Thursday 30 August 2012

The entrepreneur’s approach to modern technology (1)

A Participant passionately expressed, ‘The problem we’re facing is that these IT guys cannot be trusted. They tell us to get online – Website. We pay. Then they say Hosting. Later they tell us social media – Facebook, Linkedin. Then they now say E-commerce.

 They just keep collecting our money and we’re not seeing any results. It has not even profited my business. I have not gotten any customer through this internet thing.’ The gathering was the SME Toolkit Conference tagged Expanding Reach through web & mobile tools held in Lagos last year. The opinion was echoed across the hall.

 So what exactly was the problem? In my estimation the IT person with full understanding had made his recommendations in a modular fashion to the business owner with little or no understanding – for a fee – thereby creating an atmosphere of distrust. The underlying problem is obvious: With the accelerated pace at which technology is evolving today, entrepreneurs are being forced to embrace without understanding. They are having to accept products, services and solutions that they are not comfortable with.  The fact that many do not see significant returns on these IT investments in acceptable time adds to the frustration and confusion of the whole thing.

 Business owners believe that because of the limited amount of knowledge of technical matters, they are being exploited by IT personnel who are paid more for their know-how than for any actual hard work. They believe they are being sold high-sounding nonsense but feel trapped by the risk of rejecting it and remains stuck in the dark ages or doomed to failure as a result of their technological abolition. So they are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. Some choose to dance to the tune of the much distrusted IT specialists – whatever they say; others choose to weather the storm of ICT exclusion doing things the way it has always worked for them – they’ll take their chances.

 On the other side of things, the IT specialists are of the belief that entrepreneurs must understand that technology is usually not a solution in itself but a highly effective tool that should be appropriately directed to reach one. They assert that entrepreneurs must see IT investments just as any other business investments – after all, a farmer does not get rich by swapping his shovel and hoe for high tech farming machinery if he simply parks his new-buy in his shed or puts it to use inaptly as a storage device. Investments must be made, directed, maintained and built upon suitably for business success. This costs money. They get paid for their own deep investments in technological expertise. They offer invaluable advice and deploy solutions as requested. How could that be wrong?

 With these two disparate views and a deep chasm of distrust in between, where do we find fair playing field? Perhaps there is a case for Technology-Intervention here. People need to bridge the gap between non-technical entrepreneurs and the external IT specialists that serve them, in a manner that is fair and mutually beneficial to both parties. Middle men who understand the outlook from either side and can help synchronise things up. In the absence of this however, entrepreneurs must simply know what is out there; at least just enough to decide what is suitable to advance their business objectives and what isn’t. In an age where the game changes more rapidly than players can be amassed, it is imperative to have a quick eye for these things. A little understanding will usually go a long way.

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