Think you “need” new technology? Not so fast.

Think you “need” new technology? Not so fast.

Chances are someone in your organization is convinced that mobile/eCommerce/the Cloud is the key to success and prosperity. “It’s the way of the future,” they argue. “Our system is outdated. Nobody does it this way anymore. We’re going to become irrelevant. We have to upgrade immediately.” Act now, while supplies last.

It’s not that tablets and eCommerce sites are frivolous or bad investments. In fact, they can give businesses a strong competitive advantage. At the same time, many businesses without tablets or eCommerce sites are thriving with happy, loyal customers. The question isn’t whether new technology is a good idea, but rather “is it a good idea for us and at this time.”

Business technology can be a highly emotional issue, with discussions dominated by fear or excitement. If someone at your company is pushing for new software, virtual servers, or a crate of iPads, go through the following exercise with them. It will give you a more objective assessment of the situation. (And if YOU are the person pushing for updated technology, you should also go through the exercise. New software, virtual servers and a crate of iPads may be exactly what your company needs, and this exercise will help you form a stronger, more logical case for your position.)

What are the goals? Technology is often purchased as a solution for a poorly-defined problem. Before discussing what you want to buy, clarify what you need to accomplish. Start with the business’s mission and core processes. For instance, let’s say your company’s mission is “provide our customers with quality building materials when and where they need them.” In order to fulfill this mission, the business needs to keep high-demand products in stock, quickly find and pick those items when they’re needed, and deliver orders on time.

What’s the current situation? You probably have a general idea of what needs to improve, but assess the entire situation. In what ways is the business fulfilling its mission and in what ways is it falling short? Let’s say deliveries to your customers are frequently late. Before you suggest routing software or GPS tracking, figure out which part of the process is failing: are you purchasing sufficient inventory; is anything slowing down the picking process; do drivers have enough time to complete the deliveries, etc.

What needs to change? When you’ve identified specific problem areas, think about what actions will fix or improve the current situation. For instance, if picking is taking too long because employees can’t find items, you may  need to improve inventory tracking or provide more employee training.

What are the options? Once you’ve decided on the action step, then you can start thinking of ways to achieve that goal. Come up with several options (not just the one you want) and make sure to explain exactly how each one would fix the problem and help the company achieve its mission. Software and mobile devices need to deliver a measurable return, just like any other investment. It would be foolish to purchase expensive warehouse management software if simply rearranging your floor plan will solve the problem.

The pressure to adopt new technology is understandable. New products are developed and released at breakneck speeds. It’s easy to feel as though you’ve missed something and to worry about being obsolete. Businesses need to be technologically relevant in order to stay competitive, but they also need to be smart about their choices. There are plenty of good reasons for businesses to update their technology. “Because we need something new” isn’t one of them.

Emily Ethington has a  background in software engineering and over 10 years of experience in the building materials industry. She is a senior sales account manager for DMSi.