Being in the technology business, I have a love-hate relationship with technology. The kid in me loves the new shiny stuff, but the realist in me has to have a cynical view when trying to find a real world application. Like most geeks, I own more defunct technology that we just don’t want to part with, but have no use for. And the stream of new stuff keeps coming out. Stuff like new Android phones, or Apple iPads to services like Twitter, Google Apps, or even services devised because of popular services like eSnipe, for last second eBay bidding, or Search Engine Optimization for improving your Google search ranking.
The harder part is making the new stuff become a real solution. In my experience, it takes about three months to even find out whether a new technology or solution is useful. That’s a quarter of a year hoping that the technology will pan out. Who has the time?
I’ve been doing advanced technology work for most of my career, and the endless stream of new, distracting technology is a challenge, but there are few rules that I have come up with that have helped filter through it all.
Rule 1: Technology has NO intrinsic value. It’s not like art that can give pleasure just by looking at it. Technology must have a purpose, or it’s just a heap of electronics. So, it may be cool for while, but it better give you a reason to spend time and money on it.
Rule 2: If you can buy it, it’s already obsolete. Remember, Apple is already working on iPad2, and Microsoft is already working on the next version of Windows. The one you get to buy, is the one they need to make money with, so they can keep development going on the next version. This is true with camcorders, PCs, cell phones, cars, you name it. The newer better technology is already in the labs making this one obsolete. This just means that the technology you choose better have a fast Return on Investment.
Rule 3: Beware, cost of entry is low, cost of exit is high. This is a fairly new rule since Google decided to give so much useful stuff away for free. A lot of parents learned this rule when they tried to get rid of AOL and found that all their kid’s friends were on AOL Instant Messenger. Try moving from free services like Facebook or Gmail to the next thing. Some unfortunate companies got burned when they used DriveSpace.com to store all their data, and lost it all when the company went bankrupt and turned off all their servers. Now, Google wants you to get rid of your internal servers and use Google Apps for email, contacts, calendars, files, and anything else you’d like to upload. Some large companies have jumped to Google Apps, but they have lots of resources to extricate themselves if they need to. Small companies do not.
Rule 4: Popular technology beats better technology. Why doesn’t Microsoft care about Apple Mac’s or Linux? Answer: They have the most popular technologies proven by their world-wide dominant market share. Even giving competing software away for free hasn’t changed the general trends. For example, sticking with Microsoft Office means you can find stuff that works with it, workforce trained to use it, and sharing documents with other companies is easier. If you don’t remember, WordPerfect was the defacto standard, but you’ll have a hard time finding someone who knows that. By the way, the reverse rule is that unpopular (yet better) technology dies. Would you rather have a Palm Pilot or an iPhone?
Rule 5: Staying current with technology is far cheaper than sticking with old technology to the bitter end. That’s because the technology that contains your data, client info, accounting, contacts, photos, music and movies, also traps it into “data jail.” You only have a short window of time to free it from one system to the next. If you pass that point, the conversion costs go much higher. Why? Because the talented people that support that old system, no longer exist (or are very hard to find).
Rule 6: Changing technology is easy; changing people is hard. It’s astounding that people look at the cost of a new system, and don’t factor in the cost for training, supplies and maintenance for someone to use it properly. If you’ve had a sixteen year old looking to drive a car, you normally try to enlighten them about the costs of gas, maintenance, insurance, tickets and accidents. If you don’t want to see your new technology purchases go to waste, it takes training people (drivers ed), supplying the right support (gas), fixing error (accidents), and constant up-keep (maintenance) to make technology changes effective. Normally, your company can only take one major system change every 12 to 18 months.
Rule 7: Like winning, Speed is the only thing. If the technology is not going to make you faster and easier for you to do your work, it quickly dies. But remember, faster is a relative thing. Once everyone has adopted the same technology, you have to find the next winning edge. Luckily for you, most companies have the same Rule 6 to contend with.
Rule 8: If you’re in business, you use technology as an extension of yourself. Don’t believe me? What would happen if you lose your emails, proposals, contracts, client data or the hard drive that keeps all those digital photos or music were to crash? They’re somewhere in your computer, phone or Internet service. If you value that stuff, maybe you’ll understand why someone would be wiling to pay over $5,000 to recover their hard drive data, or sue Sprint because they’re backup service lost some of their contacts. Did you know that 40 percent of all iPhone users sleep with it on their pillow?
Rule 9: Everyone has a nice paint job. You have to know how to differentiate. The only way to accomplish this is to know what you need faster or easier. For example, all accounting software performs basic accounting, but if you’re a service company, you better have a system that can make service tickets easily. Or if you do retail sales, the accounting system better do point-of-sale. Differentiation is about the 80 percent of your work you need technology to do for you.
Rule 10: Everything wears out. Nothing lasts forever. Seems obvious, but it’s shocking to me when clients are stunned that repairing something costs more than the purchase of the item. In the case of a PC, that’s usually because of Rule 8, the stuff inside the PC is more valuable than the PC itself. If you don’t constantly maintain your systems, like regular patching, optimizing, spyware scanning and backups, don’t be surprised when you have a whopper of a repair bill.
We help our clients move forward in their business using technology. We can’t make change painless, but by following some basic rules, we’ve been able to help people anticipate and maximize their technology solutions.