The real purpose of technology in business is to enable your business to execute faster, cheaper and with better quality--regardless of the old joke that you can pick two of those, but not all three. There's no question that the proper application of technology has provided orders-of-magnitude improvement in the ways we do business. But, that's not always the case. There are too many cases where the technology not only doesn't deliver, but actually makes it harder for some people to do their jobs. Worst case, enterprise-wide applications have actually been abandoned, or have required huge additional expenditures in order to get them to work. So, what leads to these situations, and how can we avoid them?

It all starts with understanding your business processes and where your processes could be improved by applying the appropriate technology solutions. An automated workflow system may sound like a great idea, and the demos may be compelling, but if your real issues are related to pre-press problems or the fact that you're averaging 16 rounds of revision on simple jobs, a workflow management system isn't the answer, at least not the highest priority answer.

Another common problem is encountered when you have identified a real need and a potential solution, but haven't done due diligence with a requirements analysis. Even if you've identified the main functional requirements, it's necessary to really understand how the potential solution will provide the needed functionality. We've all seen systems that can provide the functionality you need, but either don't fit the way you do business, or require unnatural acts on the part of the users in order to get to some of the functionality (is it really necessary to navigate seven screens to get to a traffic summary???). If the technology doesn't make it easier for people to do their jobs and manage their work, then it will not get adopted and work-arounds will be found--negating your investment of time and resources to get the project implemented.

So what's the answer? Well, of course, there isn't just one answer, but there are some things that can be done to improve the likelihood that a good solution is found.

1. Analyze and fix your processes first. Then identify the key areas of need. The last thing you want to do is automate a bad process.

2. Develop requirements that not only address functionality, but also cover the user experience. It's important to include things like 'number of clicks' for key functions and time for data retrieval.

3. Make sure that the applications you are considering meet your requirements in a way that will improve your business performance. One way to address this is to generate specific use cases that capture major business steps and make them part of the demo or proof of concept work. This also helps when you evaluate multiple vendors so that you are comparing specific deliverables and not making choices based on the vendor's polished presentations.

4. Be especially mindful of situations where the particular solution you are considering will require you to change the way you are doing business. While there are situations where that might be the right thing to do, it's usually not the case.

5. Finally, request references from the vendors so you can talk to other companies that are using the solutions you are considering. And, make sure they were addressing similar business issues.

Technology is a wonderful thing, and it's even more wonderful when it can help you improve your business performance and your bottom line.