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8:00pm EDT March 26, 2008

There are almost no boundaries to the ways technology can help a company both increase its productivity and the efficiency with which it conducts business.

But if you don’t put in the time and effort to figure out exactly how technology can help you, the result could be a lot of confused employees, says Ken Zebracki, president of CADVenture Inc.

“You have to have leaders out on the floor who understand the vision of the company and understand what you’re trying to establish,” Zebracki says. “They, in turn, have to be good at communicating and articulating that vision to the employees so they embrace the technology and understand it’s really trying to make their jobs easier.”

CADVenture, a design software firm with 26 employees, has spent much of the past four years upgrading its technology to help its employees to be more productive. But part of the problem in the past had been that employees were not fully aware of the capabilities of the technology that was already in place.

“Prior to revamping our customer resource management system, it was really difficult for people to get data into the system simply because it wasn’t an intuitive system,” Zebracki says. “Rather than embracing that technology, people looked for shortcuts around it, and we weren’t necessarily getting everything we needed out of it.”

Communicating to your employees about the technological changes that are being made at your company is crucial. But you need to structure the meetings about the changes so that people are getting the information they need but are not being bogged down with details that don’t directly affect their work.

“We want to try to minimize unnecessary time that we might have at meetings,” Zebracki says. “The first part is when we deal with core issues, the things that everybody needs to know about. The second part might be the noncore issues of that meeting, like a flex meeting. A lot of people might have issues that are important to them but not necessarily to other people. In that part of the meeting, if anyone feels that what’s being addressed is relevant to them, they can stay. Other people have the ability to leave.

Everybody gets to address what’s important to them.”

By being efficient with your meeting time, you help ensure that people get the information that is most important to their jobs without taking away from other tasks.

The ultimate goal is to gain the buy-in of all your employees. So you need to tell them — and more important, show them — what the new technology that you’re considering can do to help them so that you can gain their support. You may be surprised what you get in return.

“Some of the best advice that we got on how to put some of our new systems together came from those employees at that level,” Zebracki says. “They are the ones who use it every day. ... Listen to your employees.”

Your efforts at getting new technology up and running as quickly as possible will be helped if you figure out what you want before you start looking at actual hardware and software.

“We look at what’s the ultimate goal,” Zebracki says. “That’s where we get everyone’s feedback. We would define really what it’s going to take for our business to be more productive, and then we’d start seeking out some of the solutions that may or may not be available.”

Once you begin looking, make sure you find vendors who are more interested in helping you than in simply touting the value of their product.

“Be willing to spend the time to sit down and flow chart and map out what we want the products to do,” Zebracki says. “Look for people that offer true solutions, not just a piece of software or hardware.”

Make training a priority

While the initial training to introduce employees to new technology is important, the need for education never really ends, says Ken Zebracki, president of CADVenture Inc.

“In some of our systems that we use internally, we have weekly training sessions that everyone attends,” Zebracki says. “It’s actually through a lot of those sessions where we still find new and better ways to utilize the product.”

One of the best ways to get the most out of training is to allow your own staff to conduct the sessions.

“Every one of the team players would be responsible for different aspects of the training,” Zebracki says. “Everybody was a stakeholder. That’s what really made it so effective. ... No one understands the business better than they do. No matter how hard you try, you just simply can’t get that from the outside. They know the product, but they won’t know everything you do.”

Employees can also help you improve the efficiency of your systems.

“It all doesn’t come down to money,” Zebracki says. “It can be a simple everyday work flow that employees have. They are the people that go through it every day. They figure out a way to address something and make it more efficient, for instance, take something down from seven steps to four steps. Listen to them.”

HOW TO REACH: CADVenture Inc., (440) 954-9589 or www.cadventureinc.com