4 Rules for Making Smart Technology Decisions

By Mark Swanson

This is Part 3 of 3 in a series about Betting Your Business on the Cloud, How to make a make-or-break decision for your business, and 4 Rules for Making Smart Technology Decisions

So how exactly did I know to bet my career and force that company onto that new Microsoft Exchange/Outlook technology?  Over the last two decades, I have developed four basic rules that I follow when I look at make-or-break technology decisions.  Stick to these rules and you will know when to move.

Rule #1: Does it solve a real problem?

It sounds simple, but a lot of business professionals miss this one. They get enthralled with cool technologies and not ones that solve real problems or have an actual business impact.   I see many technology managers discover a new piece of technology and then look for a problem that it solves.  As an example: we once spent $25,000 on tablet computers just so our sales staff could get “electronic signatures”.  No one used it.  Most customers actually insisted on paper, the technology was cumbersome and it actually hindered sales as the team found it simpler to get ink on paper to close deals.  The tablet computers just became expensive notebook computers, and the initiative was a big failure.

Rule #2: Is it intuitive that the new technology saves time or money (or both)?

Technologies that are “make or break” are obvious in analysis; take the Personal Computer as an example.  I remember the first time I tried a PC: I used a word processing program.  No more Whiteout.  The world’s worst speller became the world’s best.  I could save multiple copies.  No more note cards.  I never used a typewriter again.  It was intuitively obvious.  If you are not as old as I am, do you remember the first time you used Google?  I do, and up until that point I had been a Yahoo! user.  The first time I tried searching on Google, it was immediately apparent to me that it was different and faster.  It saved me time.

Rule #3: Is it a technology that allows me to focus on more important things? 

Does this new technology allow you to spend significantly less time on the “chores” in your business and more time on what is “core”, making your company more valuable?  This is not as simple as going through a checklist of items and marking them as “core” or “chore” – it takes a deeper analysis.  Some things at face value look like chores, when they could very easily fall under the “core” category.  A great example of this is when, during Telovations’ inception in 2006, we launched our hosted business phone system.  Most competitors offered the service over the Public Internet, and deemed “network” as not being very core.  However, we decided that we were going to build our own network and make it part of our offering.  Because quality and privacy were core to our business model, we chose technologies that provide the control we need to guarantee high levels of quality and reliability.  Many of our peers in the telecom industry initially thought of this as a chore, almost as if we were unnecessarily re-inventing the wheel, but we saw it differently, and it has turned out to be big differentiators for success.

Rule #4: Is it the right time?

Timing is everything.    In my experience, getting out in front of trends and finding your niche is really the only way to effectively succeed as a startup. You’re competing against all kinds of big, well-known brands, and identifying trends early enough before the big guys, yet late enough for them to be implementable is key to making that decision.  A good example is the hand held computer.  Apple actually created a hand held computer in 1993 called the Newton.  It was a spectacular failure.  The problem was that it was not useable – it was too big, too pricey, and its much-touted handwriting recognition did not work.   Yet a mere three years later, technology had advanced enough and the smaller, thinner, and much better functioning Palm PDA was a runaway success starting the mobile revolution.  Why?

In 1991, Geoffrey Moore wrote an excellent book titled “Crossing the Chasm.” He talked about the technology adoption life cycle and pointed out that those innovative technologies still in their infancy are not technologies businesses should deploy. He stressed that only when those technologies have matured enough to “cross the chasm” into the early adopter phase—where enough folks have shaken out the bugs—should you take a closer jump. Asking yourself whether this technology has proven to work at some scale is key to making this decision.

I believe adopting cloud technologies for all but your core systems is an imperative for most businesses.  They solve the problem of the endless technology lifecycle upgrade problem, and makes your business – to me – much more agile. The cloud saves time, capital, and allows your staff to focus on the core tasks that need to be done instead of worrying about things like email or communications.  Lastly, it is the right time.  The early adopters have shaken out the bugs and cloud technologies have been deployed in hundreds of thousands of organizations of all sizes.  Now is the time to bet your business on the latest technology wave!

How the Cloud is Affecting Business and (Could Be) Saving You Money

The last time your server went down, your office lost power, or your phone system went down, how long did it take to recover?  Were your employees able to continue talking with clients seamlessly?  Or did the shortage cost you thousands of dollars and hundreds of man-hours?

As Marc said in his recent blog post, traditionally (Cloud services) have been considered as just a replacement to a traditional phone system in the back closet.  He doesn’t disagree, but his statement is important in this case because what if the Cloud really is just a replacement to your current back office closet solution?  Wouldn’t that mean you could prevent your server from going down, your office from losing power, or your phone system from cutting out?  Even if you couldn’t prevent these things from happening in the first place, wouldn’t you at least be able to be prepared with a backup plan to ensure your business continued to function smoothly and efficiently with no interruptions?

