When buying technology, first make sure you've got a dog

Many of us have been guilty of purchasing technology-based products and services which solve problems that we don't have

Last Saturday was a big day for me. I walked into the supermarket with my kids to do our weekly shopping, and there...

in the pet food aisle, stacked higher than my head, sat dozens and dozens of cans of Alpo dog food. And not just any Alpo dog food, it was "Super Chunky Turkey And Bacon With Real Chicory." A rare variety, and frankly, the best dog food that money can buy. The Cadillac of dog food. As if stumbling upon this gold mine weren't thrilling enough, it was all on sale for just (brace yourself) 50 cents a can, a full 27% off the standard price. Premium dog food at a reduced price. In the world of pet ownership, this was indeed a homerun. And so you can imagine my excitement as we walked out of the store with a shopping cart full of the stuff. Oh yeah, there's just one problem. We don't have a dog. Which brings me to the point of this article. Many of us (myself included) have been guilty at one time or another of purchasing technology-based products and services which solve problems that we don't have. We get so taken by the features, and so swept up in the special deal that is put in front of us, that we never stop to figure out what exactly we are trying to accomplish, and how it fits into our overall business objectives. We don't check first to make sure that we have a dog. Among the many assessments, comparisons and decisions that must be made when purchasing technology for your company, the single most important one - and the one that should be done first - is determining what the business need is. You want to clearly identify what problem needs solving or what opportunity needs pursuing, before you go anywhere near a vendor presentation. Once you open that door, you will find it very difficult to ever step back again and think strategically. Don't get me wrong. Choosing a vendor, integrating the technology into your legacy systems, and preparing your troops for change are all important, certainly. But spending time on these assumes that you've already figured out why you are going down a particular road in the first place. So here's my 5 step recommendation: 1. Bring your key people together for a 90-minute meeting. 2. Discuss the problem that you want to solve or the opportunity that you want to pursue. 3. Focus on what you want to happen (the business need), not how you want it to happen (the technology). 4. Assign somebody to write up a one-page (no more) summary of the discussion. No business speak, no techno babble; plain English. 5. Share the written summary with a nontechnical businessperson outside of your organization and see if they can explain back to you what you are trying to accomplish. If they cannot, go back to step "1" and start the process again. I know this must sound fairly obvious. I also know that the majority of businesses never spend a minute doing it. They just jump in and start running. Following these 5 simple steps will save your business more money, more time and more frustration than you can imagine. The old adage that there is no such thing as terrific execution of a lousy plan is never more apparent than when making technology decisions. Good luck, and if you know anybody who can use a few cases of top quality dog food, please give me a call. Michael Katz is the Founder and Chief Penguin at Blue Penguin Development, Inc. www.bluepenguindevelopment.com , a consulting firm that helps companies increase profitability, by showing them how to grow their business through their existing relationships - online and offline. 

This was first published in July 2001

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