Monday, June 27, 2011

5 ways SMBs can maximize their technology ROI: Tips from the 2011 CT Business Expo

Thousands of business professionals gathered at the Connecticut Convention Center for the 2011 Connecticut Business Expo. This year, the CT Business Expo offered 28 educational business seminars hosted by industry experts and elites.

I was asked to moderate a discussion called "Leveraging Your Unused Technology -- Getting the Most Out of What You Have."

The discussion panelists included Dave Rubino, Managing Director of AFG; and Bill Abram, founder and President of Pragmatix.

Dave has more than 20 years of experience teaching Fortune 1000 companies how to maximize their technology ROI. He specializes in process design and technology strategy.

Bill founded Pragmatix 19 years ago and now works with Fortune 500 companies and small businesses to provide technology solutions that improve business processes and performance.

Our seminar focused on teaching small- and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) how to get the most out of their technology investments. We covered the gamut, discussing what technologies are best for your business, how to overcome training challenges, and what to do with technology that's no longer needed. We also covered the “technology lifespan” -- how to choose, train, use, and discard technology most efficiently through its lifetime.

Dave and Bill shared some great advice. Many of their points resonated with me personally as a businessman and avid tech user. While most of their insights and tips were aimed at SMB owners, I found that much of their advice applied to any person investing in technology. I thought I'd share some of their biggest takeaways here. I hope you find these useful in your current and future technology initiatives.

To invest or not to invest?

Companies invest money either to make money or to save money. Therefore, it is imperative to identify the business functions of any piece of technology before purchasing it. Consider the short- and long-term business impact by looking for investments that can either generate or save money. Business owners typically look at an IT investment as invested overhead, but IT should contribute to the bottom line, taking each purchase out of the spend category and making it a real investment.

Hire technology like you hire people

After you decide to invest, the next step is deciding what to invest in. Business owners have a habit of running out and buying the newest technology, often assuming that it's the best system to accomplish their goals. Instead, hire technology like you hire a person. When you hire a person, you expect him/her to solve a problem and achieve a certain result. The same goes for technology. Evaluate the technology to see if it can do what you need it to do. Look at how to configure it to meet your business needs. If it isn't accomplishing what you hired it for, review it, and make adjustments. Sometimes this requires re-training the technology, the tech users, or both. If it still isn't providing the benefit you hoped, fire it, and replace it with a more productive technology.

What does the business want?

Executives, IT, and users each think about technology differently. Executives often think about how it will strategically make or save money. Good IT professionals think about this, as well as the robustness and capabilities of the features available. And users think about how the technology will help them get their job done better and faster. This sometimes creates a disconnect between what each group expects and wants from the technology. To fix this, technology decisions should involve the key players and consider each group's needs. This is often a multi-step discussion because each group might have its own perspective about what the processes are and how they are working. There should be a clear link between how the technology impacts the bottom line, how advanced it is, and how it supports employee performance. Strive to create a business system -- people, processes, and technology working together to achieve a universally beneficial result.

Train and reinforce

When most companies buy a new technology, they do a lot of training upfront but don't institute adequate follow-up sessions. As a result, employees often forget what they learn between the time they learn about the technology to the time they use it. That's why it's important to make training stick. Reinforcement is key. Provide initial training, then regularly hold update meetings and lunch-and-learn sessions to reinforce and build upon employees' knowledge. This also helps employees learn to use the technology to meet their needs, keeping training sessions focused and productive.

Old doesn’t mean obsolete


Some companies get rid of technology at the first signs of age. But just because it’s older, doesn’t mean it’s obsolete. Here's where the technology lifespan comes in. Before you upgrade your older technology, think about how you’re using it. Give it a final assessment to see if you can reassign it to fill a gap in a different system. Even technology you think is dated might have uses beyond what you bought it for. For instance, your computer might not have the CPU power to run all the software you want locally, but it might be well-suited for working in a cloud environment.

Thanks again to the CT Business Expo for inviting me to moderate and thank you to Dave Rubino and Bill Abram for a great seminar. It gave me, and I hope many business owners, a lot to think about and take back to their organizations.