The amount of time lost by not preventing PC and server outages is staggering.  In the past 2 years, 49% of businesses reported data loss.  The longer your business struggles to overcome small glitches like downed power lines, or major disasters like hurricanes or blizzards, the more your corporate survival is at risk:

I’m not only talking about outside forces or software and hardware failure or destruction, but user and human error too – data corruption, viruses, hackers…all of these things not only make you rethink how secure your back closet system is, but they can cause your business to slam on its brakes for minutes, hours or even days.

To make matters worse, if you have multiple locations, they probably all rely on your corporate headquarters with one main server, so if that server goes down, every location goes down.  It’s detrimental to your business when no one can access shared files on the network drives, when sales can’t take payments, when purchasing can’t contact suppliers, and when customer service can’t access account info and contact clients.  How much time and money does that cost you?

Cloud computing stats you didn’t know

As I learn more about our industry and how things we use everyday integrate seamlessly in the Cloud, I’m finding more and more interesting statistics relating to exactly what we do with data over here.  The old days have been replaced with data mining, data storage, data exchanging, data…everything.

Did you know?

Are you prepared? #BusinessContinuity #DisasterRecovery

And finally – didn’t you ever wonder what happens in the tech world every 60 seconds?

How to make a make-or-break decision for your business

This is Part 2 of 3 in a series about Betting Your Business on the Cloud, How to make a make-or-break decision for your business, and 4 Rules for Making Smart Technology Decisions

By Mark Swanson

Back in 1997, I had a big technology purchasing decision to make which could make or break my career.  As the newly appointed CTO for a very fast growing Internet startup, it was my first big initiative.

In 1997, most people had used email for only a couple of years.  Up until that time, organizations allowed employees to use any email client they wanted to.  We had employees on systems most have never heard of:  Eudora, Netscape Navigator, Da Vinci, and Pine…among others.  Employees got used to their way of doing things and were enjoying using this revolutionary new communication tool.

A couple months prior, I attended a seminar on Microsoft’s new email management system called Microsoft Exchange/Microsoft Outlook.  I brought back the demo disk and installed it – I was enamored. While Outlook offered a solid environment to manage email, it was the integration and collaboration capabilities of Exchange that caught my attention: I could easily click a link and open a browser, easily find and attach documents, track email threads, send group meeting invites, see other people’s calendars, and assign tasks!

Implementing the Unknown

Still, I had my doubts – no one was using it except my small staff, and no one wanted to use it because it meant changing from their known and safe environment.  Plus, as with many new Microsoft products, it was still buggy and slow.  However, just using it with my assistant and small staff for a couple weeks convinced me of its advantages: the collaboration environment provided better communications, saved time, and gave me information to make better decisions.  I spent about a week using and learning it and made my decision.

Email had stopped evolving as a communication tool and was becoming a collaboration environment.  This was the future.  When I pitched standardizing on the platform to the rest of the company, however, all I got was pushback and complaints.  This was “not a priority”.  It was too hard, too much, and not needed.

However, after a month of evangelizing and planning, implementing the system with some key staff members, followed by another month of my supporting my staff running showing people how to use the new capabilities, my boss, the CEO, called me into his office.  The verdict: “I really like this new email system.  Good job!”

Three years later, the company grew from a $10mm start-up to a $300mm global company and I am convinced we would not have done that without implementing this system… it literally made the business.

Now that you’re in the Cloud, what’s it like up here?

So now that you know what the Cloud is, what is it really made up of?  What’s around you?

Let’s first back up and ask something different: How does the Internet work?  How do you access things on the Internet?  What’s the Internet made of?

That answer is easy, right?  You type any Web address into the address bar of a browser, such as www.Telovations.com into IE or Firefox.  The URL corresponds to an IP address and the IP address is just like a street address – that address is a code that takes you where you want to go.

The browser points you to a server – a computer without a monitor, somewhere else – where data is stored.  The server talks to your browser a bit, exchanges some information, and you are connected to the Internet.

The cloud is the same thing, except once you access the Internet you can access all of your personal applications, files, etc.  There is also software, applications, bandwidth requirements, and security features that make up the Cloud, and everything is integrated so you don’t miss a beat.

So…now that you really know what the Cloud is, what is it made of?  In simple terms:

  1. The data center: the big server (the computer without a monitor – somewhere else) that holds the applications you run, the software you use, and files you store.
  2. The telecommunications infrastructure of the Internet itself
  3. The device you’re using to access the server via the Internet (laptop, PC, tablet, cell phone, etc.)

