Technology audit enables solutions that satisfy business drivers
As the owner of a growing business, you may be thinking about your first investment in a technology-based solution. Business needs finally could be pushing you to use computer technology to help increase staff productivity, perform a specialized task or just simplify execute a manual work process, such as faxing a document.
If you already use technology in your business, you could be thinking of expanding your existing environment to support growing business requirements. For example, If you have an accounting software application implemented on your system, you may want to provide a remote access capability to the accounting system for employees who need access from their home office computer, or from their laptops while they're in the field at client sites.
Now that you have decided technology can help your business maintain a competitive advantage and help bolster growth, what should you do? How do you ensure that you implement the right technology solution to resolve a business need? One way to do that is by having your local technology solutions provider (TSP) or independent technology consultant perform a business and technology needs audit.
This type of audit enables the TSP or consultant to review your current and future business needs while taking a detailed look at your existing technology infrastructure. This information is analyzed and discussed, and potential technology solutions are applied to specific business needs. Finally, an audit document that presents findings and recommendations to aid the decision-making process is produced.
An audit can include, but certainly is not limited to, the following two major tasks:
1. Technology discovery In performing this task, a TSP or consultant gains knowledge of existing technology solutions and the associated hardware and software utilized in your business.
- The TSP or consultant reviews relevant documentation relating to existing hardware such as PCs, printers and network file servers. The TSP may also have to review each piece of hardware to gather specific information. Existing assets are reviewed because they can potentially be integrated into or be replaced by new technology solutions.
- The TSP or consultant organizes existing technology information by diagramming and documenting existing hardware and software. The resulting visual presentation of the user's technology infrastructure and associated documentation plays a critical role in condensing complex technology into a simple picture.
- The TSP or consultant reviews and documents application software currently in use to determine compatibility with potential business technology solutions. Questions that will likely be asked: will the software need to be upgraded to operate with the new solution? Who uses the software and are they licensed properly?
- The user's existing cable infrastructure is tested to determine if it meets required specifications for a newer or upgraded technology solution. The TSP or consultant can determine if the cable infrastructure is capable of supporting future growth, and if any additional cable connections are necessary.
- The TSP or consultant evaluates perceived unreliable existing systems, e.g., a PC that continually needs rebooting, to determine potential causes and fixes.
- Information gathered by the TSP or consultant should is stored in a database application such as Microsoft Access. As a result, the user can print or view reports for evaluation. Ultimately, the information should be stored in a database used by the TSP or consultant to track issues or problems related to specific pieces of hardware or software.
2. Business needs discovery In performing this task, the TSP or consultant gains knowledge of existing business processes such as accounting or faxing that are being considered as elements of a new or updated technology-based solution. Primary and secondary needs and objectives are determined. During this stage, the TSP or consultant discusses and perhaps demonstrates the application of certain technology applications to business problems. If the user has a need to fax documents, the TSP or consultant demonstrates a computer-based fax solution.
- The TSP or consultant reviews current manual or electronic business processes under consideration for technology solutions. These processes include, but are not limited to:
- How the user sends/receives fax documents
- Electronic mail versus current information exchange methods
- Computerized word processing versus typing
- Using spreadsheet software versus manual spreadsheet calculations
- Documenting filing, saving, and retrieval
- Research and information gathering
- Selling your product and/or service
- Tracking business contact information and other relevant data
- The TSP or consultant interviews key staff members. These staff members generally perform or manage business processes being evaluated for technology-enabled solutions. Interviews allow the TSP or consultant to identify and prioritize business technology objectives on an individual, departmental and company level.
- The TSP or consultant discusses the expected results with the client and his/her designated staff or technology committee.
The finished product
The TSP or consultant produces a document detailing the results of the audit. This document presents findings from the tasks outlined above and summarizes how applications map to business drivers. The resulting document should include some or all of the following sections:
- An executive summary
- A current situation overview
- Primary and future business technology needs
- Recommended technology-based solutions to resolve primary needs
- Benefits and cost justification of implementing technology solutions
- Brief project timelines
- Hardware and software recommendations and budgets
- Budgets for professional services required to implement technology solutions
- A diagram presenting the proposed solution
The cost justification of any technology solution could be the most important decision-making factor. For example, a fax server solution costing $5,000 will pay itself off in two months based on the following cost justification:
|Average employee time spent faxing per day printing to the printer, getting up from desk to get printout, going to the fax machine to fax, waiting for the fax to connect and start sending fax, making sure the fax completes.
||30 minutes (could be a low )
|Number of employees faxing per day x average time spent faxing = hours spent faxing daily
||10 employees x 30 min = 5 hours per day spent faxing
|20 working days per month x hours spent faxing daily = hours spent faxing per month
||20 working days x 5 hrs per day = 100 hours spent faxing per month
|Average employee hourly rate (guess) x hours spent faxing = cost of manual faxing per month
||$25.00 x 100 hours = $2,500.00
|Monthly manual faxing costs vs. computer based fax solution costs
||$2,500 monthly manual faxing cost
$5,000 computer based fax solution
|Fax Server Solution Cost after 2 months
Before you sign up
Certain assumptions should be clearly defined prior to hiring a TSP or consultant to perform the audit. For example:
- Which office locations will be reviewed?
- Which staff members will be included in the process?
- What departments will be reviewed?
- How many hours will be spent by the TSP or consultant on the project?
- How much money can you budget for the audit project?
- What realistic goals can be set for what is presented in the final audit document?
- What business drivers are most important to address?
So, how does an audit help ensure technology is implemented correctly to resolve a business need? An audit is an opportunity to bring in an expert who understands how technology works. By combining the expert's knowledge of technology with the user's knowledge of how his/her business works, an audit ensures that a cooperative effort is made toward resolving business technology needs. Ultimately, the document helps to reduce the complexity of a business technology solution by explaining in plain English how the technology solution will resolve specific business problems.