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Russ Palmer

I have to say, down economies excite me. Everything goes on sale, and sanity seems to return to the economic landscape.

I had the good fortune to be in the technology business during the dot com bust of 2000. In the late 90's companies where gobbling up technology as fast as they could for technology sake, convinced that this new-found elixir of life would catapult their business into the stratosphere. Young twenty- and thirtysomethings with little or no business experience were given the keys to the company vaults in hopes that these technology wizards would somehow rain revenue on the organization with their magical tools. Process went out the window and gadgets ruled the technology budget. I was personally happy to see the party end and sobriety return to the business landscape.

Profitability, competitive advantage and risk containment are all byproducts of a well thought out business process. When you look at a company that is a profitable, and recession organization, it usually has exceptional processes.

I find this mantra worth repeating here: Technology exists for one reason only, to enhance process. This truth does not change in a down economy. In fact, it becomes of even greater importance. Economic sanity involves process sanity and process sanity inevitably leads to a look at technology. So what are some sane technology strategies to consider? I'm going to cover three things here to consider as you look at the years technology budget.

If you are still trading dollars for hours with your technology vendor, your technology strategy is reactive. This is a terrible process practice and should be stopped! The biggest problem that arises from this process strategy is that the process has to "break" for the next process step to take place, which in all likelihood involves calling someone in a panic and demanding that they love you enough as a customer to drop everything else they have going on to come and bail you out of your poor process. It's a difficult lesson that all business owners have found themselves in.

Most vendors offer proactive bundles of services, from routine maintenance to advanced storage and IT services, for very reasonable monthly rates. These outsourced services can usually be obtained on open contracts with 30-day opt-out conditions. They greatly reduce the need for the expense of internal IT resources. From a process standpoint, outsourcing moves your technology maintenance strategy from reactive to proactive. This ensures that problems are prevented rather that repaired after the fact, saving the organization critical cash flow in a time when cash is fuel.

Look for deals - money is cheap! As I mentioned earlier, deals abound in a down economy. Broadband companies are giving away phones and laptops, enticing companies to sign up for their services. Technology vendors are slashing prices, and borrowing money is virtually free. With interest rates at an all time low, below 2 percent in many instances, there is no need to pull operating capital from your organization to buy technology. Up economy or down economy, investing operating capital into a depreciating asset like technology is a reactive strategy and is risky at best.

Let's get to the bottom line on this issue: Technology costs money. Everyone understands this fact so the resulting question too often is "What does the technology cost?" However, if you can get your brain around the fact that technology exists to enhance a process, shouldn't the question be, "What does the process cost?" Companies with properly aligned technologies that enhance the processes of the organization understand that the acquisition and maintenance of the technology is a monthly expense.

Once this balance is set, the need for large "one time" capital outputs is eliminated, providing instead a technology program that requires and provides a return on investment every month.

Look to innovation to do things more effectively. One example of this is technology tools that promote and support off-site or remote workers. The reliability and enhancement of these tools have finally come to fruition. Increased bandwidth and stable Internet connections have made virtual offices a productive possibility at a much lower cost than the real estate to house workers in an office location. Workers are able to be part of the home office phone system, email and calendaring system just as those under the physical roof of the company. These tools give you better reach and larger market share, not to mention access to a work force that may not have been available previously. Simple tools such as Web sharing and Web conferencing can be obtained for as little as $49 per month. This tool not only allows your workforce to spend less to gather people into a traditional conference situation, it allows potential customers to do so from their own home or office, saving them time and expense.

Know when not to use the technology. Let's not forget the importance of face-to-face human interaction. This holiday season filled my email box with requests to donate to one cause or another. I don't doubt the validity of any of these organizations, but my money went to a face and a story.

Does your process include a face and a story? In this down time it may just be that piece of non-technology that sees you through. Happy New Year!

To learn more about planning a business move contact Russ Palmer at 406-869-8910 or e-mail rpalmer@theconnectgroup.com

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