Use Technology to Your Advantage

Posted: October 26, 1998 by Chuck Matthews in Startup, Technology

Classic Cincinnati Post column from 1998

Is your small business equipped with technology toys or competitive weapons? Most of us have become familiar with the telephone, voice mail, fax and even e-mail. But how about digital text messaging?

I recently sent my first digital text message. Armed with the person’s digital phone number, I logged onto the Internet, brought up the home page for her wireless carrier, clicked on the digital text messaging button, typed in the number and brief message, hit send and logged off. Seconds later, her digital phone beeped and across the screen of her phone scrolled my message. E-mail on your portable phone.

Now the question becomes, can this help my business develop a competitive advantage or is it just a technology toy?

If you own and operate a business, you cannot ignore the fast change and high impact of technology in the workplace. But before you run out and embrace it all, ask yourself these basic questions: How can I best use information technology to gain competitive advantage? What steps do I need to take?

One of the best reasons to embrace technology is its ability to make your business more competitive. If you haven’t already done so as part of your strategic planning process, develop a list of your current activities or a mini-management audit:

What is the nature of the business? Does it sell products, ideas, process information, serve people? How does it provide goods and services and to whom?

Once the major activities are listed, go to the next level of detail, including information needs, record keeping, accounting, forecasting, word processing, financial analysis and training that your company does. Examine your list and rank the items from the most important to the least.

With this list, you can identify areas in which you may use technology to build resources and capabilities that will make your firm more efficient and competitive. Since this list will change over time, keep a written record so you can measure your progress.

Armed with the knowledge of your mini-management audit, you are better equipped to decide how much and which areas of your business would benefit from technology. A quick technology audit is in order. How much technology are you currently using? Personal computers? Phone system? Voice mail? E-mail? Web page?

One thing to keep in mind, technology will not fix a bad manual system. Address the problem first and then introduce technology to increase effectiveness.

Now you are in a good position to assess what areas are priorities for your firm to consider either introducing or upgrading technology application. Ask yourself several strategic questions:

What activities are critical to our success? What activities will become critical as our firm grows?

What activities will be critical to maintaining a competitive advantage?

For example, after completing their management and technology audit, one small business decided that three areas of activity in their firm would benefit from enhanced technology use:

Responding to customers.

Managing resources.

Analyzing cash flows.

As a result, they channeled their resources in two areas: software and training and enhanced phone service.

Next, define your technology needs and develop a budget. Shop for software and services that meet your needs first, then choose the hardware. As tempting as it is, try not to let hardware drive your decisions or you may end up with a very nice (and often expensive) piece of hardware that is more of a toy than a competitive weapon.

Finally, integrate the technology into your business. This will require not only time and money, but also patience.

The key is not to embrace technology just for the sake of technology, but because it addresses some competitive need in your business.

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