How to know what's best for your business


Date: 30 November 2011

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People who run businesses are always on the lookout for what is best for their company. And when people in business ask for help with technology, they get a number of equally firm but often contradictory answers.

At best this is confusing. At worst it can harm a business. As a business owner, what can you do about this?

Why the confusion?

Let's start with why it happens. People who work with technology become very invested in that technology. It's not just a financial investment - it's also the huge about of time and energy they spend learning about and staying current with a way of working and thinking.

This breeds the kind of deep seated loyalty that is normally associated with fans. In fact, your typical computer worker is not that different from a football fan. When you ask ‘what is best for my business?' the answer is often skewed by that inherent devotion.

You also have to deal with conservatism. Everyone working with technology knows that if they make a mistake with their advice then the financial cost to a business could be significant. Computer hardware and business software alters and adjusts how people work. Get the answer wrong and you could lose a company a fortune in man hours.

The result is a set of standard answers that you'd never get fired for giving. The most common one is Microsoft Office. It is widely accepted as being the best and most standard piece of office software. The only choice, in other words.

However I typed this article on a small laptop away from the office, using Google Docs. I find the simpler display of Google Docs useful and since the article was stored online, in the cloud, it was easy for me to return to it once I was back in the office.

That's just one example. When you get into the various arguments for and against, PC, Mac, iPhone, Android, Linux, Windows and the rest then the situation becomes almost impossible to sort out.

The key technology questions

Fortunately there is a way to solve this problem. Instead of getting brow beaten by conventional answers, ask some pertinent business questions. Get the answers to these and you'll be able to shortlist your options:

1. How much does it cost?

Can you afford what you are being offered? That means not just now, but months or years down the line when you need to expand or replace equipment. If the answer is no then you need to think about other choices. (Think about your IT budget.)

2. Does it suit how you work?

Try this thought experiment: will your new IT work well with the different ways you want yourself and your staff to work? Can you foresee any way it might not be able to work, or any scenarios where it could add extra time to your working practices?

3. Is it expandable and reliable?

This is an easy one. If the reliability isn't demonstrable, don't do it. And if the proposed technology can't scale beyond your current needs, be wary. Switching to an alternative when you outgrow it can be very expensive.

4. Is it easy to use?

How long does it take to train someone to use it? Training time costs money, and so do mistakes when something is hard to use. If there's a choice between ‘easy' and ‘hard', always look for easy.

Notice anything interesting about this list? It does not talk about specifications or features. There are good reasons for this. Features are driven by business need. Your business needs determine what you require - there is no magic feature set that works equally well for everyone.

This is also true of specifications. Technology is now pretty mature. This means that buying by specification is less important. Again, needs must drive your decisions – don't let a cool and glittering list of specs deflect your decision making.

Finally, what is best is what provides your business the best combination of price, reliability and flexibility. That probably isn't the cool tech of the moment. Remember that a moment is not forever - but your business is.

Rob Davies is from internet specialists Kashiko.

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