The cost of complexity
Monday, February 18, 2008/
Being tech-savvy is a necessity today – but no-one says you need to re-invent the wheel.
Last week I stumbled on an article claiming nearly half the managers of British small to medium enterprises find the internet has increased the complexity of running their businesses.
This is no doubt true. The internet and computers are complex – it’s the nature of the beasts. The idea of some consumer groups that computers should be as reliable as toasters or fridges is a pipe dream.
Professor Andrew Burke, one of the authors of the study, likened technology to a new golf club that can hit the ball an extra 30 yards. Everyone has to have that club or they are 30 yards behind the opposition.
That analogy applies to business technology. No business in a competitive market can afford to be without the internet or computers as the competition will simply leave them behind. So the challenge is to manage that complexity, not ignore it.
The key is to make complex technology simple for staff and customers to use. This means management has to invest in reliable, mature technology and find competent, dependable partners and staff to look after it. Simply accepting the words of marketing materials or slick salesmen is not good enough.
Wise technology investments tend not to re-invent the wheel and avoid the bleeding edge of technology. Being at the bleeding edge means you are so much on the “cutting edge” of new trends that you will probably get hurt. While a few, mainly technology based, businesses need to be at that bleeding edge, the majority of us don’t, so we can let others get cut and learn from their experiences.
A good example of this is Microsoft Vista. Organisations that adopted Vista early had a painful process of finding what worked and what didn’t. Those businesses who stuck with Windows XP avoided that pain and have cheerfully taken a great deal of complexity out of their lives.
Similarly it’s best to avoid reinventing the wheel. For instance there are plenty of good accounting packages available for companies of all sizes, yet I never cease to be amazed at the number of businesses who struggle with custom accounting and database applications that cost way in excess of the off-the-shelf solutions while delivering far less.
That’s not to say mature software and technologies are without their quirks, bugs and downright silly programming mistakes, but generally the industry knows about them and can work around them. All of this makes life easier for managers and business owners.
While this survey focused on British small to medium enterprises, there’s no doubt it is just as true for businesses of all sizes here in Australia. Using technology wisely gives the local newsagent an advantage just as surely as it does their bank or big suppliers.
The moral for all of us trying to run businesses is that technology is a powerful set of tools that can help us do our jobs, but we have to choose and learn how to use those tools that will help us the most effectively.
Paul Wallbank is a writer, speaker and broadcaster on technology is
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