How to Select a new Technology
It’s ubiquitous, (and it’s everywhere as well) and some would have you believe that if you’re not using the latest and greatest product, then you’re falling behind. This “you’re not keeping up” sales pitch is very effective at striking at the heart of our insecurities; am I falling behind? Will I lose out if I don’t buy this stuff? Don’t the ads claim that they’ll make me more productive, more efficient, and even more attractive to the opposite sex? How could I possibly live without it? Here’s my credit card.
Before attempting to answer the question, “How should we go about adopting a new technology or product?” we first have to have a clear definition of what it is we’re trying to accomplish. To decide what product we’re going to use to improve our organization, we need to embrace a strategy more reliable than submissively accepting the carefully chosen blather of the wordsmiths who wrote the glossy ads.
What problem are we trying to fix? What specifically do we want the technology to do? Better yet, since “technology” by itself doesn’t do anything, how exactly are we going to use this technology to change an existing process? To put this advice into concrete terms, how exactly will the work of department ‘X’ change because of the technology purchase we’re contemplating? And finally, in excruciating detail, what benefit do we expect to reap from our investment?
If that sounds like a lot of intensive work, it is, and it’s necessary work, unless you wish to add your organization to the long, and still growing list of embarrassing examples of how we shouldn’t implement technology.
Once you’ve done all of the above, then and only then are you ready to start looking at what’s available.
Phase 1.0: Advertisements and articles from your trade publications will provide you your first truckload of information. Read everything you can lay your hands on. Create, and maintain a research file. Keep in mind that all of the advertisements and most of the articles will paint the rosiest of pictures. According to most of what you read, everything works as intended, it’s as effective as was promised and the tooth fairy will visit you tonight while you sleep.
At this point, every product claiming to address your problem is a possible candidate.
Phase 2.0: Put on a large pot of your favorite brew and head to the internet. The websites associated with the products you’re researching will provide details beyond what they decided to put into the ads. Use this information to connect what they claim to do, with what you need them to do. From your perspective, every claim is an unproven assumption. The more you need a specific function, the more you must verify the company’s claim that they can deliver the functionality.
By now, you’ve rejected at least a few of the products you found earlier. You’ve made some progress, not much, but some.
Phase 3.0: Get another pot of that brew, and head back to the internet. This stage is incredibly informative, even entertaining. You want to track down the discussion groups where users of the products are talking about the real world functionality of the product, the actual delivered service, their pet peeves, the new, next and previous releases, the known bugs, problems, anomalies and their general experiences. You’ll find some of these discussion groups on the product sites, others you’ll have to search for, a good place to start are the discussion groups of your industry associations.
If you don’t see the answers to the question unique to your organization then post those questions and wait for the results. It’s important to remember, if you decide to purchase a particular product, then there are dozens, if not thousands of existing users all with more experience than yourself. These existing users represent a goldmine of experience, of use to you only if you ask for the information you need. Don’t be shy, most people are more than happy to answer your questions.
After reading just a few product discussions, you’ll have quickly trimmed your list down to a more manageable size.
Phase 4.0: Put a call out to your existing associates, do any of them use the products you have your eye on? If so, it’s time to get on the phone and arrange a meeting. If they have the time, spend an afternoon with them; see how they’re using the product. What problems have they encountered, what benefits have they gained? The assumption here is that you already trust their opinion. If you have the time, attend an industry conference and buttonhole anyone who uses what you might decide to use.
Have you noticed we’ve not even spoken to the vendor yet? By now you should have only a handful of products in mind.
Phase 4.9: Buy some insurance. I don’t mean life insurance or accident insurance; I mean something a bit more peculiar. Rent yourself a technical consultant who knows far more about technology in general and perhaps this product category in particular, than you’ll ever need to know. They’re your hired gun; they’ll accompany you to vendor meetings and demos.
Their role? Just by introducing who they are and then by having them sitting quietly in the back of the room they’re going to keep the vendor honest. If necessary, they’ll ask the relevant ‘hard’ technology questions, they’ll ensure that the demos presented to you are ‘real’ and not simulations of what the product might do someday. (In the next release — honest!)
They’ll also ensure that the questions you’re receiving to your questions are accurate. They’ll do that just by being in the room, but again they’re your technical backup, ready to jump into the fray conversation if there’s something missing or unclear in the answers given to you.
This type of companion is a vendor’s worst nightmare in any demonstration, that alone justifies having them along for the ride. Life is fun; enjoy it while you’re here.
Phase 5.0: See the demos of the products on your short list. Narrow that list even further, and then make no commitment until you’ve had the chance to experiment with a pilot project, using your data, your people, and your environment. Does it work the way you expected? Are you getting the benefits you hoped for?
Phase 6.0: There is obviously a technical component to your search. Will the product you’re purchasing operate within the context of your existing infrastructure? If not, what gaps need filling? Will it handle the expected workload? What about the unexpected, but reasonably likely spikes in that workload? Will you be able to operate and maintain this product with existing skill sets? Or will you need to hire experts? How available are these experts and at what cost?
You might have gathered the answers to all of these technical details in earlier phases, or you might not. The most likely place to verify the technical details is in Phase 5.0, nothing is more effective at weeding out problems than trying to actually implement a pilot project. What is important is that they all get answered before you sign on that dotted line.
Congratulations, you’ve selected a new technology, all you have to do now is ‘implement’ it, but that’s another story.