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It's Not about the Technology

Brad Marquardt
Aug 7, 2008
What does it do?
Did I hear a collective sigh of relief? The article title is not an original thought, in fact it has its own acronym (INATT), but that discussion space is usually reserved for esoteric talks by high level IT thinkers, not the realm of mere mortal business people trying to keep up with the pace of technological change.

Social Networking, Web 2.0, Drip Marketing, Data Warehousing, B2B Collaboration, SAS the list of technologies available to give us an edge is endless. So how do we go about choosing wisely where to spend limited time and money to automate our business?

In this article we will develop a simple model for evaluating any technology by clearly defining and communicating a vision for what it will support.

It's starts with business process
A business process is a series of steps that are followed in order to carry out some task in a business. For example, every time we receive an inquiry from a prospective customer we want to efficiently send a consistent message about our services. Matching a particular technology to a business processes forces us to think critically about "what does it do?" it requires a potential solution to prove itself in the context of what's the result or ROI for our investment. When setting objectives for a technology the really powerful ones tend to offer some result to our customers, better communications, more accurate and timely billing, stronger internal coordination of information etc. So get out your pen and paper (yes I actually said that) and make a list of processes you want to automate, for complex sets, like a time and billing system, break it down to simple verifiable results you want to achieve.

Putting together your toolbox
Let's say our company or division writes letters, ok a-lot of letters, written by different people all over the organization. As management of Letter Writers, LLC we observe that we could deliver better customer service by achieving three results.
  • Improve customer recognition of OUR communications.
  • Reduce turn around time in responding to our customers with letters
  • Standardize certain letters that we write often
Now in this simple example even the most ardent technophobe knows we are talking about a class of software called word processing, so one of our promising interns does a Google search and comes back with three options. In her enthusiasm, she lists the three products in a grid highlighting the features and benefits for a discussion of how they stack up against our original objectives.

After reviewing the selections (A, B, & C) we eliminate A even though it is free, it's an online service and we aren't quite comfortable with that. B and C are close competitors, both competitively priced with loads of bells and whistles. While B meets all of our objectives we have learned during the process that C is the industry standard and is recognizable to 85-90% of people who own computers. We choose C and order enough licensing for everybody in the office.

Taking it to the Sandbox
Now that the vision has been fine tuned and the technology to support it have been identified it's time for the cliché answer to the original question. If it isn't about the technology then what is it about? It is about the people. This is where 90% of projects big or small fall short, fade away, or just plain fail. The IT guys need to be involved in the roll out of our new software, somebody needs to develop templates for a standardized look and feel of all our letters, and we need stock letters written for common themes. Most importantly the vision must be communicated to and everybody trained on the new software and the related custom pieces we have developed.

Admiring your work
If you stayed on task through this process, remained committed to the original vision statement then at some point (or multiple check points) in the future we should be able to assess the results. Ideally these check points are built into the original project plan with measurable results. In our example we could ask questions like "are we producing letters faster?" "Do all of our communications have the same look and feel?" "Are we answering common questions consistently and promptly?" These check points are especially critical in more complex projects so that we can make course corrections where needed.

Hey wait a minute!
You may be thinking this model is simplistic, I wouldn't argue with you. I have companies coming to me every week wanting to spend tens of thousands of dollars on this or that software system and yet I can't help notice they haven't ironed out their Word Processing system.

Making sense of technology in business begins with the end in mind. Defining your business processes provides a framework from which to evaluate features of a particular technology. When it comes down to it technology is for people, the people you serve, the people who do the work, the people who have a vision for a better business. If the technology you are evaluating doesn't clearly serve one of these three groups step back and ask yourself "What does it do?"
About the Author
Brad has been in business for over 20 years working with business owners in the technology industry. He has discovered and developed yet another way to channel his passion for serving others, coaching other successful small business owners and sales people. Brad has been motivating and assisting business owners to reach their full potential his entire career. As a member of the International Coaching Federation and student of Coach U, Brad has enhanced his natural gifts for communication and service. Brad's coaching style blends an array of humor, insight, strength, compassion and realism to co-create success with clients toward their chosen path as a business owner and in life.
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