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!

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