There are many options to upgrade the technology of businesses today. Many businesses really have no idea where to start, though. There’s a lot of terms thrown around in the media like ‘the cloud’ or ‘big data,’ but what does any of that really mean for a business. The large enterprises have a grasp on their technological needs, but that may not be the case of small and medium-sized businesses. Many smaller firms typically hire managed IT solutions. While most of these companies are great, a business shouldn’t depend on the firm alone for suggestions or guidance. What I hope to offer with this article is a little explanation for businesses everywhere so they can be empowered to ask the proper questions and seek out the proper help.
This article is long and covers a lot of topics at a 10,000-foot level. In fact, entire college courses are devoted to topics covered in this article. Though this is written to be easy to understand, and maybe a little generic, I encourage readers to think critically about their business while reading this article. If you still have questions, consult with a technology firm that can better guide you.
First, businesses need to be able to identify their problems. Existing problems can be difficult to identify so I suggest asking these questions:
If the answer is yes to any of these questions, it would be worthwhile investigating changing the current business processes or upgrading technologies used to fix the issue.
How do you start doing that, though? After being able to answer these questions, hopefully, you have at least identified that you have a problem. That’s a good start but it’s time to figure out how to fix it.
I would be hard pressed to explain how to resolve every problem within a business. All businesses will need to go through some kind of examination period. During this time period, the business leaders or project managers will have to gather what data they can, and if none is available, create it, and analyze the problems of the business and figure out what can be solved. During this early investigation, project leaders will also need to identify who all the stakeholders are and how they affect the problem and the solution. After the data is gathered and the business has a better idea of the current flaws in the system, they can begin to investigate various solutions.
During the rest of this article, I am going to use the term solution a little loosely. Business technology is a very wide subject that can include anything from better vehicles to robotics, to custom and complex software systems. Understand that when I say solution, this could reference either software of hardware. Also, understand, though, that today, most hardware is rather commoditized but the software can be as vanilla or as custom as a business may desire.
Software and hardware can be a source of big constraints within a business. It can be too expensive or not fit the needs of the business. Even worse, there are so many options that evaluating software and hardware options can be difficult. So, let’s take a look at various choices.
No matter what the requirements of the business may be, various solutions can be broken down into three categories.
Each category can have its pros and cons. Let’s dive a little deeper into each.
Pre-packaged solutions come bundled and ready to go. They tend to be a one-size-fits-all deal. Many businesses use them because they can be the cheapest option and be quickly utilized. Pre-packaged solutions take very little time to deploy to the entire business.
Pre-packaged solutions aren’t a perfect option for any business, though, nor may work with the current businesses’ process. In fact, businesses may need to adapt or completely change their process to work with pre-packaged solutions. Vendors do their best to anticipate the needs of all businesses and create packages that will work for the largest audience possible, but they are never perfect.
Customizable packages fit between pre-packaged solutions and custom developed packages. Customizable solutions have features of both other categories and potentially a little less hassle then either. Customizable solutions come pre-packaged and can typically be used off-the-shelf. Deployment is quick and the initial expense is pretty low. Customized solutions can be modified to suit the specific needs of the business but only to a limited extent.
Customizing these types of packages still typically requires hiring an outside firm or specialist to create the modification needed by the business. This is where the added expense comes in. The business will still have to go through the entire evaluation, design, and implementation cycle that’s required by any completely custom package. Also, depending on the end user license agreements of software used in designing the package or the firm hired to make the modifications, the business may not even be able to claim rights to those modifications.
Custom solutions are designed from the ground up to suit the needs of the business. This is probably the hardest process to pursue but has the potential to be the most rewarding. Let’s take a look at why.
Custom solutions will take longer to deploy than any other option. That’s because the business will have to go through the entire design process. The business, or an outside firm, will have to conduct interviews with all of the stakeholders involved, develop a process and protocol, create proposals, create prototypes, perform further testing, perform usability tests, develop a deployment strategy, and finally, implement the solution to the business. Depending on the complexity of the solution, this process can take anywhere from a few months to a few years.
Don’t let the cons scare you, though. They are more of a precautionary warning than anything else. As I said, custom solutions have the ability to perfectly fit the needs of the business. Let’s say that the bottleneck identified early on was the ability of warehouse workers finding inventory. A new inventory system could be designed to fit the current hardware capabilities of the business, adapt to the employees, and coordinate with existing processes.
If the businesses find that they need new hardware and new software to create a better process, both can be designed in tandem. This allows the business to create the perfect solution for their needs. Many businesses currently do this.
Amazon is a leader in innovation and the perfect example of creating in-house systems. It’s not well known, but Amazon’s AWS services grew from their custom hardware and software implementations. Amazon created a robust, distributed system that operated incredibly smoothly. So smoothly in fact that they ended up having extra computer power laying around. Instead of sitting on it, or powering down systems, Amazon used their knowledge and capabilities of existing systems to create a new billion-dollar business. Amazon’s AWS solutions are now considered the a top tier cloud service.
Likewise, Amazon is developing a way to deliver product quicker and cheaper to customers via drones. It’s been all over the news the past few years. Amazon has hit some road blocks but is developing everything in-house. Once it is finished, Amazon will again revolutionize logistics. Not only will they again be a business leader, but they will have another new intellectual property and business they can sell to create another billion-dollar business.
Amazon may be the biggest example, but they aren’t the only one. There are many businesses that create custom, in-house solutions every day. They end up turning around and leasing or selling their innovations and create an entirely new business just from solving their problems.
It’s advantageous, should you choose to go the custom route, to choose the right partner. There are a lot of firms out there that would be more than happy to develop custom solutions for you. In this gig economy, freelancers are a dime a dozen. Be careful about who you choose. The right partner will be passionate about your project, have excellent customer service skills, and will follow through to the end of the project. They will also be the one to navigate the software and hardware development life cycle. Make sure to choose wisely.