By Joseph Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter
It’s always fun to talk about the newest, fastest computer hardware and photo gear on the market, but it pays to step back and strategically evaluate the technology that we use in our businesses and professional lives.
Simply throwing expensive new technology at a business or organizational problem often lowers profitability, rather than raising it.
Although that premise may sound counterintuitive, it ultimately makes sense. Buying, configuring and implementing any new technology takes time, money and resources away from your existing business. Profitability falls if that expensive new technology guzzles resources without producing significantly greater business efficiency.
At the same time, failing to evolve and modernize at least as fast as your competition is a death sentence for any business in a free-market economy. How should you strike a balance?
Technology produces its greatest benefits when we “re-engineer” what we do and how we do it, taking advantage of a new technology’s unique capabilities and efficiencies. Suppose that you overhauled how you do business and tried to be as efficient and effective as possible. What technology makes the most practical sense, how much should it cost, and how would you do it?
Tough economic times force any business to learn how to become more profitable and efficient. In terms of technology, a small business’s owners and employees may end up becoming the frontline technical support and system administrator. More often than we might like, your own daily needs and technology investment are likely pulling in different directions. With that in mind, what makes sense for the small business revamping its technology?
You don’t need to spend yourself into bankruptcy to acquire effective computer hardware. High-performance computer systems are no longer expensive or unreliable. Effective automation is now a cornerstone of any successful business, but ill-conceived automation can be an expensive solution in search of the right problem.
Automation’s long-term usefulness and profitability depends greatly upon how you plan for the future. Even though simple approaches and programs often provide the best return for your automation investment, it’s far too easy to simply throw a lot of immature, bleeding-edge technology, expensive hardware and even more expensive employee time at what is really a business management problem.
The most basic solution is to plan, purchase and implement technology acquisitions carefully and buy only the hardware and software that you will be able to install and begin using within the next two months or so. Purchasing binges are inefficient. If you binge buy, then you likely waste money. By purchasing only what you can install and begin using promptly, you’ll be able to later buy a newer, better version of the same product for less money.
Choose your technology with an eye to long-term, low-cost usefulness. Buy mainstream technology wherever possible and avoid dead-end and “bleeding-edge” hardware and software. You’ll not only save money by purchasing mature, proven software and hardware, but likely also spare yourself an expensive, frustrating experience installing and using immature technology.
The personnel costs and disruption that accompanies installing overly elaborate technology usually costs more than the actual purchase price. Use the least-complex technology that efficiently does the job for you, provided that it has reasonable long-term growth potential. Investigate the spectrum of available technology before becoming locked in.
At a minimum, you should buy medium-high performance computer hardware. Try to avoid systems that use wholly proprietary “system” or “mother” main boards. Unlike systems that use “ATX” or “Micro-ATX” main boards, proprietary systems usually can’t be upgraded. A fast new Windows system that’s more than adequate for almost all foreseeable law office needs can usually be purchased for about $1,000 or less. And everything will be new and up to date, compatible and covered by warranty.
Basic engineering and overall system performance doesn’t vary very much from brand to brand anymore, even though brand-name manufacturers often use system boards that are proprietary in how they mechanically attach to the computer case, an approach that unfortunately precludes less costly third-party upgrades later.
Although brand-name systems from first-tier vendors are often decent buys, if you anticipate later making periodic upgrades to your systems, then you should at least consider purchasing generic systems that use high-quality components mounted inside an industry-standard, ATX-style system case. Several reputable stores on the central peninsula can assemble and maintain industry-standard ATX systems.
I usually recommend a three-year hardware replacement cycle, although you might want to make partial upgrades more frequently, given today’s very low component prices. It’s false economy to retain or not upgrade an unreliable or too-slow system until it’s been fully depreciated based on an artificially long depreciation schedule.
Remember, modern computer and communications technology are now the basic tools and lifeblood of any business.
In the 1990s, technology was all the rage and tech purchases soared. Yet, despite throwing a lot of money and technology at offices and businesses around the country, productivity seemed to stagnate. We were perplexed. Only later did we realize that using technology to do the same old things in the same old ways did not increase productivity very much, if at all. In order to reap tangible benefits from technology, you’ll need to re-examine your business and perhaps make some major changes in your processes and objectives.
Technology offers opportunities and advantages that are real, but not necessarily congruent with how you’ve always done business in the past. Try to think outside the box a bit. Re-engineering business practices has been a hot topic for 15 years or more. The business section of a comprehensive bookstore should stock many books that may suggest some new approaches.
Take a tech break
Technology is not entirely benign. Neuropsychologists are beginning to document some negative mental and cognitive side effects of being constantly driven by technology, including impatience, increased overall frustration and poor decision-making.
The suggested solution is one that your mother probably urged when you stayed inside on a sunny Saturday morning to watch cartoons on TV: “Get outside.” It seems that our mothers were right. The best approach for restoring mental balance and giving our minds the downtime we need to think creatively (and recall what we created) is to turn off the cell phone, take a walk in nature and just spend more face time with people we like. The New York Times has recently run an extensive series of articles about this issue. You can find the most recent article, with links to prior articles in their series, by searching for the phrase “Your Brain on Computers,” or visit http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/25/technology/25brain.html?_r=1&ref=your_brain_on_computers.
Local attorney Joe Kashi received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from MIT and his law degree from Georgetown University. He has published many articles about computer technology, law practice and digital photography in national media since 1990. Many of his technology and photography articles can be accessed through his website, http://www.kashilaw.com.