May 25, 2010, 8:00 AM — Here are some scenarios you may have experienced if you own a company or run IT for a company:
Your sales manager comes up, points to an article in a trade magazine, and says "we must put in CRM!"
Your finance manager comes in and demands "we need budgeting software!"
Your HR manager cries "we need web filtering software!"
Your IT system administrator comes in complaining that you don't have "remote administration software!"
Your marketing manager starts a whole social networking campaign using Twitter, Facebook, and Ning, and now requires you to support it.
Whether you run a company, or run IT for a company, you get these demands, followed by some complaint about being really far behind the technology curve.
The magic question to ask when presented with one of these? "What problem are you trying to solve?"
The real problem here is not the demand for technology. The real problem is that you are being presented with a technology solution to a problem that may or may not exist. You are being asked to assume the problem exists, and the presented technology is the answer to it. The proposed solution may make all the sense in the world, but without identifying the real need and looking at possible solutions with the whole company in mind, the solution is more likely to end up a waste of time and money.
The proper way to approach this is in a collaborative manner. The person asking for the solution obviously has a need that needs to be addressed, otherwise he or she would not have brought up the solution. So, ask questions about what challenges they are running into, and flesh it out. Understand the problem. Then, look at who should be involved in the problem's resolution. Implementing a web filter, for example, can make HR's (and Legal's) life a bit easier, but it can hamper research, sales, and other departments in the company. Internet abuse can be a serious issue for a company, but the solution should be balanced as well as effective. When the issue is explored fully, looking at the full impact to the company, then, and only then, can potential solutions be identified and reviewed.
All business projects need to be justified. Companies have wasted lots of time and money by implementing solutions that have been decreed but not justified. So, ask. "What problem are you trying to solve?"