A healthcare provider rests in a break room
By Tom Bianculli | January 18, 2024

Want Relief from the “Triple Squeeze” Choking Your Business? Technology May or May Not Help. It All Depends on Your Habits.

Technology, like medicine, is only effective if the right formula/dose is prescribed and “taken as directed.” Here are the three habits you need to adopt now if you want to avoid the side effects of “wrong” technology decisions.

“The triple squeeze.” Everyone is feeling it, but not everyone is feeling it in the same way. Those in healthcare are facing the trifecta of accelerated digitization, staff burnout, and an aging population. Human resources (HR) professionals are up against economic upheaval, CEOs balancing cost savings amid a potential economic downturn with the need for increased talent investment, and the mandate for HR to manage multiple tradeoffs. And, in supply chains around the world, labor shortages/costs, new customer expectations, and diminished predictability have become the “mud” pulling most teams down into a sinkhole that seems impossible to escape. 

Now, if you look at these industry-specific problems collectively from the 30,000-foot level, they are all byproducts of the same two influences:

  1. People (We have needs, wants, and limitations, all of which are fluid.)

  2. Capital (Everyone wants to make more and pay less.)

Every generation has found themselves in the same position we’re in now, asking: “How do we make a positive impact on the world while creating stakeholder value?” And everyone before us has faced the same challenge: “How do we meet expectations without underestimating how much effort that really takes…and without overspending? 

That’s why technology has been such a boon for the past century. 

Technology is believed to cure all business ailments. But here’s the problem: technology is still a human-designed, human-centric mechanism. Therefore, it will only help us as much as we allow it to. 

That’s why “purpose-built” technology has been all the rage in the past decade. Those who understand technology’s capability to “cure” know that it will only be effective – and the “positive results” will only be permanent – if properly formulated to target a certain problem at a specific moment in time. Though most technology components, platforms, and systems are multifunctional, they will only function as a “solution” if pieced together and applied in consideration of the unique chemistry of your business. 

Think about it this way: most doctors avoid prescribing broad-spectrum antibiotics because there’s a greater risk of complications down the road, even if they could deliver results right now. So, doctors take care to choose the right antibiotic for the specific bacteria strain infiltrating the body to facilitate a positive near-term impact without introducing the risk of long-term consequences. 

Technology is no different. If you want to relieve pain points and prevent the emergence of new ones, you must stack the right hardware, software, and services together to both target the known issues and build broad immunity against future threats. It’s sort of like taking an antibiotic for the current bacterial infection while also taking vitamins and supplements, changing your diet, exercising more, and getting enough sleep to prevent future infections. Now, I know that a preventative well-being strategy may feel easier said than done when you’re constantly having to react to seemingly unpreventable dynamics. For example, the factors influencing labor shortages (and costs) seem to change from week to week – family priorities, generational turnover (i.e., retirement), the pursuit of “better opportunities elsewhere,” increasing burnout, and the list goes on and on. 

However, we at Zebra – and many of our customers – have found there are three simple habits that will help you and your team of advisors – employees, technology partners, and supply chain partners – formulate a solution that can remedy many conditions degrading your business’ health. These same three habits will also help you avoid the side effects that so many businesses are feeling right now from choosing the wrong technology “prescription” the first time, including:

  • regret

  • personal brand/career impact

  • lost market share

  • financial, employee, customer, and inventory losses

  • new/unexpected complications affecting operational performance (i.e., security, information silos, fragmented workflows, slower throughput, minimal visibility or control, increased errors, etc.)

  • technical debt (i.e., a never-ending backlog of “updates/refreshes” that are expensive and outdated by the time they rise to the top of the queue)

How to Remedy the Triple Squeeze (or Anything Harming Your Business)

If you want technology to make your life easier, you must be willing to… 

1. Act on Intelligence, Not Impulse

When the world is changing fast, your instinct may be to simply react – especially when you either see mistakes happening or opportunities slipping away. However, there’s a difference between being reactive and being agile. A knee-jerk reaction isn’t controlled and is often a temporary protection mechanism. Therefore, it’s unlikely to provide the desired outcome, which is sustained financial well-being. A thoughtful and targeted response, on the other hand, will enable you to eliminate wasteful spending, wasted time, and the problem itself. Now, in business, it’s not always possible to manipulate the source – you can’t control inflation. However, you can manipulate your information flows, workflows, and decision-making processes to ensure your employees, partners and other success influencers can “sense, analyze and act (on intelligence, not impulse)” when change – or trouble – is brewing.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming an all-consuming topic in mainstream media right now, and discussions about generative AI and responsible AI are more than warranted. So, I encourage you to do your due diligence and understand how AI (machine learning, deep learning, etc.) can be responsibly used to help address your business challenges.

