Buying technology is one of the most difficult challenges we face as business owners. We are told repeatedly we need technology to be more efficient and to eliminate friction in our business.
But using technology is an expertise most of us don’t have. It can take a significant amount of time to understand the problem, identify the right technology and implement it. Because of this, most of us end up doing nothing.
The tips below might help you change that and seek out technology to benefit you, your team and your business.
Identify the technology you need
The first step is to take the lead on what you are looking to buy. If you respond to the next advertisement that lands in your inbox you will likely become the next victim of ‘shelfware’ (the software you bought that just sits on the shelf!)
To take the lead you need to be clear about where costly ‘friction’ is in your business. Friction is where activities for customers, staff or management take longer than they should, carry substantial costs or result in poor quality or errors regularly.
Finding friction in your business requires measuring where time is being lost. Look for activities where work is repeated, or customer and staff feedback suggest there are better ways to get things done.
If this sounds too difficult then get expert help from a consultant to identify these areas. If you are smaller operator, it will be a smaller job, and just might be the best investment you ever make.
Prioritise the processes to improve first
After assessing existing processes, you can prioritise which of these offer the greatest gains. You might also find some of them are related and can be resolved as a group with one solution.
When assessing areas to improve be sure to also look at the age of hardware and software in case they need to be replaced soon anyway.
Also consider the utilisation of current tools by your team, examine where the most time is being spent on ‘pen and paper’ activities or operational tasks, especially customer service experiences (e.g. time on hold).
Research the ‘typical’ options
For each potential improvement look at the most likely way to automate, reduce or eliminate the work. Don’t overthink it, often the obvious approach, applied well for your business is the best way to go. For a simpler problem this might only take a few quick phone calls, for more complex problems you may want to have a few vendors pitch their solution.
Be sure to include your team too. It can engage star performers and your best people are your internal subject matter experts. They are ideal at adapting external ideas to fit your business problems and it can also be highly engaging for your team.
List your requirements
Listing requirements is simply stating what you need. When buying any product, it pays to be very clear on the scope of your requirements. If you don’t do so, you will wind up buying a range of ‘extras’ that add no value to you, your team or your customers.
Clearly articulate the features you must have, those you would simply like (you might pay a little extra if included), those you won’t pay for (if they are included then great, but you won’t pay for them as you probably won’t use them)and those you might even want to ensure are excluded (features that may distract your team).
Common criteria to rank options would typically include; functionality (what does it do for you), time to implement, purchase cost, installation cost, maintenance and support cost/availability, time in market, clients they serve today, customer service during evaluation, security standards, disaster recovery, backups and anything else that matters to you, your team, your industry and your experience.
Consider the alternatives for each process
Input from potential vendors gives you a realistic idea of what it takes to buy/license, implement and maintain each alternative. You can now rank the options you have come up with by cost (time, team members needed) and the expected benefits you might expect in savings, increased customer satisfaction, increased number of customers you can serve, etc.
At this point you may have a laundry list of options in front of you. Avoid feeling overwhelmed, simply stage each project and make progress as best as your resources allow. Be careful not to underestimate the work to fully deploy new tools, and similarly stay focused on the benefits you expect to gain from the effort.
Purchase your software
Once you have identified the solution to pursue you need to identify a vendor. Look for those with experience in your specific category. A lot of software promises to service businesses of any type, but every sector and business has their own nuances and you want as close-a-fit to your industry as you can get. Seek out specialists wherever possible.
When making your purchase articulate your requirements from above in a purchase order. Raising your own purchase order ensures there is clarity over what you need from this purchase, not just the summary of product features being offered. This helps eliminate confusion later if account managers change or there are disputes on the contract.
The purchase order also helps create your clarification to what becomes a legally binding contract to which you are obligated, not just what is listed on the vendors bill of sale.
Implement and evaluate
The implementation stage should be relatively easy as you have already determined you need to do the project, the benefits are all there to be captured and your team have been involved in evaluating the options.
Thirty and 90 days after implementation it is good practice to go back to your requirements and the benefits you outlined to see if you have fixed the problem you targeted, and if the solution has been rolled out for the costs and times you identified. Doing so gives you and your team a chance to consider areas of purchasing software you can do better in.
If you take the above steps in determining the software you need, casting a wide net to source the best value software for your needs and then diligently ensuring you extract that value then you will be doing as well as anyone can expect.
Buying technology is not easy. Your own experience with IT, hardware, software, data, security and networking is going to have limitations. Stay open minded and keep asking questions.
Before you know it, you will have earned your stripes to ensure you are sourcing technology for your business that can help you delight customers and grow efficiently.
*Martin Callan is the CEO of www.getfreshOps.com, an Australian-made, mobile workforce application and management portal built to assist cleaning management. The author can be reached at martin@getfreshOps.com.
This article first appeared in INCLEAN magazine.