Picking Technology Solutions for Your Business

Why are Technology Solutions Important

Investing in new business technology solutions can be a daunting task. Technology is constantly changing, and it can be challenging to determine which solutions are suitable for your organisation.

Technology solutions can make or break a business. They can help companies increase efficiency, productivity, and security when done correctly. However, new technology and systems can be costly, inefficient, and even destructive to the business when done poorly.

In this blog post, we will walk you through the process of selecting business technology solutions. We’ll discuss how to determine your business needs, put together your project team, identify possible solutions and weigh your options. Let’s get started!

Define the Problem

Before you can consider a technology solution, you must consider what you need a solution for. The problem to be addressed may be obvious or obscure depending on the size of your organisation and the level of organisational maturity.

Is the technology solution intended to resolve a specific problem or shortcoming in your current systems? Or is it a brand-new system for a new department, team, or potentially an entirely new company?

The possible solutions will depend on whether the key is to solve a problem or address a need and the organisation’s flexibility and level of control.

A Good Problem Statement

Your problem definition should be similar to a SMART goal. Your problem statement should be:

  • Specific and unambiguous
  • Include budget consideration
  • Include time parameters
  • Discuss function heavy vs. lean solutions
  • Discuss scalability and customisation
  • Clarify interoperability requirements
  • Separately stipulate must-have, highly desirable, and nice-to-have solution attributes

Who Should Define the Problem

For small organisations, the process may be walking department to department having informal conversations with stakeholders; for larger organisations, the process should be more formalised.

Be sure that the team involved includes relevant stakeholders, either directly in conversations and meetings or incorporating their feedback.

For example, if you have customer service issues, you don’t only want a customer service manager present, as they are unlikely to have day-to-day knowledge of the operations.

In this case, include a senior customer service officer as they will better know the current user-side issues. It may be that they identify the existing CRM system is insufficient for the company or simply that company processes hinder effective customer service.

Identify Technology Solutions

From your problem statement, you should have a list of required attributes. You need to determine what options are available to resolve the core problem while meeting these attributes.

Deciding what department and what team member(s) are responsible for identifying relevant and effective technology solutions is very important.

For example, when identifying a CRM solution, a senior customer service officer will have a good idea of what options are most appealing operationally. However, they are unlikely to consider integration, costs, or maintenance. Likewise, IT can pick a technically feasible solution, but it may not be fit for purpose.

Approaches to Identifying Technology Solutions

There are two main approaches to identifying solutions: multidisciplinary workgroups and concurrent solicitation.

Multidisciplinary Workgroup:

In a multidisciplinary workgroup, members from several stakeholder teams will come together to discuss functional and requirement preferences. Once they convene, discuss, collate and finalise the combined expectations, they can assign one or two stakeholders to perform the search.

Concurrent Solicitation:

Concurrent solicitation involves requesting input from separate departments and teams simultaneously, without direct consultation between them. Each department and team can put forward their top suggestions for solutions that they see as ideal.

Each has a different strength. Solicitation allows comparison of suggestions and cross-referencing any suggestions that come up multiple times. This process is thorough and requires more time as multiple resources will expend time on essentially the same search.

A workgroup will use fewer resources to develop a list of recommendations. If a key stakeholder is left out or is not a strong meeting participant, the solution presented won’t be representative.

Other Ways to Find Technology Solutions

There are other approaches to searching for technology solutions. Which one you choose should be considered carefully.

Sequential solicitation, in which each team reviews and then adds or subtracts from the previous team’s recommendations, can be ineffective as it is prone to creating a filter effect.

For example, suppose customer service does an initial search and passes their results to IT. In that case, IT may dismiss solutions they do not like off-hand, meaning those solutions may never be considered in the final selection.

Solicit Vendor Offers

Contact a few leading technology solution providers and ask for consultations if you have time to look around. Their sales staff are professionals who understand their software and the industry.

This will give you a good idea of what the market leaders offer and their main benefits. You can also ask how they differ from their competition, which may give you leads on competitors you are unaware of or who have attributes you would find favourable.

It is important that whoever gets in contact with providers is authorised to negotiate at an appropriate level and has adequate technical knowledge. Several members from a workgroup may be present for meetings with the vendor’s salesperson/sales team.

Key Considerations:

  • Size of provider – Big enough to be around a long time, small enough to value your business
  • Stability/history – Does the company have a history of restructures or financial hardship
  • Customer service reputation
    • Check reviews online, especially for COTS and turnkey solutions
    • Reach out to your trusted network to see who they are using
  • Pre and post-sales support
    • Do they have an in-house support team or do they use a third-party contractor
    • Do they offer or include on-site support
    • Do they include training
  • Price
    • Up-front costs (purchases, hardware, installation, and implementation including training)
    • Ongoing costs (hardware maintenance, resource costs to maintain, subscription fees, support fees, etc.)
  • Data ownership, retention, and transferability
    • Do you retain ownership of your data
    • Can you have data stored locally (if relevant)
    • Is data easily exportable to common formats
    • Do they support API integration
  • Hardware requirements
    • Will the solution run on existing hardware and infrastructure

Compare Technology Solutions

Comparing solutions is often a difficult task. Tabling comparisons can be complex, particularly for large systems. However, tables remain one of the best comparison tools.

