Cross_Armed_Business_ManMaking technology decisions can present a challenge for even the tech-savvy leader.  Keeping up with that next new thing, or understanding why one course of action is better than another is often a challenge.  Like many decisions, adhering to a few guiding principles helps.  Here are 6 of those principles that I have seen effective leaders put to good use when managing technology.

1. IT leadership is as crucial and as important as my financials We all know that our financials tell the real truth about how we are doing as an organization.  We hire a CFO or use a reputable CPA firm to help us guide our financial decisions. Successful companies place just as much importance on technology leadership.  The risk of falling behind or having under-performing technology is too great.  The pitfall of many is to rely on a technician who in spite of being good at fixing and deploying things, isn’t able to set a good strategic plan.  Even good companies fail or languish because they fall behind with technology, resulting in big inefficiencies, lack of accurate reporting, and ultimately can lead to their demise.  Larger organizations are finding that having a CIO leading technology is key, and even in a small or mid-sized organization, CIO level advice is critical and is available through an outsourced managed services plan.

2. Technology has a shelf life only a little longer than milk.  This fact often makes us view technology as strictly an expense.  Most technology has a built-in replacement schedule of 4-5 years, and though cloud hosting may reduce this cycle somewhat, it does not go away.  The truth is that the sooner we get over this, plan for it, and make it a part of our budget the better.  If we are always focused on the pain of the equipment refresh and software upgrade schedule, we never focus on the most important aspect of technology which is using it to make our operations more efficient.  The refresh and upgrade cycle should just happen and the technology attention should be placed on improving how people work.

3. Playing big with IT decisions is not the safe call The most expensive or most established solution is not always the best move.  Because technology is a field of constant innovation and has a short lifecycle, choosing the established, “safe” solution will often leave us in the dust.  On the other side, none of us wants to be on the bleeding edge.  Finding the balance is key and often requires advice from a strategic technology person.  Choosing the old-line, what-we have-been-doing, familiar, solution is easy and dangerous.  Instead, consider a solution that is adaptable, openly accessed from other systems, quick to deploy, has a wide base of support, and is easy for your team to use.

4. Technology is an accelerator of momentum Jim Collins, in his book, “Good to Great”, identifies technology as an accelerator, not a creator.  This idea underlines two important points.  First, for most businesses, technology is not that magic creator of momentum.  It won’t launch our businesses from mediocrity to success.  It is not a magic bullet.  Second, technology is an accelerator.  It can make all the difference if we already have momentum.  It will create exponential efficiencies, reduce mistakes, reduce costs, provide self-service, and improve our lives by improving how we work!

 5. Business technology is like a car Cars are a blend of technology and mechanical parts.  PCs, servers and other network technology is similar.  Compared to a car, our business technology is under heavier use, all day long by multiple drivers at one time.  Our IT networks need maintenance just as importantly as our fleet vehicles and needs just as much regular care.  Technology maintenance has two primary benefits.  First, we avoid that break-down along the road which is extremely disruptive and expensive.  Second we reduce the risk of information theft and protect our company’s reputation.

6. Cyber Security is applicable to my business, my team, and me, right now In spite of continued stories in the media, big news about Target, Home Depot, and even Google Mail, it seems nobody wants to pay attention to Cyber Security.   To be successful and protect our organizations, it is important to understand just a few basics.  First, most information theft does not target a certain company.  It is indiscriminate, performed by an automated program or bot, and each of our companies is as much of a target as any other company regardless of size, product offering, or business focus.  Second, there are certain “best practices” that we can all follow that will exponentially increase our safety.  Most of these require daily, weekly, and monthly maintenance, as well as insuring our team members are educated and follow certain standards for safety.  Cyber Security is addressable and diligence will reduce our risk greatly.

If there is one thing I have learned about IT decisions over the years, it is to examine the status quo closely.  What we have always done is very often not what we should keep doing!  Regardless of your position, the next time you are called upon and have input to a technology decision, I hope you take a few minutes to analyze the decisions in light of these six truths and see if they provide some good questions and offer direction to the process.

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