Selecting a piece of technology to incorporate into your business can be a daunting task. If you don’t keep up with technology, you can easily be left behind in a world of capabilities you know nothing about.
I recently went through this process when purchasing a new printer for our office, and thought I would share some considerations that have helped me select information technology in the past. Although I have framed the factors relative to printers, the same concepts can be used to purchasing any piece of technology, including large capital equipment spends.
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1. Strategic Planning for the Information Technology’s Features
When it comes to features, many consumers tend to zero in on the bells and whistles of a machine. It is important to step back from this perspective and view all aspects of the technology. For a standard computer printer, everything should be considered from the amount of pages it can print per minute (PPM), to its dimensions, to what operating systems it supports.
Features are the most important element to examine when selecting a piece of technology, and an excellent strategy is to create a table that allows you to compare similar statics across multiple options (think of the compare button on websites).
It’s best to break features down into three classifications: (1) what you need, (2) what you may need in the future, and (3) what you don’t need. This can be done by translating features into benefits. Benefits are the inherit impacts a device will have at your office. Using the above example of a printer, the benefit of purchasing a printer that produces 32 pages-per-minute (PPM) would be that now your documents can be printed faster, avoiding backups that potentially occurred with an existing machine.
This line of thinking is especially useful when figuring out what you don’t need. For capital equipment and production machinery, businesses often use current and expected demand as a measure of what their equipment needs are. As long as a previous model or pre-owned device delivers all the features you are looking for, they are excellent options for saving money.
2. How the Technology Fits Employee Capabilities
“I have seen companies ignore the utility factor multiple times, leading to purchases collecting dust.”
A technology’s “utility” identifies how the equipment will fit into your business. Returning to the example of printing speed, just because a printer is capable of printing 32 PPM (theoretically allowing your team to print more quickly) it won’t always result in significant change.
A tech expert may need to configure or permanently use the machine because an average-skilled team member may not receive the full benefits. I have seen companies ignore the utility factor multiple times, leading to purchases collecting dust. For larger spends, such as capital equipment, utility provides a chance to examine the hidden costs of training, and what the learning curve would look like towards maximizing production.
3. Choose a Build Quality to Support Technical Requirements
I remember thinking of my father as a tech dinosaur, always searching for metal components stead of newer, lighter plastics. While examining build quality can seem incredibly old fashioned, it could be the difference between a machine lasting two years or ten.
No matter how innovative the design is, components will experience wear and tear as they are used. With the case of business-grade printers, one of the first components to fail tend to be plastic rollers that control the dispensing of paper. During the wearing-down process, paper jams routinely occur, leading to office frustration and maintenance costs. Besides examining the materials and overall sturdiness of a model, a great way to check out build quality is to see what people are saying about an earlier version of the model.
4. How Consumables Can Affect a Solution’s Value
Consumables represent the real cost behind many technology purchases. It can change your least expensive option into your most expensive, and is the reason landfills are full of printers that have been used only a handful of times.
For printers, the consumable is an ink or toner cartridge, however, not all consumables are created equally. Consumables can have hidden features and benefits may completely change a business’ choice. For example, inkjet printer cartridges can yield vastly different page outputs at a similar price points, so determining quality on cost alone is not logical. When looking at production equipment, maintenance costs, changeover times, scheduling/batching capabilities, and input efficiencies can have significant impacts on the return on investment (ROI) of a machine.
An additional consideration is the long-term cost of printer consumables. Although inkjet printers are less expensive to purchase upfront and easier to maintain long-term, inkjet printers are much more efficient and can reduce the costs of printing by more than 50%. Depending on how the printer will be used, consumables must be considered to determine if the idea is feasible or not. Businesses must also be prepared to make trade-offs as they balance the need for productivity and cost-efficiency.
5. Consider the Opinions of Employees and Other Users
Learning what actual end users of your device experience is a key asset in selecting a piece of technology. This can be feedback from colleagues, friends, or family, as well as user reviews online.
Beware of basing your opinions on online reviews and word of mouth; few people take to forums to profess their love of a device in comparison to people who want to vent or complain. However, this information could still be useful for discovering issues that may come up over use, emerging issues, or unexpected costs (some of which are outlined above).
Bonus: Determining the Time to Buy for Optimal Pricing
While some technology purchases need to occur right away to avoid drops in productivity, many purchases cam wait. Monitor pricing during your selection process, as sales, discounts, and coupons can have a considerable impact on your options. For larger capital equipment purchases, businesses can explore small business grants and loans that may assist with the purchase, implementation, and training on innovative technologies.