Finding The Right IT Solution

A decade into the 21st century, information technology is a critical business resource.

How do you begin to know what the best technology decisions will be for your organization? Which choices will create the most value for your business as well as your customers? Traditionally, technology has been viewed as an unavoidable expense necessary to operate the administrative side of our businesses, nothing more than a data collector that spits out reports in the form of invoices and financial statements. The evolution of technology and its wide availability have allowed a shift to occur. Organizations are now changing their approach when looking to implement a new process that includes technology.

Define a Goal
The first step to evaluating any new technology for your organization is, to quote Stephen R. Covey, “Begin with the end in mind.” Take the specifics of the servers, networks and computers out of the equation and define the strategic business objectives you want to accomplish. Be specific. Your objectives can include anything from faster delivery of products or improved accounting efficiencies to increasing sales by 30 percent.

IT objectives range from faster delivery of products to improved accounting efficiencies or increasing sales by 30 percent.

Find a “White Knight”
Once you have defined your strategic business objectives, you need to identify and involve a technology white knight within your business. It may not be your in-house IT person, and it definitely is not the gadget person in the building. Depending on the initiative, there may be multiple white knights or you might choose a different one for each new technology venture. For example, a new system to streamline accounts payable should include someone in the accounts payable department who has a stake in the results. Conversely, a new warehouse RF implementation would include in the project team a warehouse person who will be using the technology on a regular basis. The technology white knight is someone who is not looking to implement gadgets just for the sake of having the latest and greatest but instead has an open mind to technology and how it can be exploited to realize your previously defined business objectives. This person will understand the daily operation of the process to be affected by the technological changes you are making and will understand the new direction you are taking for that process. They will take ownership of the day-to-day operation of any newly implemented technology solutions. Ideal white knights are not afraid of change or of enforcing the correct usage of the technology selected.

Partner Up
The next thing to do is to interview and commission a technology partner who has the business competency to understand your strategic business objectives. If you have an in-house IT person who also has a strong understanding of business, now would be the time to include him or her. Otherwise, you should seriously consider hiring a consultant or a chief information officer from a temporary agency on a project basis. Some hiring guidelines would be to find someone with experience managing and implementing network and software solutions. Your technology partner should not necessarily be trying to sell you a particular solution at the time of interview, but rather someone who looks at your specific business and does the research to find the best fit for you and your employees. Tell this person exactly what you are trying to accomplish. It will be their job to help you translate your business objectives and to manage the system administrators and software engineers that can create your technology infrastructure. The technology partner can speak at a technical level with these same engineers to evaluate their quotes and system assessments and make recommendations to you. This methodology allows you to have a neutral third party that can understand what you are being quoted and make recommendations, reducing unnecessary purchases and promoting the most useful and valuable solutions.

The Final Step
The last step, but maybe the most important, is to be open-minded. There are some great solutions out there that are almost free to you for the impact they deliver. One obvious but often overlooked example is a website. Hire a professional website designer to create your Internet presence and make your site interesting. Working with an inexperienced amateur will be a red flag for a prospect browsing for an innovative and professional organization to work with. You have less than 30 seconds to capture the attention of your audience. A professional website with content that changes and keeps them coming back will pay for itself. Other solutions include the Business Solutions link on Google has a variety of great tools to help you move up in the search engines. One of these is Google Places. It is a low-maintenance and inexpensive option to help market your company and your website. Another option that requires more of a commitment on the part of a marketing person is a LinkedIn Group connected to Twitter. LinkedIn is not a social networking site for kids. It is a professional networking site that can be used to market your organization and keep your organization in front of your customers. Updates and posts can be made on LinkedIn that, when connected to Twitter, will be sent automatically to the members of your group.

The number of choices available to meet the technology needs of a business can be overwhelming. However, the only choice a business does not have is to ignore technology. Taking the time to define your objectives and goals, identifying key players within your organization, finding a technology consultant and keeping an open mind regarding possible solutions will make the job far more approachable. Before you know it, you will look back at everything you have accomplished and learned and recognize all of the benefits your organization has experienced.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association
Tina Estes Meet the Author
Tina Estes, a member of GAWDA’s Management Information Committee, is manager of information systems for the Independent Welding Distributors Cooperative located in Indianapolis, Indiana, and on the Web at