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How to Buy Technology
by Ray Strackbein

In this age of rapidly evolving technologies, we are constantly faced with decisions about what new technology to adopt.  Business owners ask questions like:

  • "Should I get DSL?"
  • "Should I buy a PDA, what software should I buy for it, and will it replace my laptop - can I use it to project my PowerPoint presentations?"
  • "How can I decide which program to buy to track prospects?"
  • "What technology can I use to video conference my office so I don't have to travel so much?"

Most business owners know how to evaluate their options using financial analysis methods.  Financial analysis is only one way to evaluate whether a technology makes sense for you.  I have been leading businesses through the process of analyzing technology for over 30 years. Even though specific technologies have changed, my method of recommending a specific technology for business has stood the test of time. Here is one part of my process that will help you decide whether a specific technology is right for you.

Ray's Three Category Approach to
Choosing Technology

Choosing the right technology is easy when you use a strategy to make your decision. To make your technology decisions easier, pigeonhole that technology into one of these three categories:

  • Reliable, available, and suitable for daily use
  • Ready to try
  • Not yet for me

Reliable, available, and suitable for daily use

Your business should depend only on reliable, available, and suitable for daily use technologies.  All technologies your business depends on should work without fail every time and you should have the expertise available to fix rapidly any problems that occur.

By default, most people put well-advertised technology in this category: reliable, available, and suitable for daily use. Manufacturers want you to believe that, otherwise you won't buy. Any technology has to earn its way - graduate, if you will - into the reliable, available, and suitable for daily use category.

To be considered reliable, available, and suitable for daily use, a technology must pass these three tests: 

  1. Are replacements and supplies available locally - perhaps even in K-mart, Wal-Mart, or Radio Shack?
  2. Are technical support people quickly available?  That is, will there be a technician available who has the experience, skill, and knowledge of your equipment to solve a problem? 
  3. Does the manufacturer have a 24-hour telephone help line, and can they actually instruct you how to solve a problem?

One other major decision must be made before a technology qualifies as reliable, available, and suitable for daily use. That decision is to support the technology in-house or to outsource it.

In-House or Out-Source?

When you consider a new technology, decide who is going to evaluate it, acquire it, and maintain it - you, an employee, or a vendor? An "out-source" decision is a decision to farm it out.  An "in-house" decision is a decision to take on all responsibility yourself. Of course "in-house" and "out-source" are the two extremes. Most technology decisions lie somewhere in the middle. An "in-house, out-source" analysis on each technology decision you make highlights the extremes of your decision. Analyzing those extremes helps you to determine if a particular technology is reliable, available, and suitable for daily use for you.

Whenever you plan to adopt a technology for your business, evaluate all of the associated costs and decide that it makes business sense to accept those costs. One of those costs is the cost of a disappointed customer should the technology fail.  Here is how to determine the actual cost of a technology.

    First, test all of the assumptions, promises, and things you might take for granted.  For example, a product may promise a 24-hour help line. Before you buy something you might rely on, phone the product's 800 help line at an awkward time.  Phone on Sunday at 5:00 a.m. Eastern Time, or perhaps midnight Pacific Time.  Learn what they mean by "24 hour service." Do they mean someone will phone you back in 24 hours, or that you actually can reach someone at any time?

    Ask colleagues who have tried technologies similar to the ones you are interested in. Try to find people who have abandoned the technology as well as those who have adopted it.

    Make sure you know all of the hidden costs: maintenance, supplies, monthly fees, transaction fees, associated fees, and early termination fees. 

Ready to try

"Ready to try" technologies are the technologies you are ready to experiment with. Is it reliable?  Is it compatible with you, your business, and your customer's expectations?  This is where you try out a technology without depending on it. When you try out a technology, you learn what can go wrong, what business resources the technology consumes, and whether you have the skill to either solve or work-around any problem.

Not yet for me

Not yet ready for me are the hot, new technologies you see advertised, but when you investigate further, you know you should wait.  You might investigate them using the Internet, in newspaper or in magazine articles, or by asking colleagues.  This step is critical.  New technologies are both expensive and unreliable.  You can't afford the time or money to try everything.  Know what to test and what to avoid.

Count both your eggs and your baskets

The way you manage the technology in your business should be compatible with your own personality.  You need to approach technology in a way that is right for you.  Have a comfortable way to track evolving technologies whether it is to do it yourself, to listen to the grapevine, or to hire a technology coach. Out-source when out-sourcing works.  Have a plan in case the technology fails. Determine what resources you will need to support the technology and what to do when you have a problem.  Have a fallback strategy.

Use this three-category approach to decide when to have your business play with a technology and then when or whether to make it part of your business day-to-day operations.  Determine whether the technology is:

  • Reliable, available, and suitable for daily use
  • Ready to try
  • Not yet for me

These three categories work for any technology.

There are many reasons a technology might not be ready for you right now. Emerging technologies are unreliable.  Try to discover what is likely to go wrong, what parts and support are available when something does go wrong, and how you will work around failures.  If you are comfortable with the answers, try it.  When it has proven itself and when you have confidence in your ability to cope with failures, make it operational.

Some technologies are just too hot to ignore.  Those technologies are additional ones to explore and to play with. Very soon, you will discover some of the problems; you will learn what questions to ask of anyone who advocates that technology. You are becoming literate in that technology.

You can't adopt or even try every new technology.  Make a list of the new technologies that interest you and then prioritize that list.  Do you like being up-to-date and taking risks, or do you seek the tried-and-true?

    Technology is like new jokes, stories, and examples. Try them out in small, safe situations before you allow those new technologies to share your spotlight.

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copyright (c) RayStrackbein.

Permission is granted to reprint this article in your newsletter or magazine as long as the
following information is included:

 Ray Strackbein is a speaker and author.
To find out more about his programs and services,
 or call 703-262-0361.


Ray and Sally Strackbein
PO Box 710540
Herndon, VA  20171

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