Keep technology in its place
Why is it important for you to be at the leading edge? It may be that you are in an industry sector where big productivity gains are being achieved through exploiting the latest technology and to fall behind would put you at risk of losing market share or profitability to competitors. If that is the case you simply have to accept the primary role of technology in your business. Plan for rapid depreciation and reinvestment cycles. Find out what the opposition is doing and spend time learning about the latest technical developments.
For most of us, though, having the latest technology is not so important. We need to keep reasonably up-to-date for a variety of reasons. But in some areas replacement cycles are lengthening not reducing. Most of us have yet to fully exploit the facilities of the expensive enterprise resource planning or customer relationship management software we have and a small investment here will give a greater pay-back than replacing the lot.
The supposed benefits of these investments should feed directly into the bottom line. Sometimes change will be forced upon us by IT suppliers going out of business or withdrawing support for old systems. Generally, I am with the accountants on this one - just show me the quantifiable, realisable benefits to the business - measured in pounds sterling not salesman's puff.
Roger Marshall, Elite
Forget IT, deliver real value instead
Your IT systems either help your organisation achieve its aims, or they do not. It simply does not matter if they are "leading", "bleeding" or any other consultancy-driven term - if they deliver for your company, great, if not, do something.
IT systems are installed to help your company to make money, and they must prove they do. Your chief executive and board will not care what systems you are using, but they will care about the impact on the bottom line, and so must you. So ignore all those sales people who tell you that you should be spending money on their technology, you should not spend a single pound. And when you prove that you deliver real value - profit, customers or whatever - you will be seen as an investment, not a cost, then you will not have problems finding the budgets you need. So, forget IT, think business.
David Taylor, Certus
Identify why you need to keep pace
Investment in IT is attractive because it can provide competitive advantage, and it generally allows you to do something faster, cheaper or different from your competitors. This means you should only invest in state-of-the-art IT if it can demonstrate a clear and quantifiable competitive advantage.
By its nature, IT can be copied, so technology alone is not enough to sustain the competitive advantages that you gain. This means you may then decide you need further investment. However, investing in the next big thing will not automatically provide you with further edge - it must be part of a coherent strategy to succeed and its benefit should always be quantifiable.
The key consideration is why you need to keep pace, and how this will help you make more profit, reduce costs or whatever other criteria you base success on. Once you have linked these together, the "problem" goes away, because buying bleeding-edge IT becomes a true investment (implying you get something back) rather than an expenditure. In other words, it is either relevant and critical to where the business is going, or it is not, in which case it should not happen.
David Hughes, Andersen
Use technology to its maximum
First you need to be sure that you need state-of-the-art-technology as it tends to be expensive and vulnerable to teething problems. Often the best business ideas come from using technology innovatively, or simply using it to its maximum. I have seen many examples were I am told, "We have a state-of-the-art customer relationship management system," only to find that the staff are not adding the data into the system due to poor implementation/change management. The result is that that the system is ineffective.
The nature of leading-edge technology is that tomorrow it will have been replaced by something else. You need to be sure why you need the latest kit and how it fits into your business strategy.
When investing in expensive solutions, make sure that you have identified whether it can be easily scaled to cater for increased demand and that it can be interfaced into your other systems. Look for a robust track record and a future strategy for the product line. You need to avoid getting into a technology cul-de-sac - this is costly.
Roder Rawlinson, NCC Global
Focus on products and services
Your question is one that many businesses grapple with. It is based upon an assumption that IT (leading-edge or not) provides some form of competitive advantage. With a few exceptions, this is not true. Any IT you can buy can also be bought by your competitors. The exceptions revolve around using the IT to gain first-mover advantage, where followers can use the same IT but cannot replicate the success.
A business usually gains advantage from technology by combining the raw IT with systems and related business change to produce innovative "products and services". Applying the IT in a business setting is considerably more difficult than writing purchase orders for more leading-edge technology. These systems may not demand leading-edge technology at all: just leading-edge business ideas, leading-edge business change and leading-edge commitment to carry the ideas to fruition.
Chris Edwards, Cranfield School of Management
Integrate systems, don't replace them
Companies are becoming increasingly pragmatic regarding the focus of IT spend. Under pressure to achieve results within the context of a solid business case, they also need to demonstrate IT cost savings in a risk-averse environment. Effectively integrating an organisation's current technologies and systems makes far more sense than ploughing investment into unproven state-of-the-art technology.
As a result of technology "impulse buys", many organisations are struggling to move beyond a jumble of quick-fix solutions. Rushing to implement the latest IT system is not the best approach. Organisations that take the time to align their existing business systems, using advanced links on multiple levels such as IT infrastructures, data models, processes and workflow, will achieve competitive advantage as well as a solid base for future enhancements when the economy picks up. Moreover, because this approach is one of systems integration rather than systems replacement, they will achieve cost savings by upgrading.
Klaus Elix, AMS