One of the greatest characteristics of computer technology also can be problematic.
While that's exciting for techies, it can be a headache for business leaders, whether they are corporate executives or small business owners.
Businesses periodically need to upgrade or replace creaky computer systems, or risk falling behind their competitors. If they try to muddle through with a cranky jalopy when everyone else moved up to the latest sports car, they may find themselves out of the race for consumer dollars.
"One thing companies need to remember is that as the capabilities of technology continue to rise, so do the expectations of their customers, says Nicole McMackin, president of Irvine Technology Corp. (www.irvinetechcorp.com), which specializes in information technology solutions and staffing.
"The bar keeps being raised higher and higher in terms of how quickly and efficiently customers expect to be served.
But weighing whether to invest a substantial sum in updated technology when other needs are pressing can leave management in a quandary.
Is it time to junk the system entirely and start over?
Can the current system be salvaged with just an update here or there?
Or is everything fine – at least for now?
"Frankly, unless they happen to work for a high-tech company, most business leaders probably don't consider information technology to be one of their areas of expertise, McMackin says.
"I'm sure most of them prefer to spend their time and energy on the other pressing matters. They look at the struggling IT system they don't completely understand, and about all they can think about is the cost they are going to face to improve it. So they keep putting off a decision.
Inaction can come with its own costs, though, she says, such as:
• Low employee morale and production . Employees will dread coming to work when they know they must do battle each day with troublesome technology. Employees want to arrive at the office, log in to the system and get to work. An outdated system leaves them frustrated and, what's more, production suffers when the system works too slowly or freezes up.
• Cybersecurity threats . While technology is a great asset, it also represents a potential risk for every company. Hackers are hard at work looking for weak links in everyone's IT security systems. An aging system provides a weaker defense against potential breaches that could damage both a company's equipment and reputation.
• Missing out on potential cost reductions . Technology can be expensive. That's no secret. But McMackin says the right technology also can be a solution to rising expenses in other areas of a company. An efficient computer system can help reduce costs and potentially increase revenues. Remember, too, that downtime and outages also chip away at the profit margin, McMackin says. Many businesses barely function – or don't – when their computer systems crash.
McMackin says most companies with an aging system could benefit from an IT assessment that would help answer the questions that leave business leaders fretting.
"That would tell you how well your technology infrastructure matches up with the goals and needs of your business, McMackin says. "A good assessment will tell you if you are spending too much or too little, and can point out ways that you can gain the most leverage from technology.
But any decisions shouldn't be about technology for the sake of technology, she says. This isn't like consumers lining up to buy the latest gadget-filled cell phone just because it's the trendy thing to do.
"Businesses don't need something just because it's the newest and flashiest thing, McMackin says. "They need what will help them succeed with their bottom line.
Nicole McMackin is president of Irvine Technology Corp. (www.irvinetechcorp.com), a firm that specializes in information technology solutions and staffing. SMcMackin has an established career in sales and management with a strong emphasis of account ownership within Fortune 300 organizations. She began her career in staff augmentation services with a locally based Orange County, Calif., company, where she was quickly recognized as one of the top performers throughout the nation. She has sold and managed multiple premier accounts, all while leading a large team of account executives and recruiters.