By Blake DuBose and Mike DuBose
Fifty years ago, President Kennedy announced, “We choose to go to the moon.” Seven years later, American astronauts walked on its surface—a monumental feat. His vision brought about even greater technological innovation. Now, fast forward to 2011, when some experts are predicting that our technological knowledge will increase 32-fold over the next 50 years!
As a result, business leaders must deal with an ever-changing array of new software and gadgets. Many wonder, “What and when should we buy new technologies? How will it help our business?” They think, “Everyone has it, so we must need it!”
The right technology can help businesses with communications, file storage, budgeting, marketing, and data analysis. Because the Internet is accessible worldwide, a more productive, paperless office can follow you to wherever you are.
However, the digital age also presents disadvantages. For example, if your business does not have an attractive, friendly, and functional website with links to Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, you are losing customers and money! The following are ways to keep technology from harming your business:
Conduct technology assessments: Businesses need technology plans based on concrete issues and realistic strategies. We have heard horror stories from CEOs who bought technology without careful planning and oriented their companies around its capabilities. Thus, technology—not a true purpose—drove the companies. Before buying or upgrading existing technologies, ask all staff what issues they face that technology can help by increasing efficiency and effectiveness. Currently, we are exploring how to best centralize customer files, communications, e-mails, and contracts through Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software. We have good systems, but we want to better address our needs, which may mean employing programmers to develop customized software versus buying canned software. Once complete, the software will allow staff members to electronically view all client histories—an extremely useful tool.
Stay slightly behind the technology curve: When new technology is released, avoid buying it until the kinks are ironed out. We made the mistake of quickly upgrading to Microsoft Office 2007, but our customers, who didn’t follow suit, couldn’t open our files using the old 2003 format. Instead of simply improving the 2003 version of the program, Microsoft revamped many features and staff had to relearn them. To prevent such snafus, have both inexperienced and computer-savvy staff field test technology before implementing it companywide. Listen to their input and move slowly. We planned to upgrade our Blackberries to iPhones, but reasoned against it when competent staff members who owned both phone types said the changeover wouldn’t significantly improve our efficiency.
Know that you will never be entirely up-to-date: New technology will be outdated within months of your purchase. Typically, innovations are released after January’s Consumer Electronics Show. You may find good discounts on older versions afterward, beginning in March.
Technology can impair staff productivity: Between computer and phone alerts from a multitude of social networks (Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn), Googletalk chats, and Outlook emails constantly popping up, technology can seriously impair employee focus and add to staff anxiety. The most productive employees work on a few things at a time and avoid interruptions by taking measures like closing their office doors, placing telephones on DO NOT DISTURB, shutting off cell phones, and disabling Outlook.
Social media networks can result in lawsuits: The January 2011 HR Specialist newsletter reported that social media networks can “damage morale, hurt productivity, and even expose your company to a lawsuit.” Businesses should set guidelines governing social media use in the workplace.
Efforts to increase efficiency can harm customer relationships: In an attempt to save money, many businesses are using automated systems to screen calls—and creating angry clients in the process. Computers often misunderstand voices, present callers with the wrong options, or force clients to answer many questions (only to have customer service representatives repeat those queries—if they can ever be reached)! To make things worse, they frequently waste time by asking you to complete a 30-minute survey you don’t want to take! Follow the lead of our Columbia Conference Center and DuBose Web Group. We strive to have friendly humans answer calls 90% of the time and return all messages within 24 business hours (preferably sooner). Surveys are never mentioned until after we deliver services.
When using technology, think SIMPLE: Don’t you wish it was a law that automobile manuals be developed by high school-educated 60-year-olds with limited vision, instead of foreign engineers with PhDs who probably never even drove the car? With the way many instructions read, you’d think the latter was more often the case. Train your staff thoroughly to use newly-purchased technology and provide them with easy-to-reach support when they need help.
Buy wise but not cheap: You get what you pay for, so balance money-saving measures by buying from reputable companies that will be there to provide support after the purchase.
Think three years down the road: As technology advances, more memory, graphics capabilities, and data storage will be required. Purchase more capability than you currently need in preparation for future needs.
Charge technology purchases to extend warranties: Credit cards like American Express will extend your warranty up to one year beyond the manufacturer’s warranty. Learn from our mistakes. We purchased extended warranties on more than 50 computers and never used one!
Protect your technology: Include devices like surge protectors, individual unit and server power back-ups, and building protection. The recent snowstorm illustrated how companies can be crippled when electricity is lost. We installed eight-hour battery backups on our computer servers with a portable generator for long-range outages. Backup files offsite daily to protect against lightning strikes or viruses, and warn staff not to open unknown files or download software that can allow access to viruses.
Be legal: Software is very expensive and thus is usually copyrighted. Using one license on multiple computer stations can raise threats and result in huge fines for using pirated software. Manufacturers are skilled at identifying illegal software, so be safe rather than sorry. Store all of your original software and licenses in a fireproof safe.
In conclusion: When researching his bestseller Good to Great, Jim Collins found technological sophistication to be common amongst great companies. However, he writes that “thoughtless reliance on technology is a liability.” He recommended that leaders determine first if technology will improve the company’s efficiency and if it fits their Hedgehog Concept (what they do best, is most profitable, and staff are most passionate about).
The bottom line: harness technology carefully while avoiding the pitfalls that can often accompany technological advancement. Implement the right technology correctly and your business, employees, and customers will prosper!