Determining the right IT solution for your business need.

IT, from accounting software that can enhance financial management to the smartphone that allows access to your work email and calendar while on the go, can help a business succeed in many ways.  Unfortunately, people don’t always have a firm understanding of when and how to best use IT.  We don’t always buy new software or hardware for the right reasons. We may be drawn to the top selling accounting software package because it seems like a safe bet without really knowing whether it actually meets our needs.  As a result, options that may serve us better might never come to our attention.

Getting started

First, you must identify the process you want to improve and make sure you have a good understanding of it.  Then you need to conduct a requirements analysis to identify the necessary capabilities of the candidate solution.  Make sure that you are basing the requirements on what you need and want to optimize the process without regard for “how we’ve always done it”.  Your requirements must be quantifiable, relevant, and detailed.  They should come from a wide variety of sources: users, management, security, finance, legal, operations, and other stakeholders. The analysis should include opportunities to incorporate related processes (e.g., add payroll to the HR system) to achieve greater efficiencies.  A straight “lift and shift” to a new system fails to address these opportunities.  You really need to avoid executing bad processes more efficiently, and you don’t want to let the limitations of current technology constrain you when develop your requirements.

Research, research, research
Once the requirements have been collected, validated, and approved, the software (or hardware but here I will always refer to software) products should be assessed to see if they fit.

Researching which technology to consider involves three steps:

  1. A review of your requirements
  2. A review of the capabilities of the technology you already own
  3. Search for an alternative product (whether it’s for one step or the entire process)

When reviewing your requirements, you want to look at opportunities to either supplement the existing software or upgrade to a new product entirely.  As you progress in your search, it’s important to keep coming back to your requirements.  It’s easy to compromise when picking a solution. Make sure that you aren’t losing the process improvements you require because the software you can afford doesn’t really meet your needs.

Next, be sure you fully understand the capabilities of the technology that you are currently using.  Our on-hand technology can sometimes do more than we realize. Let me use SharePoint as an example.  I’ve seen instances where businesses have obtained SharePoint Online to replace a shared drive system to save money.  It fulfilled the purpose for which it was intended, but it wasn’t being used at its full capacity (e.g., workflows and versioning). In other cases, there were big plans to leverage the full capabilities of a product, but the momentum for change (or its proponents) faded away.  In both cases, the company could have improved some processes by using existing functionality at no additional cost. They just didn’t understand what they already had.

There are, of course, situations when your current technology does not have the capabilities you need, and it becomes necessary to see what else is available.  You can find anything on the Internet, but how do you separate the wheat from the chaff? Top search rankings should not be confused with high quality any more than alphabetical order in a phonebook is an indication of relative merit.

Be selective in your searches.  If there are professional organizations or publications that are specific to your industry, you may be able to find purchasing trends or product reviews.  It can be helpful to go to some more general “tech” sites for ideas (TechCrunch, Wired, Gizmodo, or CNET, for example).  Evaluations such as Gartner’s Magic Quadrant product reviews are also helpful. Don’t forget to consult with peer organizations to see what they’re using and how they selected their solution, but remember that their requirement may not match yours.  Don’t get discouraged if you can’t find an obvious solution.  Technology moves fast, and what isn’t available now might be just around the corner.  You will benefit from being vigilant and methodical in your research.

What’s right for you?

Now that you know what’s available, how do you know what to pick?  One of the first things to consider is your budget.  Sometimes you might find great new software that can do everything you need, but find its price is out of reach.  It’s possible that you would be better off going with a product that still allows you to simplify or improve some of your processes rather than choosing the “perfect” one that would break the bank. A phased implementation – where you fund functionality in stages with savings achieved from process improvement – could allow you to implement a comprehensive solution in manageable bites.

Another thing to consider is “what fits us?”  For instance, if you asked me which was better, SharePoint Foundation Server or SharePoint Online, I would say Foundation Server because of the many things I can do on the server version that I can’t do with the online version. There is, for instance, the full use of PowerShell and the ability to add more customization.  However, this doesn’t mean it’s the right solution for you. The cost of owning and maintaining the host server might not make sense for your organization, so make sure you consider more factors than just “what’s the best” because it might not be the best for you.

You got the users’ buy in on the requirements at the beginning of the search. It’s vital that you ensure they still have a proprietary interest in the ultimate solution. If they don’t fully embrace it, you may be worse off than you were with the old system. Keep them informed of the progress you’re making, and make sure you allocate enough resources for proper training so that the staff is not only adept at the new technology, but also understands the underlying business processes.

But above all else, stay focused on your requirements!

Adoption of the technology is as important as the technology itself.

If you’ve spent money on new IT and are expecting to see benefits, don’t forget to take the appropriate actions to ensure the users will see the advantages of using it. I thought it was great when I found out I could scan my ticket on my smartphone to board a plane, but every time I fly I see people with smartphones present their paper ticket to the agent. Just because I loved the idea doesn’t mean that everyone felt the same way or even knew about the option.

Innovative technology in the workplace has the same considerations.  Imagine the return on investment your organization would see if you clearly framed the challenges you were looking to resolve, defined your requirements, researched possible solutions, chose the right technology (or chose correctly not to change), ensured users were properly prepared, and began using its full capabilities appropriately.  With the right approach, your organization can make the right IT acquisition and realize significant benefits.

Has your organization ever bought a technology without fully understanding your requirements?  What were the results?  We’d love to hear from you!

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