A visual comparison may be easy to complete for smaller projects, particularly if there is only one stand-out option. A weighted table (aka decision matrix) is a valuable tool for larger projects or smaller projects with several strong contenders.

Shortlist Solutions

Generally, a weighted table should not include every solution identified, particularly as this can be very time-consuming to prepare. You should include only the very best options.

Be careful filtering and tabling solutions, the quality of the table presentation and thoroughness of shortlisting will affect the outcome.

Prepare a Weighted Table

As most people cannot process more than seven pieces of information at once, keep your final list to seven or less (if possible) and, more ideally, just the top three.

Row Headings

Each row should have a weighted importance (WI) (usually between 1 and 10 or 1 and 5).

  • List each attribute determined during the problem definition and solution identification phases
  • List any other unique AND desirable attributes identified in a product’s description
  • List the preferred and nice-to-have attributes identified during problem definition
  • List all ‘must have’ attributes
Column Headings
  • In each column list the solution identified
Complete the Table

For each technology solution, list the relative strength (RS) with which they meet each attribute. A product with a strong price position might receive an RS 9/10. However, this same product may score only an RS 3/10 for scalability—each product’s RS matters.

Assess Results

Multiply each solution’s RS with each attribute’s WI. A solution that scores 9/10 RS on an attribute with an 8/10 WI will score 72/100 for that attribute. Likewise, one that achieves 3/10 RS in the same attribute will score just 24/100.

Strength of Weighted Tables

Weighted tables help to separate options that appear very similar on paper. They also help if no solution meets all/many of your desired requirements. It clarifies which option is closest, and you can determine if this is adequate.

If there are no good options, it’s time to ensure the problem statement is accurate. If the statement is correct, consider bespoke solution development or contacting a provider for modified-COTS solutions.

Bespoke development or modified-COTS, done right, will have the capacity to meet most, if not all, functional and feature requirements but are likely to be high-cost and slow to produce.

Choosing a Technology Solution

The final selection is not usually clear, so convene a team of relevant stakeholders to determine the solution.

Like when defining the problem, stakeholders should be those using the solution from users to managers, those implementing the solution, and those maintaining it long term as well as anyone reliant on outputs or exports.

Include Relevant Stakeholders

Similar to the weighted table, the weight of importance of each team’s opinion will be relative. A CRM system that customer service finds unusable is irrelevant even if accounting loves it.

A usable CRM with poor reporting may still be usable if the data is easily exported. A developer can build required dashboards much quicker and cheaper than you can fix features and functionality.

Decision Making Processes

Various decision-making processes can be used in business, depending on the situation and the type of decision that needs to be made. However, some of the most common decision-making processes include:

This is generally a direct acceptance of the option with the highest score or the highest score across high-importance attributes.

Strengths: Logical, data-driven

This is hard to obtain, sometimes impossible, especially in large teams. Allows for open communication of subjective preferences.

Strengths: Best for subjective/intangible solutions

Voting allows individual members to cast votes for their preferred option, and the option with the most votes wins.

Weighted voting can be a valuable alternative to this.

Strengths: Relatively fast, finds the overall preferred solution

Weighted votes mean those with the most expertise carry more influence. You may choose to keep weighted voting anonymous or de-identified to prevent internal conflicts and rifts between teams.

Strengths: Expert driven, still considers preferences

This is best for companies with a high degree of top-down control where security and manageability are important. Choose who is most important to the decision-making process for the given technology solution. They get to make the only and final say.

Strength: Fastest decision, no debate, no time needed for meetings

Conclusion

There is no one right way to select a technology solution. It depends on the company size and maturity, budget, and the urgency of the problem to be addressed. It also depends on if the solution is hardware, software, infrastructure, or a service need.

Regardless of urgency, it is essential not to rush the process. Make sure the problem is identified clearly. If you only solve a symptom, you will spend time and money without fixing anything.

Make sure the search for solutions is thorough. The first big provider may just be the best at marketing, not the best service provider. Likewise, the cheapest is usually cheapest for a reason.

Weighing up the solutions can be tedious, but a well-prepared weighted table can simplify the final decision process and produce a better quality result in less time than deciding without one.

Finally, the selection decision should be made with the process that best matches your company position. The selection of a technology solution is a process that impacts all other processes in your company. Choose wisely.

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