A few days ago, I was eating at a restaurant that was pretty full. They had old equipment — ripped seats, a cash register from the 90’s or 80’s. Good service, good food, good location. the owners know to run the restaurant cheaply, and take advantage of their location for advertising. They know that adding technology — a fancy website, an iPhone ordering system, etc… Won’t do anything for them. They will neither grow revenues from doing so, nor reap cost savings. If technology isn’t going to help you get more customers or save money, then don’t invest in it!
Contrast that to a case where technology was an obvious answer. I co-worker of mine liked manually filing certain forms that would come in. Fairly easy over the past, and no learning curve. You get a piece of paper in the mail, put in a folder, deal with it when needed. Great! Until this year — when hundreds of these pieces of paper came in, in partial shipments. She had to manually co-allate them all, then process them. She worked crazy hours doing it. She’s now convinced that next year, we’ll use a technical solution that pre-coallates the information, and allows many people to process the forms.
Those are what I call the “binary case”. You know when you need technology and when you don’t. But what about all those “in-between” cases — cases where you just don’t know? Well, there are two things I can think of that helps out in that case. Idea 1 — try a small test. Idea 2 — market research.
Idea 1 — try a small test. In this case, you put together a small prototype of the technology you want. It doesn’t have to work well — maybe it’s just screenshots. You then shop that prototype solution against the problem. Maybe the idea is to create a website for your business to attract new revenue. Well, why not start with a free blog first, and see how that does in getting new customers? You may spend a few dollars in advertising your blog — but a few bucks — I mean like $5.00 — really isn’t a huge loss. What if it’s not a website? What if you want to automate a TPS report, but don’t know if the automation will save you money? Put together something fast in excel — no VBA or anything, but just the fields, and play “pass along” in email. Take the new TPS workflow — The TPS reports starts with Bob in Accounting, where he puts in sales numbers, then goes to Jane in PR who enters in conversion data, etc… — and let people use that new workflow in place of TPS reports, maybe with a person getting the spreadsheet at the end and creating a TPS report. If that works our better than your old process, then you know a full “TPS Online” system is likely to save you money. ( Don’t stay at the 1/2 solution. You’ll forget that it was a test, and you’ve left value on the table by failing to complete the project). These tests are cheap and easy, and let you know when a technical investment is likely to pay off.
Idea 2: Do market research. This is pretty simple. Put together a questionnaire and ask people. If my restaurant had a website, would you pass the link to friends? My wife and I recently found a small, out of the way, crepe restaurant due to technology. We normally go to a different crepe place in downtown Seattle. One day, we got there, and it was closed. ( Not out of business, just after their normal operating hours ). So, we skipped crepes and did our routine for the rest of the day. At the end of the day, we still wanted crepes, so we GPS’d a small crepe place nearby. We loved it, and my wife facebooked about it. Before we knew it, our friends found the website of the crepe place, found an on-line coupon, and had made reservations! This crepe place is becoming popular with our friends — because they have the market reach. They’re in a small, out of the way neighborhood. There’s no traffic near them. You can walk across the street at rush hour without a hassle. The places around them are all out of business. They’re the only eatery that survives — and they’re an expensive crepe place, in a town that doesn’t like Crepes. Why do they survive? Because people find them through technology. A very simple question to ask your customers — if I had a site, would you facebook that you came?
Well, good luck!