Small businesses need technology to remain competitive. Technology helps your business to communicate, share information, process transactions, create and store information, and when used correctly, makes staff more productive and better able to s
Small businesses need technology to remain competitive. Technology helps your business to communicate, share information, process transactions, create and store information, and when used correctly, makes staff more productive and better able to serve clients.
With a few simple steps and a healthy, informed perspective, you can avoid some of the most common productivity-killing, costly blunders and remain ahead of the competition-while making sure your business goals lead your technology, and not the other way around.
First, it is important to get a firm grasp on the technology needs of the entire organization as they relate to your business goals. One of the most common errors small businesses can make is to fix the problem-of-the-day rather than having a vision for the organization’s growth and creating a proactive technology plan that mirrors business planning. The pressures of day-to-day business often lead us to think tactically about technology all the time, but the “just fix it so it works” mindset only leads to more problems down the road. Before you make another reactive technology decision, step back and ask yourself the following:
What are the business goals for this year and what kind of technology is required to for us to meet them? What are the biggest inhibitors to growth or profitability today? Where will the business likely be two years from now with respect to geography, staff, competitors? Can we leverage IT to support and facilitate that kind of growth? What are we most concerned that our competition will do this year to get ahead? How can technology help us defend against that and increase our competitive edge?
When the primary business-centric questions are sufficiently tackled, important tactical questions to ask are along functional lines.
Is our staff centralized or do they report in from home, the road, or other remote locations? Are our clients city-wide, state-wide, or worldwide? How will technology enable us to better serve our clients in the short- and long-term? What are clients asking from us today and how can we exceed those expectations?
The wrong advice can be more problematic than doing nothing at all, and is many times the outcome of the Request for Proposal (RFP) process that many organizations undertake when planning technology. In reality, RFP can often be translated as a “Request for Problems.” RFPs are typically answered by equipment resellers masked as technology experts or consultants, offering solutions high on budget and low on strategic direction. A more appropriate method is to consult with a number of vendor-neutral firms and truly independent consultants to understand their approach to resolving the business issues you present. Then, solicit proposals based on the approaches that make the most sense for you and your specific business.
One note of caution: Many experts are glorified sales agents for technology firms, often placing sales above the needs of the customer. They may be able to understand your business problem and talk about technology options, but what they really want is to sell equipment, so their advice will focus only on the technologies from their favorite vendors. It is important that you work with advisors with a broader perspective, able to consider your needs and goals first. For example, we have often found that new equipment isn’t necessary at all. Rather, using existing equipment better is all that is required.
Armed with this perspective and process, you will be able to outfit your office and people with the most appropriate technology, which is often not the latest gee-whiz product. If you still find yourself in a state of analysis paralysis, try following this time-tested approach-first, manage your current IT assets to ensure that they are being used as efficiently as possible and are reliable enough to meet your immediate needs and protect your business, then move on to adding functionality that solves productivity issues and that will support your future growth. With that accomplished, you are ready to focus on building competitive advantage.
But again, be careful. It is often tempting for businesses to take advice regarding portions of a project while neglecting the big picture. Rather than implementing a quick-fix solution, take a step back and assess what will be needed in the long-term. Remember that there are no hard and fast answers to address every situation because each business venture has its own unique business goals and subsequent needs.
Identifying business needs first, and then applying the technology to support them, will serve your organization far more effectively in both the short- and the long-term. The advantages offered by smart technology planning and spending can mean a significantly greater return on investment-in the productivity and peace of mind of your employees, and the ability to better serve your clients. The key is effective planning and prioritization that enable the technology requirements to follow the business needs, not the other way around.
Nathaniel (Nate) Wolfson ([email protected]) is CEO of Thrive Networks, an IT outsourcing firm serving small-to-midsize companies throughout New England.