Is it better for SMBs to buy or lease new tech equipment?

Pulling the Trigger on a Tech Upgrade

July 2, 2015 Tech4BusinessNow Article

One Minnesota company’s experience investing in a new employee-tracking system offers lessons for others. 

By Janet Haney

Is it time to upgrade your ________? You could fill in the blank with any technology tool, but this vexing question is familiar to business owners whose companies are in expansion mode.

Often, owners realize only after the fact that they should have moved sooner to a more robust solution. That’s what happened with Universal Network Solutions Inc., a network security installation provider in St. Paul, Minn. The company’s experience can offer valuable lessons for others who are mulling a tech upgrade.

UNS’s reliance on Excel spreadsheets as an employee- and project-tracking system had worked well for a few years, but as the firm grew, so did its tech challenges.

The company “had issues with spreadsheets not being saved, employees viewing incorrect versions, items being deleted and changed,” says Cara Lundrigan, president of UNS. “This impacted our whole business—wrong information resulted in missed deadlines, travel booked incorrectly, and revenue lost.”

Outgrowing a tech tool

UNS had used the spreadsheet software for about four years as a shareable scheduling tool to manage client projects and information, including dates, locations, and purchase order numbers, but that system didn’t fit the company’s needs as its business boomed.

“We struggled with Excel as we grew,” Lundrigan says. “It was not a scalable solution for us. It was impossible to track all of the required information necessary for each project, and we had no way to report historical data easily.”

Lundrigan says she now realizes UNS should have made the switch sooner by looking more closely at its overall process as well as asking employees for immediate constructive feedback.  “We needed access to real-time data to make business decisions quickly and streamline our daily procedures,” she says.

During this time, UNS was adding employees who are trainers and product consultants in contract, contract-to-hire, and permanent positions around the globe.

“UNS has experienced year-over-year revenue growth since 2012,” Lundrigan says. “We have doubled both our corporate staff and our network security team. We also opened an office in Canada, and we are in process of opening a division in Asia-Pacific. So, we had an immediate need to keep all our processes flowing without any hiccups.”

With this expansion, UNS soon realized its spreadsheet method was antiquated, and it could not handle all of the data required to manage each project. The company decided to seek out alternatives for tracking client projects and employee resources. Cost and time to implement were big factors. UNS started testing and evaluating several tools and ultimately decided to implement customizable Salesforce software.

Moving to the new product took more time and money than anticipated. Still, Lundrigan says the transition has gone “fairly well.” A key factor in that success, she says, is the company’s decision to engage employees from all areas and levels of the company during the initial adoption phase.

“We constantly reviewed the application and listened to our employees. The project ended up costing more than we had budgeted, but the end result has been worth it,” she says. “Our timeline was longer than expected as well due to our core business growth.”

Now, Lundrigan says, UNS is able to track and document all details and information about a project in one central location that all its users can access from anywhere at any time. Additionally, employees rely on a calendar scheduling option that allows UNS’s traveling consultants to retrieve their schedules via their cell phones.

Lessons learned

Lundrigan’s advice to other business owners? First, seek expert help. In retrospect, Lundrigan says, seeking input from outside consultants earlier would have saved UNS time and resources.

Next, engage users. “Get an internal team of users together from all levels and departments who will eventually use the tool,” she says. “There is no point in implementing an application if your employees will not use it or like using it. This is the key component.”

She suggests creating a feature request document and a request for proposal in order to delve deeper into the actual needs and features the company requires.

Third, select a team lead to spearhead this research project. Lundrigan suggests having the team lead research three to six different options at various price points.

“Have the internal team demo each product and compare it to the feature request document,” she says. “Then, document use cases and replicate the use cases with each system.

Finally, Lundrigan advises choosing a proven partner. “Spend the money as this tool will drive all areas of your business and save you time in the long run.”

This article was underwritten by HP: Introducing HP BusinessNow, the right technology to help your business grow. To register your business for a $25,000 tech makeover please visit: http://www8.hp.com/us/en/solutions/businessnow/contest.html