Managing technology in your business might sound as routine and boring as paying the phone bill. Then again, paying the phone bill can’t become a public relations nightmare.
Case in point: Facebook. Beginning on Oct. 5, 2010, the social networking site was slow or unavailable for some of its 500 million users worldwide. This came on the heels of several outages in recent years, one as recently as late September.
The October outage prompted outrage in tweets and online chat rooms as well as rumors (techcrunch.com reported: “A Facebook Redesign Likely Being Unveiled Tomorrow After an Employee “Lockdown”). Facebook ultimately blamed the problem on “unspecified site issues,” according to the Associated Press.
This incident illustrates the importance of managing technology in your business. Your operation likely doesn’t have 500 million “clients,” but the ones you do have become frustrated when a technological problem disrupts their interaction with your business.
By the same token, when technology is running right, it can help level the playing field and allow your small business to compete against much bigger entities in the marketplace. At one time, someone starting a business needed lots of capital for equipment and personnel. Today, one person can establish a new company with just a computer, Internet access and a Facebook page.
Technology management in the business world breaks into two categories:
• Asset management. This is the day-to-day operation of your technology by your staff, including periodically upgrading your technology and even keeping track of the deprecation of your equipment and software. Hopefully everything is functioning properly: computers, printers, Internet, etc.
• Threat management. This consists of trying to prevent system outages and computer viruses.
When economic times are tough, many businesses first cut or reduce planned upgrades in equipment and software. After all, unlike an employee, a piece of technology doesn’t have a family or responsibilities.
Making your existing technology last longer can pose a problem. For example, if you’re on a three-year depreciation cycle for your computers, you might try to make them last another three to five years in an economic downturn. As the machines age, however, they’re less and less likely to have the infrastructure capable of running the new software you need to remain competitive.
Some companies outsource IT to save the money they would normally pay for an employee’s salary and benefits. However, if something goes wrong, the firm is looking at having an IT consultant come onsite to first familiarize themselves with the business’ systems and then solve the problem — typically, at rates of $75 to $300 an hour.
If you do choose to outsource your IT needs, it’s wise to have a point person within your company who can quickly explain to an outsider what your systems are and what you need them to do. If something should go wrong, it’s a little like having a translator — only one who can talk computers rather than Chinese.
You need to keep threat management in mind. Bandwidth is like a straw. If many people try to use the same “straw” at once, often the information they’re trying to slurp through the “straw” gets clogged.
For example, if you’re trying to log onto your bank’s website, and some glitch prevents you from being able to see your accounts, you might wait five minutes and try again. Then another five minutes, and try again. Then again — just like all the other bank customers trying to gain access and growing more frustrated by the minute.
How should your business handle such a glitch? Communication is the key to avoid alienating your customers. Shoot them an email:
• Tell them you’re aware of the problem.
• Apologize for the inconvenience the problem is causing.
• Tell them that you’re fixing the problem. This way you don’t have the continued (and denied) requests for access and users complaining via computer or phone — and taking up the time of the employees who need to be fixing the problem.
Remember the old rule of thumb: One satisfied customer will tell 10 people; a dissatisfied one will tell everyone they know, forever. Keep your customers on your side by wisely managing your technology.
Chuck Williams is dean of the College of Business at Butler University. Jason Davidson, instructor of management information science at Butler, contributed to this article. For more information on the College and its “real life, real business” approach to business education, visit www.ButlerRealBusiness or e-mail Chuck at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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