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Technology Asset Management

One of the buzzwords for the savvy business owner is "asset management" - not the proper management of a stock or loan portfolio, but the well thought out acquisition of capital assets and their optimal use. This type of asset management addresses intended use, future needs, sources and vendors, cost, obsolescence, maintenance and finance options. It must include valuation of existing equipment, cost of new technology and useful life projections for the specific needs of your business or organization.

The asset management process must begin with a global approach. This is not the first time it has been suggested that the user examine the totality of its technology needs. It makes no sense to have many different systems: one for word processing, one for accounting, one for invoicing or time and billing, one for communications. A piecemeal approach to technology is costly and inefficient. On the other hand, too often the result of attempting to achieve the global approach is paralysis. Months are spent trying to plan the global approach, and finally stop gap measures are taken that only exacerbate the situation. To avoid these pitfalls, consider these guidelines for asset management today.

Use Professionals

There are many highly qualified and talented consultants and systems integrators who focus on specific types of businesses or organizations. They range in size from the "Big Four" accounting firm consulting arms with more than 20,000 people to solo-practitioners who devote full time to a project. The same issues arise for you in choosing among them as in choosing a law firm or accounting firm. With the large consulting groups you tap into a broad base of experience and collective knowledge, but you have higher costs and the luck of the draw as to who you may work with from a large staff; on the other hand, a solo practitioner might be "partner" quality at a big organization, but does not have the support system to fall back on.

There are some excellent bargains available among some of the smaller or mid-size companies. You will also need to consider whether you need a consultant or can go straight to a systems integrator. Although many systems integrators can fill the role of consultant in helping you determine your needs, be careful not to be penny-wise by omitting the "architect" and going straight to the "contractor" with incomplete plans. The key issue to remember is that it makes no sense to try to manage the evaluation of your needs by committee. Part of the awakening to technology needs in the last decade has been the realization that professionals are necessary - your resident " web surfer" may not do (even if that's you).

Determine Your Needs

A Five-Year Technology Plan for many companies 20 years ago would have been visionary. Not the contents of the Plan, but the very idea that one should take such a businesslike point of view to technology. Now we all try to come up with such projections of our growth and needs. If you don't have one, you need one. And the consultants referred to above are the ones to help you get there. With the help of these professionals, you should be able to determine the functions you need to address and the appropriate applications for accomplishing your goals in each aspect of your business. You should be taking into account growth, changes in marketing, geographic expansion, and your expectations regarding changes in technology. For each application, you will need to decide how long you expect it to serve your needs and what the developer's projections are for future releases and capabilities.

You can then hone in on your choices, but remember, if you have decided on only four out of five necessary applications, move ahead. By the time you choose the fifth application, the other four may be obsolete.

Choose Your System

Software and hardware decisions go hand in hand and it is fair to assume that many companies will be gravitating towards a PC/Lan system, but there are numerous issues that will determine the requirements of that system - World Wide Web presence, remote access for executives, salespeople and customers, file and data sharing, and much more. After all, that's where "systems integrators" get their name.

In choosing equipment, keep in mind that you need equipment to run specific software or to perform specific functions. Therefore, you should be deciding based on function and capability, not whether the equipment has the "Gucci" label (read: "IBM") or is the latest and greatest Pentium chip. There are many PC compatible systems that will provide the same function at a fraction of the cost. There is also the second user alternative, particularly for larger (non PC) items. Computers generally do not wear out. If they're not obsolete for your needs, the used alternative is very cost efficient.

Finally, shop the market. You can get new, brand name, equipment at a wide range of prices. One of the most sensible ways to buy is through a value-added reseller, or VAR. The VAR provides software or services as part of the sale price - software or services that you may or may not need - but the aggregate sale price is usually significantly lower, due to the VAR's volume of sales.

Select Your Financing

"Now that you've chosen your systems, how will you pay for them?" Although this question has a familiar ring, it is being asked too late. The funding decision should be part of your considerations from the beginning of the process, not only after you've selected a system. Your approach to funding may vary according to your conclusions as to useful life of equipment (and vise versa); funding considerations may effect your choice of vendors; funding might include soft costs (consulting fees, installation, software); and you might better understand your budget limitations up front if you review funding alternatives.

Consider first the parameters for your firm. Is cash flow an issue? Can the tax benefits of depreciation help you? Are you prepared to take the risk of obsolescence? What flexibility will you need in changing the system? Why? Which Equipment? Financing Alternatives? Future Needs?