Updated: Mar 5, 2019
Brace yourself for a shocking truth - we are surrounded by technology. I'm willing to bet that within arm's reach a phone, if not also an iPad, tablet, Kindle, laptop, or small robot that is monitoring your every utterance. Freaky, right? How did we go from deciding whether to adopt technology to being completely and, often involuntarily, immersed in it?
Today, I'm struck by the degree to which my daily existence involves, or even is controlled by, technology. I wake in the morning to an alarm that gets louder every time I hit snooze. I carry my phone with me to my yoga room (spare bedroom for weirdos) and play a yoga class, then a guided meditation, and recall - always during the meditation - that I forgot to get paper towels. "Alexa, order paper towels."
Seriously, though, everything is amazing. But how do we embrace technology without being consumed and subsumed by it?
One way is to create a technology plan for your business. Just as a business plan helps guide your strategy, careful consideration of technology and how it helps - or hurts - the business is a crucial component of any strategic plan. Technology can help a smaller business level the playing field by maximizing efficiency and lowering overhead costs. It's important to consider the technology both from your company's internal processes and from that of your clients. Fundamentally, the goal is to identify your company's processes and align them with current and potential technology options.
Step one is to gather the information on which you will base your analysis. Remember, garbage in, garbage out, so these initial efforts, as menial as they may seem, are integral to the process.
Tracking Tasks There are a number of ways to collect this information, but the simplest is to keep a pad on your desk and write down every single task you complete in a given week. Ensure each member of the team does the same. When the tasks are compiled, draw four columns and indicate which tasks are immediately revenue-generating and which are not, and which tasks you enjoy and which you dread, and therefore your proficiency likely suffers. The tasks that are not immediately revenue-generating or enjoyable are the ones to eventually be delegated, ideally to technology, or to another person.
Process Mapping You'll next organize this long list of tasks into a process map. Start by describing each process within the company, in a narrative, flowchart, table, etc. and ensure each task is accounted for in a process. Involve the entire team, as staff can have a deeper insight into smaller steps in each process.
For example, upon opening a client file, this company's admin pointed out that she enters the client information into the Google Contacts, into Quickbooks, and again into Constant Contact. This duplication might be tackled with a holistic CRM system, or finding services that will talk to one another to sync information.
Assemble Your Current Technology Picture In a separate list, identify all technology your company uses and the purposes each serves. Your CRM, file management system, accounting software, marketing services, etc.
Once you have a clear picture of the technology in use, identify any duplication in purpose and examine whether the duplication is necessary. It's easy to find yourself maintaining different cloud storage options. One client might be familiar with DropBox while someone else has drunk the Google Docs Kool-Aid (me, totally). Is there a good reason to maintain both? I just today received an email from someone who refused to play in another sandbox because all their "stuff" is in Office 365. Do you take a hard line on a particular option or remain flexible? It all depends on your processes and your customers.
Next, examine each item in the list and determine whether it's still working for you. Do you need to update it or replace it altogether? Nothing in a company is a sacred cow - just because it's been in use for years doesn't mean it can't or shouldn't change.
SWOT Analysis Yet another beneficial process is to complete your company's SWOT analysis and determine whether technology can help you maximize your strengths and opportunities, while minimizing weaknesses and threats.
A SWOT analysis is a common planning tool used by organizations to identify internal and external influences, and where those influences place the organization in the marketplace. Strengths and weaknesses are viewed from an internal perspective - what characteristics of the business give it an advantage over others (intellectual property, location, etc.)? Opportunities and threats are outside of the company (suppliers, competitors, etc.). Here again, it's best to have all members of the team participate, as the gatekeeper may have better insight into why someone calls your company over another, or why someone might leave your company and seek help elsewhere.
For strengths, ask what your company does well? What internal resources do you have? What advantages do you have over your competition? What makes your company different or unique? Strengths are within your control.
For weaknesses, ask questions like: what is stopping you from creating a competitive advantage in a particular area? What does your business lack that you see each day?
Opportunities are just that - reasons you are likely to succeed. Do you have a good reputation in the marketplace? Has the industry recently seen changes that help your company?
Threats are factors over which you have NO control but could place your company at risk. Identify your current competitors, any regulations that might impede your current operations, commoditization of the service you offer, etc.
Examine each of the boxes in the matrix and see where you can improve using technology. If you counted "accepting credit cards" as one of your strengths because most other companies do not, don't stop there. Make it easier for clients to pay via credit card by ensuring they can click through an invoice to enter their information.
Consolidation of Pain Points With your process maps, current technology picture, and SWOT analysis identify any bottlenecks, duplication, or other pain points and log them in the Technology Plan. Identify, in detail, what you would need in order to solve each pain point and first determine which can be solved by technology. Be sure to be very specific about the "Need" parameters. That way, as you are researching, you can easily vet the options by comparing them to your needs list and ignoring those that don't align. This is key, as it's very easy to get sucked into the vortex of new technology - apps, devices, software, SaaS.
Have a plan for how you will test drive each tool - who will participate, how you will track success, and how much time you will devote to these tests. This is a delicate balance. You'll want to allow enough time to truly get a feel for whether the tool will solve your pain points, but without sacrificing time that could be spent exploring another option. Try to plan free trials to end on a weekend. You will spend the first part of the trial just figuring out the software, so having a weekend to devote to really exploring all the features will help you make an informed decision.
As a technology tool passes muster, add it to your plan and list the benefits. Technology is always and quickly changing, so having a quick-reference matrix will help you adapt.
Like any business planning process, creating a technology plan for your company takes some time and thoughtfulness. However, the outcomes will help you save time and money while helping your company remain competitive in a quickly evolving marketplace.
Gina Bongiovi, Managing Partner of Bongiovi Law Firm, Gina is a Las Vegas native and holds a JD/MBA from UNLV. The company, which just celebrated its tenth year in business, serves as outside counsel to small and medium-sized businesses.
Gina is a recurring speaker at a legal technology conference on topics such as Process Automation and Technology Planning.rtups and small businesses.
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