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Technology Planning For Small- And Medium-Sized Businesses

Jagjit Jain

In my previous article, I discussed the changing landscape of technology options for small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs).  As any small business owner will attest, especially one who was running an organization two decades ago, the choices for information systems designed specifically for your needs have increased tremendously.  This has occurred while technology costs have gone down.

We talked about the need for using technology to not just gain competitive advantage, but to keep up with your competitors.  I discussed the ways an SMB operator can think about the choices available to them and go through the exercise of technology planning.  In this article, I will get into more details though there is more to it than I can describe here.

Your efforts to meet newly set goals for your business through technology must start and continue with the business goals in mind.  This is not because I expect you to spend money on technology for the sake of technology.  It’s because a constant focus on business drivers throughout the entire planning process is essential when critical choices have to be made.

With company goals in mind, you should assess how you conduct business today.  This means your project team, led by your project manager, goes through the processes, tasks, and actions required to do their work.  The idea here is to dig into the details so that you can uncover bottlenecks and inefficient ways.  You will know the main problem areas in your office, of course, but this allows you to really identify the root cause.  It is important that you ask the right questions.  Sometimes an outside consultant is better equipped to uncover issues that have likely become second nature to you and your colleagues.  With processes that touch many functional areas and people, you may be surprised at what you come across.

Team members also focus on data, whether in the form of disparate pieces of information or complete documents.  There are multiple ways you have information coming into your business.  Is it centralized in some manner to make it easier for all departments to access it?  Does each department spend time to recollect information that is already available in another department?  Is staff able to easily access information when they need it to service client calls?  Do you have miscommunications or process leaks where information is lost and has to be searched for?  How often does the same issue occur?

Once you have determined how you conduct business today, what processes take place, what technologies are used by whom, and you have accumulated a list of improvement areas, you can start thinking conceptually of how to fix the problem.  Sometimes it is process improvement that is required.  Other times, it is the use of information systems to better conduct your business.  Many times it is both.  If you do not have large problem areas, you can improve your business’ bottom line by bringing in technologies that allow you to do more with less.  If your staff is spending a few hours a week on inefficient processes, you are losing dollars that really add up after a few months.  Those same dollars can be reallocated.  

This may mean you are inviting other problem areas or expenses.  But at this point in time you can ask yourself two important questions:  “How long will it take to recover my investment in hardware and software?”  Depending on what you decided to do and the size of your investments, your return can be within a few months to two or three years.  You can calculate your costs and determine what that is.  Is it reasonable enough for you to proceed?

The second question to ask is:  “Am I doing more at a lower cost per unit?”  If the answer to that is a positive and you are scaling your business, you are in a good position to continue with your technology projects.

During the process of identifying your current way of doing business, it is important to have all key stakeholders participate.  You project team needs to be carefully chosen to address all areas of your business.  The project manager must be knowledgeable about processes, people, clients, and future plans.  You should not only include the people who are doing the work now, but also keep management in the loop.  The doers in your organization have the insights but also are the ones who will need to use new systems.  So it’s important to not only understand what will make their life easier, but also to get their buy-in for new systems.

In my next article, I will delve into understanding the technology tools you use now.  The effort to identify how you do business now will help fill in the gap to new tools that you require.

As a SMB owner, determining ways to fix problem areas and improve your business productivity is not easy but it does not have to be overwhelmingly complex either.  A structured approach, with appropriate outside consultant expertise, will allow you to meet your objectives.

(Jagjit Jain has 10 years experience as a technology consultant and project manager implementing web applications and packaged software. He started Jain Technologies to provide information technology and business consulting services to small- and medium-sized businesses. Jagjit can be reached at jjain@jaintechnologies.com. )

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