How to Use Technology to Your Advantage When Starting a Business
Information technology is everywhere in today’s world. Computers and telecommunications technology are essential tools for any business. Even the most defiant, old‐school entrepreneurs can now be seen glued to their smartphones. IT can give you and your business tremendous advantages.
Know your business
Before you can design and implement IT in the most effective way, you have to completely understand how your business works. What work is being done? Who’s doing it? What do employees need to get their work done?
One way to know your business is to approach it as an outsider. Pretend you’re a customer and see how your company’s people and systems handle you. Do the same with your competitors to see how their people and systems handle you. What are the differences? What are the similarities? How can you improve your own organization using IT as a result of what you’ve discovered?
Create a technology-competitive advantage
Few business owners understand how technology can become a competitive advantage for their businesses. They may have vague notions of potential efficiency gains or increased productivity, but they’re clueless when dealing with specifics.
Information technology can create real and dramatic competitive advantages over other businesses in your markets, specifically by doing the following:
Competing with large companies by marketing on a level playing field (the Internet)
Helping to build ongoing, loyal relationships with customers
Connecting with strategic partners to speed up vital processes, such as product development and manufacturing
Linking with everyone in the company, as well as with necessary sources of information both inside and outside the organization
Providing real‐time information on pricing, products, and so forth to vendors, customers, and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs)
Now is the time to create advantages over your competition. Keep in mind that the winner isn’t the company that has the most data, but the company that manages that data best.
Develop a plan
If you’re serious about using IT as an edge, you must have a plan for its implementation. When it comes to the fast‐changing area of technology, having a technology plan — a plan for acquiring and deploying IT — is a definite must. Many businesses buy bits and pieces of computer hardware, software, and other technology without considering the technology that they already have in place and without looking very far into the future. Then when they try to hook everything together, they’re surprised that their thrown‐together system doesn’t work.
In their book eBusiness Technology Kit For Dummies (John Wiley & Sons, Inc.), Kathleen Allen and Jon Weisner recommend that you take the following steps in developing your technology plan:
Write down your organization’s core values.
For example, core values might be to provide customers with the very best customer service possible, or to always act ethically and honestly.
Picture where you see your business ten years from now. Don’t limit yourself.
Will you be in the same location or perhaps some new ones? What products and services will you offer, and to whom will you offer them? How many employees will you have? 1? 10? 50?
Set a major one-year goal for the company that is guided by your vision.
This goal might be to create a system that tracks customer service complaints and gets them in front of you in real time.
List some strategies for achieving the goal.
A strategy to achieve the preceding one‐year goal might be to hire a consultant to develop a set of recommended solutions within three months.
Brainstorm some tactics that can help you achieve your strategies.
Specific tactics to achieve the preceding strategy might include assigning responsibility for the project to a specific employee or vendor, and setting milestones and deadlines for completion and reporting of results.
Identify technologies that support your strategies and tactics.
Provide some guidance by bounding the technologies to use in achieving the one‐year goal, strategies, and tactics. For example, you may require that any new system work with existing systems or that the new system be web based.
Gather your thoughts — and your employees’ thoughts — and write them down. Create a concise document, perhaps no more than five to ten pages, that describes your IT strategies as simply and exactly as possible. Keep the following points in mind as you navigate the planning process:
Don’t buy technology just because it’s the latest and greatest thing. Just because an item is new, has lots of flashing lights, and makes cool noises doesn’t mean it’s right for your business. It could be too big or too small, too fast or too slow, too expensive or too cheap. Or it might not even be compatible with the systems you’ve already got.
Check in with your IT guru. It’s important to make sure your planned purchase will be compatible with existing systems. You also want to find out whether the program you’re thinking of buying will be obsolete within a couple months.
Plan for the right period of time. Different kinds of businesses require different planning horizons, the time periods covered by their plans.
Consider the benefits of outsourcing. You may be able to save significant amounts of money by outsourcing appropriate functions to further streamline systems and create efficiencies.
Make the planning process a team effort. Make employees, customers, and vendors a part of your planning team. If you take time to involve them in the process and get their buy‐in ahead of time, your technology rollout will go much more smoothly.
Get some help
If you’re a fan of technology and pretty knowledgeable in it, that’s great — you have a head start on the process. But if you’re not, get help from people who are experts in IT. Are any of your employees knowledgeable about IT? Can you hire a technician or technology consultant to fill in the gaps? Whatever you do, don’t try it alone.