by Chris Enstrom

Finding the right technology solution for your SME

Jan 19, 2016
IT GovernanceIT LeadershipSmall and Medium Business

How to make sure you’re investing in the right technology solution before you buy.

2016 software predictions
Credit: Thinkstock

So you’ve made a decision to implement some new technology that will help your business. You’ve realized that you can no longer continue with the same old way of doing things; it’s time to move to the next level. Great! What’s next?

SMEs often don’t know what they don’t know when it comes to IT. In most cases, they are great at their core business and are usually successful in delivering superior products and services to their customers. But when it comes to making technology choices, anxiety and frustration arise. I have heard similar frustration and questions in conversations many times: ‘How do I decide the best path forward?’ or ‘How do I know the best solution for my business?’

To make effective technology decisions requires a shift in perspective. Rather than seeing technology as a necessity, start looking at it as an investment with intended benefits. Understand the pros and cons of the IT investment decision and start with the end in mind. You wouldn’t make an investment in new capital assets for your manufacturing or logistics business without building a business case.  So,  follow the same method for your IT investment decisions.

Here are four steps any SME can use to make effective technology investment decisions:

1. Identify your objectives

Identifying and documenting your objectives ensures you actually achieve the intended benefits of your decision. This process helps to develop an understanding of how your technology choices align with your business objectives and should be a fundamental part of any project, running from the beginning to the end, and beyond.

Through an initial focus on outcome planning, you can determine that your intended benefits have been realized and sustained after the end of the project. Furthermore, it helps to ensure a clear understanding of who is responsible for the delivery of those outcomes.

2. Document the requirements

A requirement defines, in its simplest terms, something that the system should be able to do. The key to documenting the requirements is ensuring that each aligns to some degree with at least one of the business objectives.

At the early stage, requirements should include the overall functionality: what is the system supposed to accomplish. The requirements are normally gathered through discussion with key staff who will be impacted by the technology decision. Keep in mind that while the requirements will continue throughout the life of the project, the level of detail will evolve from general to more specific as the project progresses.

There are a number of helpful resources for gathering requirements.  Here are a few options:

3. Narrow the options

Recent growth in the number of options available provides SMEs with both opportunities and challenges in finding the right solution for their technology needs. The objective here is to develop a comprehensive list of possible options that address the requirements documented in the previous step.

At first the number of options may appear daunting. Remember, this is why you created a list of requirements aligned with business objectives. Follow these steps to narrow down your list to a manageable number:

  • Create a workbook listing the potential solutions across the columns.
  • List your requirements, one requirement in each row of the workbook.
  • Do some research on each option and determine whether it addresses each requirement.
  • Analyze the list to determine which options address the most requirements.
  • Prioritize the options based on your objectives and requirements.

The list you’ve built provides you the basis for the best possible solutions.

4. Use free expertise

At this point, you may be asking yourself, ‘What am I supposed to do with all this information?’ You’ve done your initial research, eliminated a number of options and are still no closer to making a decision. But wait…

Now the (free) fun begins!

This is the opportunity to have the vendors explain how their solution addresses your particular objectives and requirements. Prepare a simple Request for Information (RFI) and send it to the top solution providers in your requirements workbook. It’s basically free consulting for your business!

The most important aspect of the RFI process is to be clear in your business objectives and requirements when you prepare the request. The responses you receive will make it clear which vendors are serious about helping you find the best answer.

Following a structured approach and keeping your objectives in mind will help SMEs minimize the risk of technology investment decisions and find the right solution for their business needs.