Every now and then, I get questions from business owners about how much they should be leading their own technology decision process, as opposed to relying on third parties. My answer is usually built around their level of expertise, and the degree to which they have the time, energy, and resources to get involved.
Ideas and proposals from channel partners are readily accessible to most small business owners. After all, channel partners make their living from upgrading information technology and finding better ways to execute business processes. The common denominators here include price and performance. And while you may be, to some extent, dependent upon the aggregate wisdom of the channel, there are certain things you can do to get in front of the game, better understand the needs of your own company, and arguably better control your own destiny.
Controlling one’s own destiny is one of those things that often sounds better than the reality — at least part of the time. Control your own destiny successfully, and you are a hero! Control your own destiny unsuccessfully and the terms that come to mind are far different from “hero.” For most small business leaders, the best solution might lie somewhere in the middle. Therefore, a little bit of legwork can help you assess the solutions that channel partners are putting on the table.
One of the best things that you can do is to stay abreast of the developments in the small business portion of technology. You’ll find a small businesses are getting a lot more respect than they once did. Vendors are starting to recognize that it’s not enough to just dumb down enterprise-level gear, used pretty colors, and slap a barcode on it. Much of today’s product is a lot more purpose built and optimized for specific market segments. It often makes sense to attend webinars, and generally stay in tune with the key vendors that produce the systems that your company uses. For some of us, this can be a lot of fun. For others, not so much. But it’s very likely that there are some people within your organization who would be more than happy to take the lead in this area. Take advantage of that!
In addition, look for different ways to approach the evaluation process. It’s not just a matter of comparing vendor to vendor. Very often, you will want to focus on your specific vertical markets. In other words, what are companies like yours doing, and how are they using technology? Sometimes there are other markets in which you don’t compete that function much like yours. In those situations, it’s often possible to learn a few lessons from the processes and technologies that they put in place. Certainly, it’s a lot easier than calling your competitors and asking questions about their systems. But I’ve heard of instances where that has happened too!
In some cases, leveraging the new technology also includes changing or business processes. You’ll want to look at this carefully, yet dispassionately. Try not to be too attached to doing things the way they’ve always been done. Yet also realize that not every change is necessarily worth its weight in gold. Changes in processes can cause some pretty profound growing pains during the transition. So make those decisions carefully, and with full consideration for the ramifications.
It might also be a good idea to give some thought to what components you think might be good for your IT solution, and then bounce those ideas off of your channel partner. This takes a little bit of extra time and initiative, and there is no guarantee that you’ll get it right. The good news is that you’ll undoubtedly learned something about technology, and about your systems overall. And additional knowledge is always a good thing to bring to future discussions.