Thursday, September 1, 2011

3 more tips SMBs can learn about technology rollouts from their HR department

You just never know where you're going to get the next great idea and how it will come to life. My latest idea came together after moderating the educational seminar "Leveraging Your Unused Technology -- Getting the Most Out of What You Have" at the 2011 Connecticut Business Expo in June. The big idea that sprung to life lives at the intersection of human resources and technology: It is the idea of hiring technology like you hire people.

Last month, I talked to InformationWeek's Kevin Casey about how this approach applies to small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs). He penned two articles based on our conversation, "4 People Lessons To Smooth SMB Tech Rollouts" and "Three Ways To Manage Underperforming Technology."

Most recently, the editors of Federal Computer Week invited me to contribute an article on this subject as well. It was published last week, and you can slide over to their site now to read it. In it, I break down my step-by-step method of hiring technology like you hire people.

Since the space was limited to 600 words (I could easily go on for 6,000!), I wanted to throw out a few bonus pointers that didn't make it in the article to give you some more meat on the bone.

Here are are three more tips SMBs can borrow from the HR discipline about improving technology rollouts:

1. Assemble a cross-functional focus group. Business leaders use focus groups to gain employee and customer insights on important issues before making investment decisions. This is especially true when change is expensive or impacts many functions -- as is usually the case with technology implementations.

Technology acquisition and rollout is ideally suited for this because several types of expertise and skill sets are required at various points in the process. This is where SMBs can learn from larger corporations.

In a corporate project, a focus group would be lead by the CIO. It would include a technology manager who has his or her finger on the pulse of the tech market, and can confidently determine what technology is best for the objective at hand and will play nicely with your current systems.

Corporations would also include representatives from finance, legal and procurement, and, of course, the user group. SMBs often lack all of these resources -- but they can still benefit from this idea.

Owners (or technology professionals) should ask what's needed -- not assume. Proactively seek out those who disagree with you and listen. You may not agree, but you need the information and perspective they provide. These are often the very people who will be critical to the success of the new technology.

Bonus tips for great teams:
  • Be cross-functional. One danger in technology implementations is that the groups can become so technically focused that they miss the big picture. The best groups are truly cross-functional with all impacted areas represented -- especially those who look at the project with a critical eye.
  • Make the time. Don't exclude important functional managers because they are too busy working in the business to spend time on these projects. That "savings" now can cost you later.
  • Consider an outside expert from a different discipline. Fresh outside eyes are critical when making a big investment. Pick smart people who ask the great and hard questions. This may not be the vendor -- whose primary interest is selling the technology.
2. Determine the technology's lifetime cost. When you hire employees, you probably consider their overall cost when planning your budget and determining your ROI. It includes their pay, benefits, training, taxes, office space and equipment, and potential future costs, like workers' compensation.

But if you're like many SMB owners, when you hire technology, you tend to focus on the upfront costs, and pay less attention to costs you'll incur over the technology's lifetime. These costs should not be an afterthought. They significantly impact the technology's ROI.

When researching technology -- especially major applications and systems -- learn about upfront, continuing, and future costs, such as product updates, renewals, additional licenses, maintenance, and ongoing training.

Buying technology isn't just a "what's right for the business now?" decision. It's a "what's right for the business now and in the future?" decision. Choose a technology that will scale to your changing business needs and budget requirements, or you'll soon find yourself back at the drawing board looking for a new solution.

Bonus tip: Dig deep and think about indirect costs -- where does the technology touch your business and how will it impact that area? Do not assume an increase in productivity. Get the facts.
3. Know when to transfer the technology to a new department. If you hire a person to do job X and later realize he is better suited to fill job Y, you might shift him into the new role to tap his skills and expertise in a way that makes more sense for the business. The same thinking can go for technology.

If a technology isn't living up to its original job description, re-think its capabilities and see if it might be better suited for another task, team, or department. Reassigning technology lets you fill other gaps within your company with less cost -- and time -- investment than buying a new solution.

So there you have it folks, lots of recommendations to help get you on the right track to buying and implementing technology in your SMB. Hope you find these useful. Feel free to let me know what you think and how you're doing with your new tech rollouts. And don't forget to share your tips here!