Why business leaders should embrace new technology, no matter what their IT folks tell them

Bill Mathews, Lead Geek, Hurricane Labs

Bill Mathews of Hurricane Labs is a self-described “gadget geek.”

“It’s one of my many flaws as a human being. If someone releases a gadget or some piece of cool, new technology, I’m usually the first one to buy it or sign up,” he says. “Sometimes it works out great and other times I have buyer’s remorse big time. I know that not everyone can or will do that so I try to balance my recommendations for new technology with something I heard several years ago from a client that stuck with me, ‘We don’t want to be on the cutting edge, the second mouse always gets the cheese.’”

Mathews admits that that’s probably as true now as it was 15 years ago, but also believes that this prevailing attitude has rotted IT from the inside out. Fear of new things is never good; cautious optimism, however, is good, as long as there is an emphasis on the optimism.

Smart Business spoke to Mathews about not letting needless obstacles stand in the way of adopting new technology that can benefit your business.

Why do business owners often encounter a disconnect with their IT department?

How many times have you heard this from your IT person when you’ve found something you really think could help the business?: “Well I dunno, I mean, we wouldn’t control it, and it could be down a lot.” Sound familiar? If not, you have yourself a pretty forward-thinking IT person there and should give him or her a big raise. If you’re like a lot of business owners though your IT people have devolved into a resounding chorus of no. “No you can’t use that online collaboration app, think of the security!” “No we can’t outsource e-mail, do you know what it is like when the ‘cloud’ goes down?”

Don’t you wish you could shake them sometimes? I know I do and I’ve been an IT person for years. I especially want to do this with IT departments that have a developed a “reputation for downtime,” as I call it. Basically, they’re down a lot for various reasons but worry that if you outsource something they will have no control over it. That might be a good thing in some cases.

How can business leaders overcome the ‘wall of no’ and keep things moving forward?

This is not to say you should go out and outsource everything with no forethought or without talking with your IT folks. However, you should be prepared for that wall of no and remember that IT people have feelings too and can be emotional about things. Appeal to their logical side, explain that you would like to pursue this new piece of technology and give reasons. If they have counters other than “think of the security” or “it might be down” then listen to them. While you should always weigh security and downtime issues they shouldn’t be the only considerations, which they often are when IT is left to make the decision. Here is how my thought process usually goes when considering a new technology (unless it’s just really cool, then I just have to have it):

1)    What will do for me? What does it enable that I can’t do now?

2)    Will it return its investment?

3)    Is it easy for others to pick up on?

4)    If it’s a service, does it have an SLA? What are its reimbursement terms?

5)    What happens if it goes down? What is the worst case scenario for an extended down time period?

6)    What happens if the service is breached and my data is leaked? What are my options if there is a breach?

Notice where downtime and security are on the list? Pretty far down. They’re down there because they’re very complicated issues that simply cannot be examined in a short period. If the product or service doesn’t get past steps one through three, then I don’t have to waste time on four through six. Unfortunately those are the two issues that quite a few IT folks want to start with. They forget that it’s IT’s job to enable the business, not bog it down needlessly. New things can be very good things so be a smart first mouse, do your homework and figure out where the traps are. This will lead to a better overall technology profile that will in turn help your business serve its clients. Then you can have some cheese too.

Bill Mathews is Lead Geek of Hurricane Labs, an IT security services firm founded in 2004. He has nearly 20 years experience in IT, 13 of that in information security, and has been interested in security ever since C3P0 told R2D2 to never trust a strange computer. He can be reached at @billford or @hurricanelabs on Twitter and other musings can be read on http://blog.hurricanelabs.com.