Being on the cutting-edge is a balancing act

By Laura Haight

Originally published as The Digital Maven column in Upstate Business Journal, May 24, 2013 

It’s shocking how often we use the term “cutting edge”. Whether it’s cutting edge, bleeding edge, or leading edge, there’s a lot of pressure to push the limits of our capacity and endurance.  

The pressure to be first can be relentless, but the spot at the front of the line is not meant for everyone.

When it comes to business technology whether or not your business should be on the cutting edge can come down to a few basic considerations.

1. Total cost of ownership (TCO). OK, cost is always a factor - regardless of whether the decision is big or small. But businesses often overlook the total cost of ownership. That needs to include both direct and indirect costs For example, you don’t only pay to train one or two people, but you lose those people for the length of time of the training. That means others have to pick up some additional responsibilities and that means overtime. There are also indirect costs related to adaptation, to the cost of the inevitable dropped balls, missed deadlines or errors.

Another big factor to consider in new technology is the cost of integrating other legacy programs. A lot of times businesses overlook the synergy between software programs. Your office suite talks to your CRM system and maybe even your phone system. So before you update the one, make sure all the other software that you connect to can handle the change. It is possible that you will need to upgrade those as well. And that can add more cost.

2. The risk-reward equation. What is the upside of being first? When you walk along the street and see nearly every person either talking or typing on a smartphone, it is easy to forget that they didn’t even exist until mid-2007. The first iPhone came out on June 29, 2007, sparking a revolution that just six years later has put a smartphone in the hands of more than 50 percent of cell phone users.

If you jumped on the smartphone bandwagon back in the summer of ‘07, you spent a ton of money - the first iteration cost $599 for 8 GB. If you waited just a few months, you could have saved one-third of the cost. And if you held on until Fall of 2008, you would have gotten a faster, slimmer, more robust version for under $200.

Price isn’t the only downside of being first.

Bugs. Not the crawly kind, but the hair-pulling-out, this-stupid-thing-ate-my-spreadsheet kind. A lot of us believe - incorrectly - that companies wouldn’t release software that isn’t ready. That is not always, entirely true. Companies release software that is “pretty much” ready in hopes of finding what’s wrong in the real world. Yes, there are beta testers for that kind of thing, but often they are techies, not regular business people doing regular business things or integrating with other systems.

Go first, and you become the post-beta tester. That’s an acceptable risk if your business has the IT acumen to effectively troubleshoot and a staff that is able to adapt, improvise and overcome (with apologies to the Marine Corps!).

What you also get from going first is a big jump start in understanding how new tech works and, if your business is developing or integrating technology or working with businesses to implement new technologies, then taking the risk may be a big plus.

3. Nothing is as constant as change. If you jump first, you will find you have to jump often. As bugs are worked out and new iterations of products come out, you are setting yourself and your employees up for a cycle of continuous upgrades. Among executives or high-end technical staff, this may be exciting and challenging, but you most likely have a lot of line employees to whom constant change is more unsettling.

If walking that cutting edge is critical to your business, then your employees need to adapt. But if it’s more of the bright shiny object syndrome that drives you, you may find the risks don’t outweigh the coolness factors.

Has your company got a plan for BWTD policy? It's the next evolution of BYOD. We’d love to hear from you if you’ve formalized a mobile policy at your workplace. Got a question or comment about this or any other tech topic? Go to www.facebook.com and post it for discussion.