenue, as the expenses and efforts may exceed the benefits the Park System will get from it. It would be reasonable to choose from three most substantial programs listed above: Camping/Overnight, Environmental Interpretation Programs and the Worden Conference Center.
Communication with customers is the most intense in the Camping/Overnight program (p.4); other programs are not so large scale. Besides, the Camping/Overnight program is used by both reservation campers and walk-in campers while other two programs imply event planning and customers’ registration in advance.
Thus, introduction of a new advanced technology is more crucial for the Camping/Overnight program. The team may introduce such innovations as electronic reservation and e-commerce.
At the same time, it is necessary to understand that due to the scale of the program, technology introduction will be the most time-, money- and effort-consuming. The team should be ready to work on a challenging task.
Choosing a Service
After we have formulated the purpose and the strategy of technology introduction, we are now able to choose a service. According to the case material (p.10), to be capable to receive credit card payments via the Internet, it is necessary to choose from several options:
- Development of the application in-house
- Collaboration with outside consultants
- Collaboration with an agency that has already introduced such application
- Buying an application “off the shelf”.
The most effective solution is development of the application in-house: it gives opportunity to customize the application, avoid spending time on setting contact with consultants and briefing them, as well as avoid breach of customer information.
Hints on Implementation
When implementing the innovation, it will be necessary to pay attention to avoiding understaffing and reducing staff members’ resistance to change. Implementation of a new program will influence their responsibilities and the way they fulfill their functions. To reduce inner resistance to change, it is necessary to carry out a training program aimed at familiarizing staff with a new system.
The chosen approach meets the requirements set by the purpose and the strategy of technology implementation. The innovation will help to optimize the process of reservation, commerce and communication with clients and thus eliminate existing difficulties in this fields; it will help to develop the program that brings the most significant revenue and thus will be a beneficial choice.
Besides, it corresponds to the Park System’s current capability. The innovation will become the first experience and create the basis for further modernization of the System.
Lombardo, E. (2010). A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness. Garden City, NY: Morgan James.
McKiernan, L. (n.d.). Technology in the Washington State Park System. Web.