New technology solutions hit the market every day, each one promising to solve your company’s unique problems. It’s easy to see how business leaders get entangled in decision-making. There are multiple applications within the business that may or may not communicate with each other as well, only adding to the complexity. Each one boasts an impressive list of marketed features your company probably doesn’t need and will likely never use. Without careful planning or consideration, technology can quickly become a liability to your business rather than an asset. The best way to evaluate your technology needs? A clear process to evaluate technology solutions and identify what works for your business.
The STEP Method
The STEP method is a framework used to help business leaders evaluate their technology options. STEP stands for Simple Technology Evaluation Process (STEP). This framework, which consists of three questions and ten criteria, will help you invest in a solution that meets your current and future needs.
First, determine what you need the solution to do. Create a wish list of requirements that you would like for the solution to have. You will not find a solution that checks all the boxes, so you will need to prioritize your wish list.
Organize your features by three categories:
- Must have
These are features that are deal-breakers. If the solution doesn’t have all of these
- Would like to have
These are your optional features. It is not a deal-breaker if a few of them are not there, but the solution needs to have most of these items.
- Would be cool
These are your luxury features. You don’t need any of these features, but it would be a bonus if a solution had them.
Three Questions and Ten Criteria
Once you have your requirements categorized, you’re ready to start the evaluation process.
I. How will this solution solve my immediate needs?
How you answer this question dictates whether the solution makes it to the second question in the evaluation process. If it cannot immediately solve a business problem, there is no reason for consideration. To further determine the solution’s worthiness, measure it against these three criteria:
1. Features: Does the solution provide features that meet your requirements? If not, can it be customized to meet them?
- Don’t instantly dismiss a solution if it doesn’t tick all of the boxes. There may be other advantages, such as flexibility or overall value, that offset the things it does not do.
2. User-friendliness: Will this solution be easy for your employees to learn, implement, and adopt?
- Avoid the trap of assuming you can determine this on your own. While you may think you know how your employees will respond, it’s best to bring them in to help you evaluate this piece. During your evaluation, don’t forget to look at what impact the solution will have in other areas of your business. The solution may be great for the user to capture the data on the front end, but is it easy for the user managing the data on the back end?
3. Security: Are you able to secure your data both internally and externally?
- Internal security – Are you able to set permissions that restrict access based on user description or job function? This will ensure that staff members only have access to the things that are pertinent to their job. The solution should also have audit logs that allow you to track when changes to data are made and by whom.
- External security – You want to be sure your data in this system will be protected from the outside world. Look for features like single sign-on, two- factor authentication, and the ability to enforce strong password requirements. If you are storing data on the provider’s cloud, be sure to get documentation that explains how they protect their servers both physically and digitally.
II. How will this solution meet my future needs?
This question is equally as important as the first question. The solution needs to be able to grow with you. It does you no good if your business outgrows the solution in two years’ time. Use these four criteria to determine if the solution can scale as your business grows:
4. Flexibility: Determining the flexibility of a solution can be tricky. Here are some of the things you should consider:
- How configurable are the automation features?
- Can you customize the analytics?
- Can the data sets be customized to meet changing analytic requirements?
5. Compatibility: Does the solution seamlessly connect to tools you’re already using (e.g., email, office products, calendars, accounting, etc.)?
- The more tools the solution will communicate with the better. Even if you never need to use the integration, the fact that it already exists gives you options in the future.
6. Innovation: How many new feature updates have been released in the last year, and how helpful were those new features?
- The best solution providers invest heavily in R&D to ensure their products stay ahead of the curve when it comes to features, user-friendliness, security, flexibility, and interoperability.
7. Ecosystem: Is this a new solution? Does the producer have a strong list of industry partners it works with?
- A good way to determine the stability of the producer is by evaluating the number of customers and partners it has. If it is a brand-new solution that has not been proven yet, you are likely to experience issues and may have trouble getting support.
III. Does the solution fit my budget?
To accurately judge the cost of a solution, you must look at the total cost of ownership. The total cost of ownership breaks down into the following components:
8. Setup costs: How much will it cost to get the solution up and running?
- Setup costs include consulting services required to customize and train your employees as well as the time required for your employees to help design, test, and adopt the tool.
9. License costs: What is the annual subscription cost (if there is one)?
- Make sure you understand exactly what you are and are not paying for. Many software providers automatically include features and benefits you may not need into their initial quote. Do your homework to make sure you’re not paying for a feature you will never use.
10. Maintenance costs: What will it cost you in time, resources, and money to support this solution?
- A good rule of thumb: the more customized your solution, the more it will cost you to maintain it.
Using the Decision Matrix
Now that you have the framework, put it all together to fairly evaluate each solution. Start by creating a decision matrix. Score each prospective solution from 1–10 on each of these criteria where one means the solution does not meet your requirements and ten means it exceeds your expectations.
Here is an example of what your decision matrix could look like:
Adjust the weights so they reflect the criteria that are most important to your business. Once you determine the weighted percentage for each criteria, multiply the weight by the score you assigned and add them together to get an overall weighted score for each solution. Then take the annual subscription cost and the projected annual maintenance costs, add them together, multiply that number by five, and add in the purchase price and setup costs for each solution. This will give you the total cost of ownership over a five-year period.
Applying the STEP method will give you an objective and balanced way to evaluate future technology investments. It will also help to ensure that you invest in a solution that will scale as your business grows.
Whether you’re looking for a vCIO to help identify areas of opportunity or just someone to help you train your team, Simple Plan IT is here to ensure you’re doing what it takes to keep your information safe, your team protected, and your business growing. Our specialists are happy to chat with you and identify ways we can help you keep your business safe, secure, and on the cutting edge of efficiency.
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