Focus on technology

During this series I am looking at a number of issues relevant to all small and medium enterprises and identify both the opportunities and challenges associated with each issue. Topics to be covered include planning; staff and recruitment; customers and service; marketing; competition; new products and services; being well organised; collaborating with others; understanding and analysing risk; managing the money; going into business with family or friends; grants, loans and investment; expansion and growth; technology and exporting.

Today my focus is on technology.

The Collins English Dictionary describes technology as referring to methods, systems, and devices which are the result of scientific knowledge being used for practical purposes, especially in industry.

Technology itself is far from new although today the rapid changes in computer led technological advances do focus the mind somewhat and sometimes we can forget about less glamorous and more simple technologies that have been with us a long time.

The key words in the above definition are “for practical purposes”.

As business owners, especially of SMEs, our sole interest in technology must be to focus on how it can practically help us achieve our business goals quicker, smarter and more profitably.

There are a number of challenges to consider:

* Where do we start — there are a mind-numbing array of technological developments that all claim to be able to help us take our businesses to the next level.

Talk to other people, especially to other business owners; attend networking functions with your local business group or Chamber of Commerce; keep an eye out for seminars or workshops on specific technological developments; read articles in the press or on line.

Whatever you do, do not bury your head in the sand — there is likely to be some technology out there that will be of great benefit to your business.

You will only find it by actively looking.

* Technology belongs to younger people — I won’t understand it. Nonsense.

As the old saying goes, if we think we can do something or think we can’t do something we will be right.

The key is to keep our focus on our business goal, on the reason we are in business and let that dictate what technologies we should or should not explore. Take care not to be limited by our own mind-sets.

* New technologies are bound to be expensive.

Some technologies certainly are expensive but there are plenty that aren’t.

If you want to invest in a new piece of software for example, talk to others, see what offers are available to small businesses, is it possible to share costs with others, can we invest in stages, are there cheaper alternatives on the market that will do the job just as well?

* Planning before action. Investing in new technology needs to be part of a robust planning process.

In previous articles I have talked about planning as being the way we do business — an on-going process of exploration and discovery.

If we invest in costly new technology without proper robust planning, then we only have ourselves to blame if something goes wrong or if the technology does not turn out to be as useful as we had hoped.

New technologies are business tools and not all tools do all jobs — we want the right tools in our toolbox that will help us achieve our goals and, when we get them, we need to know how to use them.

We don’t take the time to learn. Most of us are familiar with outlook as a tool probably in regular use on our laptops or computers but I wonder how many of us have ever fully explored what it can do.

The same will be true for any new technology — time invested earlier on will almost certainly be time saved at a later date.

We fall for the marketing hype. Many new technologies are attractively packaged.

Remember if they make claims that sound too good to be true then they probably are.

Don’t buy anything new without first satisfying yourself that it is exactly what you are looking for and that it will do the job.

If you can’t get your questions answered satisfactorily then walk away and search for an alternative.

We are using tools to grow our businesses today that most of us had never dreamed about 10-15 years ago and we know that the speed of technological advance is getting faster and faster.

Burying our heads in the sand is not a strategy for growth.

The planned and sensible adoption of new technology is.

If we are nervous or unsure, then seek help — approach your mentor or another business or a business advisor.

No-one will mind and the simple act of asking for help might make all the difference between real progress and costly mistakes.

If you need help with your own technological plans or you want some feedback on your own practices, then please get in touch.

* Chris Elphick is partner in Breadfruit Consulting, formerly Learnfast Pacific, supporting the development of a range of businesses and organisations in Melanesia and other parts of the Pacific.

He is an experienced trainer, coach and business mentor and has years of experience of working with small and medium enterprises.

He and his partner Hazel Kirkham live in Vanuatu.

Breadfruit Consulting have partnered with Fiji Entrepreneur to develop mentoring services for new and young entrepreneurs.

If you have an issue or query related to this article, please contact Chris at chris@breadfruitconsulting.com or text to +6785500556

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