Business Technology Overload: What's Necessary This Year, and What Isn't?

Three business owners share the business technology they find essential to growing a successful business, versus that which is more trouble than it's worth.
January 17, 2017

It's a new year, and if you're like most owners, you want to use it as an opportunity to level up your company. Employing new business technology is one way to help your enterprise and your employees be as efficient and productive as possible.

But technology for technology's sake could hurt. We are so inundated with new solutions that it's difficult to assess what's truly important. I discussed this issue with Amber Anderson, CEO of organizational advisory firm Kayson in Phoenix; Rebecca Devaney, CEO of Hunter Creative Labs, a pro-social product development lab in Boston; and Thomas Smale, co-founder of online business brokerage FE International in London.

What business technology do you need to run a successful company?

Amber Anderson: It totally depends on the business. Every business is different, and the technology that you need to run YOUR business successfully depends on a variety of factors including what your business does, your team's capacity, your budget and your goals. 

But for the most part, you'll find all businesses nowadays should be using email, cloud storage, and a well-designed, easy-to-navigate, mobile-friendly and -functional website. Also, you need a list and email marketing tool, as well as a bookkeeping [and] accounting system.

Rebecca Devaney: In addition to the obvious needs such as computers and hardware, there should be software systems in place to address casual project conversations, such as Slack, and project management systems, such as Project, Wrike, Basecamp or Zoho Projects. 

The first thing to consider is the business case! Before you implement any form of technology, make sure you know why.

—Amber Anderson, CEO, Kayson

The PM software you choose depends on a few things, including time-tracking and task dependencies. In addition, you will need bookkeeping software, such as Botkeeper or Quickbooks, and then a shared file service such as Dropbox or Google Drive. No document should ever live on a staff member's desk.

Thomas Smale: A good portable laptop and smartphone are essential to keeping up on the go. I always carry a portable charger to ensure that I don't have battery issues. 

Tell me about a business technology you've employed for your business that hasn't been worth the time, money and energy. 

Smale: We tried to make everyone have a smartphone, tablet, laptop and desktop PC. We found that some people preferred using two or three devices and almost no one used all of them. 

Individually, each can be incredibly useful, but when you have them all, the benefits are mitigated. If your people work in an office with permanent desks, get them PCs with dual monitors and a smartphone. That's really all that most will need.

Devaney: Several years ago, we built a 16 terabyte, fiber-optic storage system to produce and share videos. It was great, except that there were about three people in the world who could fix the system. It broke all the time, and we couldn't upgrade our computers or add any new software to it. It would have been better to pass hard drives around old school!

Anderson: In the beginning stages of my business, we implemented a customer relationship management (CRM) system. The system was complicated and expensive, and we weren't ready. We didn't have the team in place to manage it, nor the processes to make it useful. CRMs and other automated systems are amazing, but only when implemented at the right time and the right place.

What should owners consider before implementing new business technology?

Devaney: Similar to the Maslow Hierarchy of Needs in psychology, there is a hierarchy of needs in any organization: Does this technology actually solve a problem you currently have? Will this technology make the company more successful, assessed on the short-term and long-term? What will be the cost in terms of resources—people, time and money—that this technology will entail? What's the reality of the technology being adopted, and what will be the learning curve for existing staff? What is the maintenance cost of the technology, and is it worth it?

Smale: The major question is will people use it? There's no point rolling something out if your team will not embrace it fully and use it in their day-to-day work. Put together a proper plan and process so your team understands how to use it. 

Avoid the temptation to constantly change technology to keep up with new releases. It's expensive and disruptive, and it doesn't necessarily improve productivity.

Anderson: The first thing to consider is the business case! Before you implement any form of technology, make sure you know why. Are you automating an existing process? Expanding your reach? Finding better ways to communicate or service your customers? You need to be crystal clear on purpose before you add to your tech portfolio.

What are the risks of business technology overload?

Anderson: There is no such thing as free technology. Implementations require time for installations or configurations, and to adjust to the learning curve. Adding too much, too soon, can severely impact your productivity. And slowing down your productivity directly affects your bottom line.

Smale: Business technology used correctly helps streamline and improve efficiency in a number of small-business processes. That said, it can go too far. Having too many systems and tools adds unnecessary complexity and cost. Consider focusing on technologies that deal with your core processes, and try to use a product that does more than one thing well.

Devaney: Technology should enhance the human experience, not replace it. If too much time is spent on technology, employees are confused and disconnected. 

It's also easy to get excited about shiny new things, but as someone who has spent the last 15 years in technology, I'm a fan of time-tested, assimilated and standard software products that play together nicely. Keep it as simple as possible!

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