Defining Need In The Age Of Gadgetry

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Published in The Business News on April 4th, 2017.

Remember when the iPhone was first released in 2007? Did you get one? If you did, do you recall thinking that this was the next big thing in technology? “Boy oh boy, this is going to change the way businesses communicate”, right? I doubt it.

If you were an iPhone early adopter, you probably saw it as a gadget and continued to use your Blackberry for business communication like the rest of us.

The problem with that first-release iPhone was a lack of business email support. Most companies utilized Microsoft Exchange for their email, calendar and contacts. Apple did not incorporate the full use of Microsoft Exchange until their second release of the iPhone.

Sure, there were workarounds but ultimately that first iPhone was a gadget. Many new technologies are gadgets when they are first released. So, how do you know what to buy, when it comes to your company’s IT investment?

There are a lot of factors to consider when making an investment in technology. I like to start with three, core categories: purpose, business functionality and usability. All three of these are relatively self-explanatory but I believe there is value in digging a bit deeper.

Purpose speaks to the problem you are trying to solve with this new technology purchase. ie. Steve needs a smartphone so he can receive email when outside of the office.

Defining purpose is nothing new. That has been done since long before technology took over. The only caution with technology is to ensure that this request is a need, not a want.

Technology has become the new window seat in business and employees often ask for a second monitor or new tablet, to demonstrate their value in the company. There is good cause in asking Steve for an ROI on that smartphone. I think we all know that Steve’s Candy Crush habit doesn’t qualify as a “need”.

Business functionality brings us back to that first iPhone. The iPhone was a breakthrough in mobile phone and handheld computing technologies. However, that first iPhone was not ready for business. We need to consider the function when purchasing any new business equipment.

A good example of this is with PC equipment. You can buy a laptop from Best Buy but, odds are, that laptop is only licensed for consumer use. The Home version of Microsoft Windows, that comes pre-loaded on consumer laptops, is not going to be able to join to your business network, where security settings and shared resources are frequently defined. You may save a couple bucks on the initial purchase, but you are sacrificing business functionality.

Purchasing professional-grade equipment and software from a licensed business partner is always advised and is often less-expensive in the long-run. Pay for functionality, not support.

Also, do not confuse cool with functional. Virtual reality headsets are pretty cool but they are not going to help with most business functions. Not yet, at least. If your purchase isn’t making you more efficient, more productive or better informed, it is a gadget.

The last item is usability. So often is usability overlooked in business. Just as no two people are alike, many employees work differently. Get your employees equipment they will use and you will get more from them.

Whether it be from appreciation or simply enjoying the experience, an employee who is using a laptop they like or an iPad that makes their life easier, is going to use that equipment more.

Get to know your employee and their work style. Some people like a bigger screen. Others prefer light weight. Windows or Mac. Android or iPhone. There are many options when it comes to IT equipment and many are similar in cost.

The caveat here is list position and usability is third for a reason. Do not sacrifice purpose for personality or place form over function. Your new equipment is solving a problem. If that problem can be solved by a prettier, lighter or more user-friendly solution, all the better.

Other things to consider are equipment standardization, budgets and how your technology investments today, align with your long-term strategic plan. These items are just as important as anything listed above. When the time comes to invest in enterprise systems, servers and long-term IT planning, you are going to need a proven, IT management resource to guide you along the way.

I’m pretty sure this Internet and computer stuff is going to stick around for a while. Be informed and be ready, with technologies that can move your business forward.