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.


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