When I was listing the topics I wanted to cover in the One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge, Evaluating Technology Productivity was an early entry. I knew it was important and that it represented a struggle for business owners and managers. But, the fact that it defies succinct diagnosis, lacks easy measurements and has a “more than I’m comfortable with” amount of subjectivity pushed it this far into the schedule.
Certainly, the ROI of some technology is apparent. A customer-facing e-commerce site generates sales numbers that can be compared to the cost of running the site. The return on other tech investments is tougher to quantify. If you invest $20K in security and never have a customer data breach or never have a bout with ransomware, what’s the return? It’s hard to quantify the value of an event that never happens. If you invest $2000/month for a CRM subscription for your entire customer-facing team and the sales funnel is always full and customer problems never fall through the cracks, can you calculate how much of that is directly attributable to the CRM?
That being said, I’m a big believer in tech-enabled enterprises. I like measuring metrics for web, email and social performance. I like tracking every touch with current and potential customers using a CRM. I like ERP systems that integrate supply chain, human resources, transformation activities and finance. I like collaboration tools that supercharge organizational learning. But the question remains – am I getting my money’s worth?
For those pieces of tech where the ROI is a bit squishier, I want to offer some tools for subjectively measuring tech effectiveness. Like many of the One Year, Thirty Minute Challenges, this would be best handled with your leadership team. Get them together and work through these questions, one tech tool or application at a time? It will work for both in-house and hosted applications.
Process Support – Could you do your work without the tech tool or software? Is it integral for scheduling, manufacturing, distribution, communication or personal productivity? Does it make the work easier or faster? Are there shortcomings in the tool that frequently surface that make the work more difficult, make it take longer or stop the work altogether?
Integration – Is the tech tool or software easily integrated with other pieces of software or hardware in the organization? Can you easily pass data back and forth between other tech tools in the organization?
Reliability – Is the tech tool or software always on? Is it frequently down or unavailable because of maintenance?
Ease of Use – Do most employees use the tech tool or software as you intended or do they look for ways to avoid it? Do they opt for a manual workaround or use a personal tech tool instead? Do they complain about functionality (too many screens, too many clicks required to get to the information needed), the user interface or lack of available reporting? Is information readily available when it’s needed to resolve an operational issue or solve a customer problem? Do they complain about lack of vendor support?
Support – When the tech tool or software is experiencing a problem, does the vendor respond and repair the problem in a reasonable amount of time? When the tool is scheduled for an upgrade, do the upgrades work without causing additional problems? Do you have consistent communication with the vendor so that you are aware of new capabilities, new products, subsequent revenue or savings opportunities or improvements to the employee or customer experience?
Ease of Configuration – Does the tech tool or software make it easy to add a new product, change pricing, add a discount, change a process or affect other operational changes? Do you have to call the vendor for changes you feel like you should be able to make yourself?
Security – Is the data stored inside the tech tool or software secure? Is the data and application infrastructure “hardened” against physical attacks, cyber attacks and internal breaches by employees or vendors? Is there sufficient user-level security – only allowing users access to information they need for their work?
Reporting – Does the tech tool or software provide readily-accessible, accurate and actionable information? Is information presented in sufficient granularity so that you can evaluate the performance of individual employees, customers, products and services? Is the information accessible to every person that needs it?
Money – Does the tech tool or software allow you to drive additional revenue? Can customers schedule online, purchase online, add complimentary products, see additional available services or easily pay online? Does the tech tool or software save money for the organization by automating tasks, improving accuracy or reducing defects?
If the tech tools or software in your organization don’t measure up in the light of these criteria, it might be time for a change. Depending on the complexity and the level of integration, it might be as easy as stopping one subscription and starting another or it could be an extremely complicated and long undertaking. Don’t hesitate to get help if it’s needed.