Injecting AI-based software applications into your tech stack to support automated information flows, workflows, and decision-making all the way to the edge of your operations can help your front-line workers deliver what customers want, when they want it, while running every aspect of your business efficiently. The impact of your back-office employees – forecasters, planners, procurement and IT teams, and other admin-level advisors – is limited by the human brain’s ability to manually acquire, analyze, and apply information, unless they have access to AI tools that can compensate. However, assuming you’re not running a fully automated operation, a human being will ultimately be making the final call on what action to take … people will continue to be in the loop. Therefore, the final outcome – whether the action that human ultimately takes is truly in the best interest of your business or customer – will depend on the depth and objectivity of the data informing their decision. 

In other words, it’s time to lean into AI-bolstered automation, no matter the technological maturity of your business – or the overall maturity of your business. Both startups and century-old companies are being held to the same customer standards and confronted by similar people and investment challenges. And low-tech systems can still be highly intelligent and highly impactful solutions as we’ve seen in healthcare, retail, manufacturing, and other sectors. 

If you’re wary of AI because of what you’re hearing as a consumer, it’s even more reason for you to study the technology from a business perspective so that you can ultimately “act on intelligence, not on impulse.”

  • Understand what it really means to automate information flows, data analysis, workflows and decisions.

  • Learn how AI works in the framework of low-tech and high-tech automation – and how it learns to support your business most effectively. 

  • Talk to AI engineers, data scientists, and your peers to get both the technical and practical point of view on how AI works with information behind the scenes, with you/your team, with automation, and with the data generated by countless physical internet of things (IoT) objects, i.e., environmental sensors, mobile computers, barcode scanners, machine vision cameras, RFID readers.

  • Make sure you’re clear on whether AI specialists are required to take advantage of a particular AI capability or if non-specialists can implement/manage the AI component you’re considering (or being told to consider). Confirm if you need additional tools to democratize the software so everyone can work with/create AI-based solutions.

  • Verify how long it will actually take to create, test, and deploy the AI-powered tech stacks you or your advisors believe can effectively solve your problem.

  • Ask about how AI is controlled with respect to security and privacy in the context of your intended use case.

  • Investigate the differences between generative AI and AI “purpose built” for specific front-line or back-office business applications.


Appreciate why AI, even with its immense intelligence capabilities, is not a “silver bullet” but rather an active ingredient in the solution you’re formulating for each problem. Like all other technology, it must be configured (or, technically, taught) to work in accordance with policies and procedures that are designed in each person’s best interest.

2. Be Creative

If the answers to common business problems were as straightforward as “digitize, digitalize, and automate,” then you wouldn’t be up at night regretting or fearing a wrong decision, and technology companies would all have far smaller portfolios. 

But the reality is that we, as a society, need technology tools that can be applied in different ways to target a growing number of problems in an infinite quantity of unique operating environments and business models. That’s why, at Zebra, we’ve built such a diverse and extensible portfolio of hardware, software applications, application programming interfaces (APIs), cloud systems, and services that can be configured to multiple use cases. We know that our customers’ needs – your needs – are going to change over time. There will be new problems to solve and new opportunities to seize.

So, it’s critical you find (and stick with) people you trust to think outside the box. And by outside the box, I mean those who understand that it’s going to take some creativity to piece together the technological building blocks that will result in an effective solution. 

There is always some level of design and special configuration/ optimization needed these days, and the best technology solutionists are those who are skilled in “creative commercial problem solving” which, in my opinion, adds value to your business more so than creative thinking on its own. Technical skills are important too since you’ll need to know that your digitally sketched-out “solution” can be physically realized. However, if your technology partners aren’t asking the right questions of your business stakeholders from day one – especially IT teams, front-line workers, and operations managers – then something is going to be overlooked in the solution formulation process, and you’re going to feel the side effects later on. 

That leads me to the last recommended habit…

3. Ask Yourself “Why?” 

It may seem smart to “follow the leader” in your industry to keep up, but sometimes the best way to gain a competitive advantage is to lead your business in the direction that’s best for your stakeholders, not someone else’s stakeholders. That’s why every technology implementation must be thoughtful and thoroughly scrutinized every step of the way, starting with the original request for change. 

As a decision-maker, you must understand why you’re doing what you’re doing – or why you should do what someone else is telling you to do. I know you want to trust that your team and technology advisors are leading you in the right direction. But we’re all humans, which means we’re all limited in our advisory capabilities by the information we’ve been exposed to previously. No one has a 365-degree perspective of your operation or the depth of knowledge about a problem or opportunity. What one person believes to be best might be contested by someone who has additional insight into how something works and why a particular “solution” formula/design won’t work as hoped. Even AI can have blind spots depending on the breadth, depth, and cleanliness of the data set it’s working from. 

Therefore, you should constantly be asking and answering, “Why?” 

