I recently had the opportunity to chat with Ramon Ray who runs www.smallbiztechnology and hosts http://www.smallbiztechsummit.com/ , both of which target small businesses and teach them (or us really) how best to use technology. Ramon and I had a lively discussion primarily centered around how small businesses think about technology.
It seems that many small businesses believe that technology is a burden, a pain in the neck, an unnecessary expense. Why can’t we keep inventory using pencil and paper like the way my parents did? It was good enough for them, why isn’t it good enough for me? Why should I shell out the big bucks to computerize something that works just fine manually.
There is no one single answer to these questions. Overall, the answer is, yes pencil and paper works just fine. Is that what you want to think about your business, that we do things just fine? In my experience, there isn’t much difference between “just fine” and “going out of business”. In fact, “just fine” and “making ends meet” are usually words that are tossed around as a business starts down the primrose path towards bankruptcy. Small businesses settle too often. Does GE, Microsoft, or Cisco think that just fine is their goal? No! So why should you?
To the idea that technology is a burden I have to laugh. Yes, if you’re getting bad IT advice that doesn’t explain the business value then IT probably is a burden. Think about it though. How many businesses probably thought it was a burden to wire for electricity, buy light bulbs, or use a telephone when those were new technologies? Do you think embracing electricity paid off for small businesses?
Ramon and I strongly agreed that technology is a tool and should be implemented when and where it can help, and not implemented simply for its own sake. That’s the problem with the tech magazines – they want everyone to have the fastest this and the most shiny that – without completely understanding the needs of your business. Hold the tech pubs to the same metrics as your IT consultant. Do they regard your business as the driver, or the tech as the driver?
The whole point is to find the right tool for the job. The same way I could tell you that you need to buy the fastest computer you can afford every year (even if you just check email and browse the web), a carpenter could show up to build a cabinet for your office with only a drill and some nails. It’s not about selling the tools. It’s about using the right tool for the right job.
Let’s get a dialogue going use the comments. Do you think technology is a burden or a facilitator? Why?