The word “technology” applies to a myriad of topics, but the propane industry tends to focus on technology that exists for the purpose of transmitting and storing information. The industry has many such information technologies in use with applications for tank monitoring, back office, dispatching, delivery, bobtail performance and tracking.
As you well know, technology changes rapidly, making it a challenge to decide what is best for your business. Often, a business adopts technology only to learn later that it is not a good fit for the business.
Read on for some guidelines to help you look ahead during your consideration and avoid common pitfalls before you sign up with a vendor.
An easy way to consider rolling out new technology for your business is to break it down into these steps: the why, the what, the who and the how. This approach allows you to explore technology solutions for your business without getting caught up in common tech chaos and pitfalls.
The Why: Reason
Many of us are attracted to new tech ideas and gadgets and it is easy to become overwhelmed. The why is often not given enough thought when considering new technology. Ask yourself why you are considering new technology.
If your answer is vague — such as doing more with less or because similar businesses are using this technology — it is likely you will not be happy with the result. So, do yourself a favor and answer the why with specific reasons that encompass the needs of the business. While doing so, do not be concerned with the what, the who or the how.
The What: Technology
Once you have clearly arrived at reasons for the why, you now are ready to seek out the what.
Consider the what as identifying the technology that you feel will address the reasons you came up with in the previous step. Fair warning: if you have not answered the why with specifics, attempting to determine the what will result in wasted time and frustration.
The online search for and learning of the technology you are considering is easier than ever. Of course, it can be overwhelming to crawl through the many online offerings. To help retain focus, keep in mind the reasons you determined for the why, as well as the fact that you are learning about the technology, not about the vendor. A technology used by another company may not be the right choice for your company.
For instance, tank monitoring can be accomplished by interpreting the tank gauge reading or by using sonar technology. Back-office software can be accomplished by using client-server or cloud computing technology. Take the time to learn which technology will best fit your business.
The Who: Vendor
Now that you have the technology (the what) identified, you are ready to seek out vendors that offer the technology you have chosen. Propane industry publications in print and online, web searches and industry exhibits are the traditional resources to find vendors.
Unless you are attending an industry exhibit, your time will probably be best spent by contacting a vendor by phone. Use this time to share the why (the reason) with the vendor and learn if they provide the technology you are looking for. Expect a demonstration to provide an understanding of the technology and to answer all your questions.
After concluding that the vendor has the technology you want, slow down the pace to learn all the details of what the vendor is offering, including pricing, terms and support.
Ask the vendor to provide a step-by-step guide of how the technology will be deployed and if they can meet your needed time to deploy. Ask the vendor about similar businesses that are using the technology so you may speak with them to learn more about the technology and vendor performance.
The How: Deployment
This step has many opportunities to go poorly, often because of inadequate planning. So, let’s give the how (the deployment) the detailed attention it needs. As the business owner/manager, you must be the one to oversee the planning and deployment of the technology.
First, visualize how the new technology will modify your current business workflow and how it will affect your staff. Be sure to gain the vendors’ perspective on this. If you have not already done so, share with staff your intention to deploy the technology and the reasons supporting the why, and explain clearly how workflows will change. Don’t be surprised if there is resistance; after all, the staff may not have been considering this change as long as you have. Always solicit staff input and work at gaining their buy-in.
Deploying technology successfully requires both good planning and communications. Arrive at a detailed plan that is understood by all who are involved and that everyone is able to rehearse. If the technology and vendor allow for a trial run of deployment, take the time to do so.
Despite good planning and communication, things may arise unexpectedly that were not caught by yourself or the vendor. Understand this ahead of time and be ready to respond accordingly. Keep this in mind:
If the deployment goes well, recognize staff for a job well done. If the deployment does not go well, take responsibility.
Following deployment, keep in mind that most people do not enjoy change. Expect bumps along the way until the staff becomes familiar with the new workflow. Sometimes with even the best intentions from all the involved parties, it may become apparent to yourself and the vendor that this technology does not provide the solution you were looking for.
Should this be the case, act promptly to share with the vendor that you would like to discontinue using the technology and arrive at an agreeable settlement.Sure, you may have a bruised ego for a while, but your business will be better off without the burden of using technology that is not a fit.
Oh, and the vendor’s response? You may be surprised that they are willing to work with you on a compromise; after all, they do not want unhappy customers.