Should I Listen to My IT Guy?

If you run a company, you’re probably used to your “IT Guy” telling you that you need to do this and that.  It seems like there’s always an opportunity to upgrade, update, replace, implement, and install technology.  It could be new hardware, new software, new accessories, a new phone, a new server, new cabling…a new widget even…it could be anything….

How do you know when it’s just the IT guy finding “something to do” and when it’s really something that makes sense and will add value to the organization?

After years of being in the IT industry and working with business leaders, we’ve come up with a “reasonability” test of 10 questions that can help establish if something is really worth doing and, if it’s worth doing, how it should be done.  The next time your “IT guy” (or anyone actually) suggests something, ask these questions:

1.         What is the business justification for implementing it?

If there is not a specific business justification for doing it, there’s a good chance it’s not worth doing.  Will it increase revenues?  Will it reduce costs either over the short term or long term?  Can it improve the company’s competitive position in the marketplace?  Will it improve employee morale?  What is the business reason for doing it?

2.         Who is the one person who will be responsible for the success of the project?

Many times your IT Manager will encourage the organization to implement some new technology, but then the success of the project will depend on other departments and/or users in the organization.  Who will be responsible?  Does that person have the authority to see the project through to its success?  Responsibility without authority doesn’t work.

3.         Define “success” for the implementation?  What will it look like?  What specific results will we see?

Make sure everyone in the organization is on the same page when defining success.  Is the “go live” date part of success?  Are certain functions required?  Are certain reports required?  Have a clearly set definition of success.

4.         How much will it cost?  Upfront?  Ongoing (monthly, annually)?

What something costs is never a simple thing.  There’s the initial cost.  There’s the ongoing cost.  There might be annual maintenance.  There might be annual support.  There might be future phase costs.  Make sure you get the number that includes EVERYTHING.

5.         Who will be responsible for the cost?  What happens if it goes over?

Is the IT guy taking responsibility for the cost?   What are the repercussions if the cost turns out to be different?

6.         How long has it been on the market?

Ask how long its been on the market.  Is this a new technology or an old technology?  If it’s an upgrade, will you be the first company to install the upgrade, or has the upgrade been out on the market for a while?    Our approach is generally to not be the first user of anything, whether it’s an upgrade or a new product.  We like to see products get at least six to 12 months of legs before recommending that our clients go forward, unless there’s some compelling business reason to ignore this rule.

7.         Can you get at least three references?

Are there references for what’s being recommended?  While it’s great to spend the time calling the references, it’s even more important to know that references can be provided.  If someone can’t provide at least three references, the product or upgrade is likely suspect.

8.         Will there be downtime associated with the installation?

Really.  Will the implementation happen over a weekend or during the week?   What happens if the installation fails?  Can you go back?

9.         Who do our employees contact when there is an issue?  How do they contact them?

Who is taking responsibility for support?  Is it an internal resource or an external resource?  What are the expectations for support?  24×7?   9-5?   How much downtime will you allow if the new technology causes downtime?  Is there a backup plan?

10.       Will training be required?  Who will do this?  How long will it take?

A lot of times training is taken for granted, or the need for training is minimized.  Don’t.  Training is the secret weapon of technology.  If you train your people in using technology, experience has proven that they are significantly more motivated in using the technology successfully.

You’ll notice I never mention if I’m writing about hardware or software.  The same laws apply no matter what technology is being proposed whether it’s a new server or an upgrade of your Sage MAS 90 Accounting software.   Regardless, make sure you ask all the questions up front, and things will work out better at the end.