And we’re not the only ones using it.  If you can always access your email, documents, music – anything on Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Salesforce – any time from any device, why shouldn’t you be able to do the same with your phone calls and voicemails and text messages?

Betting Your Business on the Cloud

This is Part 1 of 3 in a series about Betting Your Business on the Cloud, How to make a make-or-break decision for your business, and 4 Rules for Making Smart Technology Decisions

By Mark Swanson

If you are a senior member of a management team, most likely you have had to make a technology investment decision.  It might have been as small as buying a notebook computer or as big as implementing a new Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system.  Whether formal or informal, each of these decisions required an analysis that involved calculating some type of ROI.

However, sometimes you must make a decision where calculating the return is more ambiguous.  Every ten years or so, a whole new category of technology emerges that requires an organization to completely re-tool.  In the last 30 years, technologies like the PC, the LAN and the Internet come to mind.  Yet many times, new technologies that at first look like great ideas end up as fads that are only adopted by geeks (think wearable computers) and go by the wayside.  Other times, a technology is slow to emerge but once it catches on, completely changes the business landscape (think personal computers).  Catch the wrong wave and you end up floundering. Miss the big waves and you could end up out of business – think Blockbuster missing out on the on online movie business to NetFlix.

While I am biased, I think the Cloud is a technology decision that represents a technology shift that business must bet on.   It is a type of technology that comes along once in a generation and missing it is akin to missing the transition to telephones or to email.  If you don’t do it, it could literally put you out of business.

I believe adopting cloud technologies for all but your core systems is an imperative for most businesses.  They solve the problem of the endless technology lifecycle upgrade problem, and makes your business – to me – much more agile. The cloud saves time, capital, and allows your staff to focus on the core tasks that need to be done instead of worrying about things like email or communications.

Having founded five multi-million dollar technology companies the last twenty years, I have had to make numerous “Make or Break” technology decisions.  Thankfully, most of them have been the right ones and I think I have developed a knack for knowing when to bet the business on new emerging technologies.

Who said you have to text and drive?

By Marc Tribbe

This is Part 3 of 3 in a series about What is Hosted Voice? Part I, Hosted Voice: Part II, and Who said you have to text and drive?

The Tampa Tribune just posted this article yesterday on the new bill Tallahassee is considering once again – the bill that would bar drivers from texting while they drive.  This conveniently falls inline with my post this morning, about how you don’t have to text and drive anymore – even if it becomes against the law.

The most frequent question I get is, “Do you think the phone on your desk will become irrelevant some day?”  I typically have a few different answers for this, but the short answer is: it already is.  People communicate more by actually talking less.

Think back to when you used to ‘ground’ your kids from talking on the phone…they would flip out.  Try doing that today and they’ll laugh at you.  They just walk into the other room and text via their mobile phone or IM via their computer, their laptop, their iPad, iPod, Xbox, Wii…and now even the TV.  Businesses are no different, really.

So yes, desk phones are (and have been) irrelevant for some time, because we have all been using email, instant messaging, and text messaging…but now through Hosted / Unified Communications, we can put our business presence on any device we want, even our personal devices.  You, the user, can now choose what device you want to use, what presence you want to display (personal vs. business), and take that wherever you want to go.

I don’t disagree with most technical answers I read, but if I were asked the difference between the these definitions (as stated in my previous post) and Telovations’ definition, I would explain that we take all the technical pieces in which they talk about – and simplify them for business to not only understand, but to also apply to their business needs and solutions.

Although features and services can be fun and creative, I don’t get caught up in the ‘wiz–bang’ features, but rather listen to our users and apply those features to their everyday lives.  It’s an ultimate solution for their business.  Let me give you some scenarios:

  • Can you imagine a world where you can see when people are on and off the phone…even if they’re not in the office?
  • It’s 5 o’clock, but you’re stuck on a call and late for an appointment.  Can you move the call from your desk to your mobile without disrupting the conversation?
  • How many times have you been driving and had to dial into your voicemail because your boss texted you telling you to “Check your voicemail now”?  Well now you’ve broken your own rule, the company’s rule, and even Oprah’s rule to “NOT text and drive.”  What do you do?  Can you receive an email notification that you have a new business voicemail, so you can listen to this message on your mobile phone?
  • You’re at home, your mobile phone dies, and you need to make a work call.  Can you turn your home phone into your business phone – to show your office line, your office number…your business presence?  Maybe that call is to an important client, a potential customer, or maybe it’s to your boss…who is on vacation and thinks you’re in the office?

Of course there are just examples, but the possibilities are endless….