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The Three Biggest Technology Mistakes

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July/August 2000 - Volume 79, Number 4

by Valerie Link

"A computer lets you make more mistakes faster than any invention in human history - with the possible exceptions of handguns and tequila" - Mitch Ratliffe

As a computer trainer and all around geek I see it all the time - the starry-eyed look of longing, the clutching at glossy brochures of software companies that swear that they will solve all of your title problems. And then comes the reality check - along with the software check, the hardware check, the training check, the downtime check …

So you’ve decided to get a new computer system, software and/or hardware. Your old system isn’t doing the trick, you need bigger, faster, better. Heed this advice my friend, from someone who knows! It always costs more and it always takes longer.

1. Too Much Too Soon

Do you really need all of that stuff now? Nothing good ever happens in a hurry, and that’s as true with computers as anything else, trust me. There should be at least a month between signing the contracts and installing your software or hardware. Give yourself at least three days before signing a contract, if for no other reason than to think of questions you might not have thought to ask at the demonstration. If they’re in a hurry to sign they may have a quota to meet. You don’t want to be the quota. And you’ll need every minute of that time, believe me.

2. Poor Planning and Preparation

Do you really need it? Do you understand everything you’re purchasing? When the hardware/software folks came in with their wonderful toys did you understand everything they said, everything they’re going to do? Many of the folks I talk to truly do not understand what they have purchased. All they know is that they wanted to catch up with this wonderful computer revolution, be on the Internet, travel the Information Superhighway. And they do get there, but sometimes the process is horribly painful. There is one way to prevent that - prepare and plan.

Prepare by learning about what you’re purchasing before you purchase it - evaluate everything. If you don’t understand computers find someone you can trust (ask a friend, another agent, pay someone) who does and have them sit in on the demonstration. Ask questions any time you don’t understand something. For example: This software will fax? Wonderful - HOW? Does it have it’s own program, or is there additional software that must be purchased? If it uses other software, do you have to pay for it, or is it included? Get a quote on paper - then they must give you some hard figures. Just remember that that quote may not include everything.

Set an installation plan - when will the software/hardware be installed, how long will it take? Decide when you will put your old system out to pasture, and when to start using the new. And no, you cannot run the old system while you’re "getting used" to the new. It won’t work. It never works. Believe me it’s been tried, many times, ad infinitum, ad nauseum. Given a choice between learning a new system (which is harder, takes longer, and where mistakes happen), or using the old comfortable system, human nature will lead your people to the second choice. The longer they delay the transition, the harder the transition will be. I Guarantee It!

Prepare by setting a budget for technology. I once had a gentlemen nearly in tears when I gently tried to warn him that he might very well be buying new hardware again in two years, or at the very least upgrading it. There are newer, bigger, better things coming out all the time, and you need to prepare for that.

3. Training, Training, Training

Now, I train people to use computers, so I’m a little biased, but only a little. Yet I am constantly astonished by the number of people who have no clue how to use what they own. In fact, I was talking recently to a someone who uses software programs with which I’m quite familiar. It was quickly obvious that they didn’t completely know how to use those programs. Yet his business depended on them. Amazing.

Inadequate or poorly supported training is one of the most cited reasons why productivity drops rather than grows with new software. Training is one of the quickest ways to increase productivity and there have been numerous studies to support that assertion. Yet training is one of the first areas cut when managers start looking to save money on technology. I often recommend to my clients that they find additional training in Windows and word processing, since many software programs use them. Yet only one or two have actually done so. (They think I haven’t noticed. Then someone asks how to use the mouse. That’s a dead giveaway.) Familiarity with one computer program frequently helps when you’re using a different one, particularly if using a Windows-based program. It also helps reduce the intimidation factor that many of your employees may feel when faced with a new program. The money spent on additional training is usually recovered in only a few weeks with the savings gained by increased productivity.

Valerie Link is Automation Account Manager for Stewart Title Guaranty Company. She can be reached at vlink@stewart.com  or 614-818-1100.



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