No doubt, your information technology infrastructure is a significant portion of your annual budget. But do you really know whether you’re getting the best value for your money? Unfortunately, many business owners are forced to make technology choices based on technical specs (gigabytes, RAM, hard drive RPM, processor speed…) rather than a clear assessment of costs and benefits.
That is not how it should be! Technology investments are business decisions, just like any other expenditure. You should always know the return on investment before you make a purchasing decision.
The real question is, how can you get your tech to help you make this translation? Believe it or not, you can walk even the geekiest tech through a series of questions to convert all that technobabble into clear business benefits.
What Kind of Benefit Will This Bring?
First, ask how this investment will benefit the business. Most often, benefits fall into one or more of these three categories: reduced risk, increased productivity, and more consistent quality.
When it comes to risk, you might see reduced risk of downtime and outages. It might be better security to reduce the risk of lost data, viruses, hacks, etc. Or it could be putting measures into place to ensure regulatory compliance will not be a problem.
Productivity ties right into reduced downtime: the fewer outages, the less your staff are disrupted from working. Small changes, like faster computers, can easily reclaim a full week of time – or more – per person, per year. Automating manual processes sometimes eliminates jobs, but in a growing business you undoubtedly have more work that needs to be done.
Technology can also improve consistency, because automated processes and workflows dictate steps that need to be followed every time certain activities are done. Automation should improve accuracy.
How Will This Impact the Day-to-Day?
This is a great question because it forces the tech to think about what results you will see when the new technology is in place. Sometimes the changes are largely behind the scenes, when you do infrastructure upgrades and ramp up security measures. Even there, you will generally see improved speed and reduced downtime. If there is no impact whatsoever, there is no reason to do the upgrade. If your tech can’t think of anything, he’s probably overlooking the drivers behind the project.
What If I Don’t Do This?
Ask your tech what happens if you postpone this project indefinitely. Will something bad happen? Is there a downside or a risk? Are there other projects dependent on this one? The answer to this question will help you understand how this project fits into your overall IT strategy. Unfortunately the projects with the most obvious benefits are often dependent on more technical projects required to update your infrastructure.
What Might Go Wrong or Change the Expected Results?
What is most likely to go wrong or cause delays? Will these issues materially impact the overall outcome? This line of questioning is critical given how often technology projects run over budget or take longer than scheduled. Find out the biggest risks that could interfere with successful completion. Talk through how these risks can be managed. Perhaps you simply need to build in some contingency time and money. If there is a likelihood that the project could completely fail, explore your options. Unless the benefits are significant or the costs are extremely minimal, there is little reason to take on a high-risk project.
What Other Options Are There?
If you don’t move forward with this plan, what are the alternatives? How do they compare to the recommended solution? If your tech is thinking like a tech rather than a business person, he might be shopping on cost and technology, which could lead him to miss other options that better fit the business needs.
What Other Costs Are Involved?
Technology projects are known for running over schedule and budget. You should always plan in contingency for both. You should also grill your tech for additional costs. He will probably present a best-case scenario, and that almost never happens. What delays might hit? What surprises might pop up? And what other hidden costs will arise? For example, if you roll out a new system, your staff will require training and transition time. Data will need to be entered. If servers are being taken down over a weekend and something goes wrong, your team might not be able to get to work first thing Monday morning. How much of your tech’s time will be required? How much of yours? Techs tend to price out the tangibles – hardware and software – but your time and your team’s are also impacted.
Coaching Your Tech
Once you go through this process a few times, your tech may get the hang of it. The key is for your tech to realize that technology is a means to an end – better business results – not an end in itself. Walk him through these questions and explain why you need this information. Encourage him to prepare this data in advance of any discussions on technical upgrades. Over time, consistent coaching will make your tech much stronger. He will better understand how business decisions are made, with the big picture in mind. At the same time, you will grow more confident that you are making the right technology decisions for your company. Imagine the positive impact this will have on your business!