It doesn’t matter if you’re the one proposing a change or if someone is recommending a change to you…question everything. 

  • Why is it necessary – or unnecessary – to make a change right now?

  • Why is the proposed change right or wrong?

  • Why should I follow your recommendation? 

  • Why can’t I just XYZ? 

  • Why is this the best device, app, system, or service?

  • Why is this the best way to connect or configure different components in my tech stack?

These types of questions will help you answer the next most important question: “What’s in it for me?”

When you understand what you stand to gain from making a change, and you understand why a certain approach is warranted, then it becomes easier to map the next steps and minimize the risk of side effects from a “wrong drug or dosing” decision.

For example, digitalization of operations is the fundamental “change” that most organizations need to make right now. But is the best change for your organization going to be at the core of the operation with the digitization of your system(s) of record? Or is it time to start creating “systems of reality” at the edge of your operation where your front-line workers are located (and your business’ success is most visibly recognized)? Either way, you need to understand why something is the best move before you can start talking about how to make that move.

Remember: The Technology Decisions You Make Now are Either Fueling or Fighting the Conditions Squeezing Your Business 

With the influx of technologies hitting the market, I know some business leaders are concerned that they aren’t going to get a return on their investments – that they’re going to spend a lot of time and money building solutions that, in the end, may not solve anything. When this comes up, there’s an analogy to human healthcare I like to draw on:

“The food choices you make are either fueling or fighting disease.”

When you choose your meals based on cost or convenience, you’re usually sacrificing nutritional value and your body systems don’t operate as they should. You may not notice the impact right away. But over time, you’re going to start to see aches and pains crop up more often and linger for longer. Eventually, you’re not going to be able to function properly unless you toss out everything in your fridge and pantry and restock with the right functional foods. 

The same is true of technology. You can opt to save some time and money upfront by going with a consumer-grade device or tablet, trying to repurpose an automation system architecture that worked for another company in your industry, or opting for snack-size upgrades to systems that weren’t ever purpose-built to mitigate or solve the problem in the first place. However, it won’t be long before you start feeling new aches and pains – or inadvertently creating new chokepoints.

So, instead of making a decision based on familiarity, convenience, up-front cost, or compulsion, challenge yourself to stop and scrutinize what’s happening and why it’s happening. Then study all your options, constantly asking “why” something is best (or not). Challenge others to do the same and dig in a bit when someone seems to either want to jump too fast or delay too long. (Remember, technical debt is not something you accrue only by making the wrong purchases. It’s something that will quickly build when you wait too long to replace underperforming technology.)

Then, once you’re confident you have the right technology in place, be sure you commit both money and effort to change management. 

Remember, technology’s value is derived from its ability to help people work more efficiently, make better decisions, and adjust quickly as customer expectations and market pressures change. So, if you want to maximize your return on investment, make sure your technology is configured in a way that fully supports your team – and make sure your team understands how technology can help them. 

Once your tech stack is well-optimized and your employees and partners are comfortable using it, you’ll start to see operational efficiency and throughput increase and employee burnout and mistakes decrease. In turn, customers, partners, and other stakeholders will be happier because they’ll get what they need on time. You’ll also enjoy greater stability in your operational performance even as labor is challenged, and it becomes harder to predict the next threat or opportunity. 

In Other Words

With the right technology combination and an extensive change management effort, you’ll see the triple squeeze of labor shortages/costs, new customer expectations, and diminished predictability start to ease. Though they may always be there in the background, threatening your organization’s well-being, you’ll have stronger immunity against them because of the preventative measures you took to strengthen your health and reduce your vulnerabilities. 


Related Read:

A Look at Labor: Are You Giving Too Much Credit to Technology?

Healthcare, Warehouse and Distribution, Retail, Article, Hospitality, New Ways of Working, Energy and Utilities, Blog, Manufacturing, Digitizing Workflows, Transportation and Logistics, Field Operations, Public Sector, Banking,
Tom Bianculli
Tom Bianculli

Tom Bianculli serves as the Chief Technology Officer of Zebra Technologies. In this role, he is responsible for the exploration of emerging opportunities, coordinating with product teams on advanced product development and Internet of Things (IoT) initiatives. The Chief Technology Office is comprised of engineering, business, customer research and design functions. 

Tom began his career in the tech industry at Symbol Technologies, Inc. (later acquired by Motorola) in 1994 as part of the data capture solutions business. In the following years, he held positions of increased responsibility including architectural and director of engineering roles. 

Tom has been granted over 20 U.S. patents and is a Zebra Distinguished Innovator and Science Advisory Board associate. He was recently named one of the Top 100 Leaders in Technology 2021 by Technology Magazine.

Tom holds bachelor of science and master of science degrees in electrical engineering from Polytechnic University, NYU and serves on the board of directors for the School of Engineering at the New York Institute of Technology.

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