Information technology is so pervasive in our day-to-day life it is banal to point out that IT is essential for business. Even the dental office where my wife works requires 11 PCs, two laser printers, and one multifunction device to support one practitioner, one oral hygienist, and one part-time IT guy.
It is this pervasiveness that clouds why we deploy technology in the first place…to be more productive. Instead, we tend to think of our computer with the same mindset as we do our electricity. It's good if it's working. It's bad if it's not.
Unfortunately, the “IT utility” mindset can cause business managers to make some extremely shortsighted decisions about technology and technology expenditures.
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In challenging fiscal times, information technology is a great place to look to improve the bottom line…but not in the way you think. If you are interested in creating a healthier closely held business, here are a few things to consider.
1. Think about how technology can save you money, not how to save money on technology.
It is a common practice when a business gets into cost-cutting mode to slash the IT budget, both in capital expenditures (hardware/software) and operations expenditures (personnel). Most often, the budgeted cap-ex is not capital improvements or expanded capabilities but simply scheduled lifecycle replacement of existing equipment. Cutting these budget items is like trying to save money on your car by eliminating oil changes. Whatever you save in the short term you will pay for twice or three times over in higher support costs and lost productivity. A better approach is to understand how inadequate or poorly aligned technology is costing your company productivity.
For example, a regional health care provider studied how much time was lost by physicians screen-scrolling as they reviewed electronic medical records. It was determined that by upgrading their displays from 19” to 24,” each physician could treat two additional patients per day. Beyond the simple dollars and cents of a more efficient clinical staff, the changes also enhanced both the work experience of the physicians (I mean…who wants to spend all day clicking and searching for things?) and the patient experience (except for those that like spending extra time in the exam room.)
2. Focus on business, not busy-ness.
“Being busy does not always mean real work.” — Thomas Edison
I had a recent discussion with an IT manager about choosing the right devices for each business user per the special requirements of their role. It was clear that we had opposing views on the role of IT staff when she blurted, “We just don't have the time to be running around asking our people what they need to do their job better.”
The “exasperated IT guy” is a fairly common character in the business community. Unfortunately, what many IT professionals fail to realize is that being busy does not mean they are being productive. A high percentage of IT effort (and budgets) is spent just maintaining what exists today.
Technologists and business leaders need to understand that maintenance is not investment, and that to achieve true business value, technology must evolve the way business is currently done, improve workflow and provide an enhanced customer experience.
3. Focus on the human need, not the technology.
“I never perfected an invention that I did not think about in terms of the service it might give others ... I find out what the world needs, then I proceed to invent.” — Thomas Edison
Many family business leaders and technologists tend to have a “techno-centric” view when it comes to innovation in their business. Their first impulse is to look at new technology and ask, “I wonder how I can use this.” rather than examining specific areas of their business and asking, “I wonder how I can improve this.” True innovation and the creation of distinct value derives from identifying the desired outcome and then applying technology appropriately to achieve the desired result. In the end, it is not technology that will define the way we work, but the way we want to work that will create the necessary technology.
Kerry Marti is vice president of product services at PDS Inc., a technology provider based in Oconomowoc.