Tech Manager—Buying Technology, Part 2

Last month we discussed how Staff Members want the latest features, Management wants efficiency, and Clients want creativity and revolutionary designs, within budget.  Tech Managers want tools that satisfy all of these. We framed some items that should be reviewed as part of your due diligence. There is a need for rational, reasonable investigation into the desired purchase to verify that it can and will perform as expected.

Let’s jump back in where we left off—continuing on with the list of question to ask yourself and others as part of the diligent search for new and improved tools. Go back and read the beginning of the list in last month’s issue if needed.

More Questions

Unity – Are you all using the same tool? Does this tool require everyone to get on board? You find that answering a specific need in one department may drive you toward a unique tool. Does that uniqueness create silos of data and technology? Files have to be shared and used by other staff and contractors. Keep this in mind.

Access – Can those who need access get it? Can you have differing levels of access? With the advent of BIM, we see differing levels of access to data and models. Can the new tool provide that? Does it respect the access profiles you have set up? Does it require changes in the approach to access?

Document Control – an you identify the original/master file or document? Does the tool do revision tracking and rollbacks? Can you recover from design changes that are not approved?

Training – Is it easy to use by the average user? Is training provided? Will you train internally? Do you have experts already or will you have to develop your staff talents? Does the firm have the time and money for training? Are there any staffers who have used the product before and can provide coaching?

Scalability – Some tools look great when used on one file or project. What happens when they expand to your entire firm? Can everyone use it just as easily as one person? What if 100 people were using it at the same time? Is it built for large projects? What about remote workers? Can they get in if needed?

Upgradability – With more tools going toward the subscription model, can you control the upgrades and versions in use? Or is the tool upgraded and patched from afar and you have to just use the latest version no matter what? Can one project be using one version as it nears completion and the next project get started using the upgrade?

Software Compatibility – Does it play well with our other software tools? If you get locked into proprietary file formats that do not coexist well with other tools, you might be locked out of productivity. You need tools that exchange data well. Import and export features. Native file compatibility is best, but what is your plan if files do not transfer well?

Hardware Compatibility – Does it run on your current platforms (all variations)? We all have many differing hardware platforms. Today’s tools call for more RAM, graphics memory, processing speed, or storage. Make sure your hardware can handle the load.

Extensible – Can we add additional features via programming efforts? Does it have an API? No tool will do everything you want. You must verify that it can be customized, configured, and extended as you need.

Workflow – Does it enhance/embrace/adjust/overturn your workflow? Your firm has specific ways of getting things done. Users have defined methods and processes that have been honed to perfection in older tools. Check the workflow of the new product and conceptually push your workflow into it. See what changes might be needed. Think about the impact of those changes.

Culture – Does it fit the organizational culture and approach? This may seem like a strange question, but if you press a freewheeling unstructured workflow or tool into a firm that has well-defined approaches, it will cause problems. Or if the creative side of the house gets a product that constrains their design flow, it could be disaster.

Uniqueness – Are there other tools that do the same thing? In last month’s article, I asked if you already had some tool that does the job of the requested one. Now I ask if there are other tools that tout the same functions that you have not reviewed or bought. If so, then a contingent of your staff might start clamoring for another solution.

Risk Management - If we start using this tool and it fails, what do we do? When software fails, it impacts projects and deadlines. You need a backup or back-out plan to get the job done if the product does not perform as expected.

Status Quo – If we do not use this tool, what will happen? If you are unable to adopt this tool there might be negatives that go beyond just disgruntled employees. You might be falling behind the tech curve. You might have trouble catching up with other firms. You might be seen as outdated. Or you may be able to get along quite nicely without it, or delay its adoption without any negatives. You don’t need to buy every shiny new program that comes along.

Cost – Is there a defined ROI and TCO? Defining the return on the investment may be a simple step in seeing what the bang for the buck will be. Outlining the total cost of ownership includes time lost, learning curve, training hours, staffing, retooling, and so much more. You need to take it all into account. Is this worth the time and money?

Taking a wide-angle view is needed when analyzing purchases. Make time to think and weigh the pros and cons. Get input and feedback along the way. By slowing down a little you may save a lot… of headaches.

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