How can you decide which new technologies to adopt?
In 40 short years, the world has been transformed by the personal computer. There are few businesses that can successfully and profitably operate without computers and digital information technology.
Embedded in this rapid and overwhelming innovation is a growing sense of falling behind. If you own a small- or medium-sized business, you are challenged with deciding which technology is imperative, which will offer greater efficiency and which is merely a cool gadget that will soon be outdated.
Here is a list of terms that contribute to that sense of frustration and confusion: Cloud computing, mobile and native proprietary applications, virtualization, zero clients vs. desktop vs. mobile device, intruder prevention, voice over Internet protocol, social media, online reputation management, search engine optimization, keyword density, power and data redundancy, bioinformatics, disaster recovery and software as a service.
What does that mean? How can these new technologies help my business? Instead of a Wikipedia style glossary, let's talk about strategies for this tidal wave of innovation.
Here are three key strategies for the small- and medium-sized business owner to think about:
Today is over and tomorrow is uncertain–When reviewing your technology options, remember that what is cool and new today is going to be old tomorrow. That doesn't preclude making a decision, but may be a guide. Are you choosing technology that you're willing to use for at least a couple years, even if something better comes along tomorrow? This is often the guide when considering a new product. For example, when the first iPad was released, were you willing to invest in this new tool knowing that the second version would be better? Is this technology cutting edge, or is the benefit well known and more defined?
Define and measure the desired outcomes–Often technology decisions made for a small- or medium-sized business disregard measuring for outcomes. This is poor management at best and risky at worst. Any new technology should be assigned a desired outcome, with some measurement of benefit. Your measurements may change and outcomes modified, but in the long run, you will be managing your technology, not the other way around.
Every action will have a reaction–There is no such thing as a new technology rollout without some kind of reaction. It may be an internal change in process, roles for staff may be modified, or there may be full-scale changes in the way the company operates. But you will be much better prepared if you approach the rollouts expecting specific reactions.
These strategies may seem predictable, but they are harder to implement than just talk about. For example, your IT company recommends that you invest in virtual server technology for increased redundancy, energy use reduction and flexibility for expansion. There is no doubt a virtual server is cool, but here are some questions to guide this rather daunting investment decision: Is this technology so new that it will be out of date by January? Is this technology so new that upgrades will be impossible? What are the outcomes and how can they be measured in the short, medium and long terms? Can this new technology be supported by outside experts so my staff isn't required to be experts? What staff changes will be required and what day-to-day tasks will change?
Investing in this technology without answering these questions is foolhardy. Take the time, put in the work to maximize the effect and benefits of your new technology. Skip this step and you'll wonder next year what the investment gained you and your company.
Steve Dalton is manager of business development for Golden Technologies in Valparaiso, a privately owned information technology services company which has offices in Valparaiso, South Bend, Chicago and southwest Florida.