4 Steps to Help Make Informed Technology Decisions

By Jonathan Blake Huer, Director of Emerging Technologies and Media Development, Ball State University

Making technology decisions by yourself is incredibly difficult…especially today! However, there are a few key factors you can consider to make the decision a bit easier. It’s important to understand a little more about the interesting times in which we live. If you play out Moore’s Law and assume we’re getting to the “back half of the chess board,” then processing power is increasing far more rapidly than we can comprehend.

Yet at the same time, people are not changing as rapidly. Therefore, we must balance out the extended time it takes for organizational, behavioral, and habitual changes with the fact that a better technology solution will exist by the time whatever you order arrives.

When you add in what can often be a protracted bureaucratic decision-making process in higher education (as well as any related governmental or other funding bodies for grants and similar situations), it’s a really challenging situation. Months or even years may pass from the time you submit a proposal until when you are able to make the purchase. Or, it may be the case that you have to make a purchase before you actually want to because the funds will expire. One receives many different opinions from a financial, technical, organizational, and even behavioral* perspective about how to tackle a problem with technology.  In other words, analysis paralysis is a common state when dealing with technology purchasing decisions.

But at the end of the day, we can’t go back to chalkboards (is chalk dust even gluten free?), so we have to pick something. Here are some tips:

  1. When creating proposals, focus on the objective, not on the specific technology. As a technology person, I find that non-tech people have the hardest time with this. It’s very easy to get excited about the Apple Watch or some other amazing specific piece of technology that’s coming out in the future, but what is the purpose that the technology needs to accomplish?
  2. Look for free or low/no cost first. One of the great side effects of the Internet and the lowered barrier to entry for entrepreneurs is that new solutions are popping up constantly–most of which are free. For a small team or class, this is more than adequate, saves both money and time, and puts you in control of the situation since you don’t have to go through a person to get to your own data or to make system changes. Even if you don’t find exactly what you’re looking for, can you string together a few options to create a workable solution for your specific objective?
  3. Think disposable. The green side of me hates to think of technology as disposable, but it is. Many times, the low cost hardware will be “good enough” saving considerable funds as well as headaches (i.e. if it’s broken/lost/stolen, it’s cheaper to replace). This is really hard for some people since capital assets have been a source of pride for generations. But today, the best assets you have are your people. How many cheap tech items can you get for one of the expensive tech?
  4. Wait as long as possible before making your purchase. With the rapid pace of technological evolution, it is very likely there will be a cost reduction or technology improvement in between the time you start your decision making process and the time you first use the solution. Ask yourself: when is the latest point that I need this before it’s too late?

To be clear, I’m not talking about enterprise level hardware or software, or anything that would be considered medical/legal/financial. That’s an entirely different decision making process as well as an entirely different set of parameters. But if you’re looking for a solution for your class, group, or grant, don’t let the rapid pace of technological change be a source of frustration. Instead, use it to your advantage to get more out of less.

*When I say behavioral, I have personally observed that the best technology intentions can be thwarted by student users who don’t properly follow simple things such as naming conventions.

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