Good Enough Technology

Most people don’t need the cutting edge. If you do audio production, you might need top-of-the-line monitor speakers or pro headphones, but most people are content with the earbuds that come with their iPods. If you make your living trading stocks in real time, you might need a blazing-fast and redundant internet connection, but most people are perfectly happy with their garden-variety DSL or cable internet connections. If your business is large-format photo printing, you probably need to invest in the best printers you can afford, but for most people, a standard inkjet or laser printer is all they need.

What You Really Need

So what do you need for those activities that are not part of your core? If your business is feeding the homeless or providing a safe space for victims of domestic abuse, you still have office needs. You still need to coordinate your team and file your paperwork. You could invest in high-powered ultraportable notebooks, a dedicated server, and a fat data pipe. In fact, some technology consultants will tell you that these investments will pay for themselves in increased productivity. They may, but that doesn’t mean they are the best investment for your organization.

Pareto principle

Photo by Mary-Kay G

The Pareto Principle, named for Vilfredo Pareto, and nicknamed the 80-20 Rule, states that roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. 80% of your profits come from 20% of your customers; 80% of the world’s income is controlled by 20% of the world’s population; 80% of healthcare resources in the USA are consumed by 20% of the patients.

How to Leverage Pareto

If the Pareto principle holds true for technology spending (and in my experience, it is close enough to be a good estimate), it follows that your organization can have 80% of the existing cutting-edge technical capacity for 20% of the potential cost. Cloud hosting services, Google apps for business, and internet connections that are fast enough for almost all organizations can all represent significant savings for you and help focus on using your resources to serve the organization’s mission.

What will you do with the 80% of the cost that you have saved? If technology is not core to your business there is probably a much more powerful point of leverage for that investment. Get your good-enough technology, and put the rest of your investment towards your organization’s core mission.

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3 Responses to Good Enough Technology

  1. David Rees August 30, 2012 at 9:51 am #

    I have also found that many (especially startups) assume that “newer technology” is usually “better technology”, but that comes with its own set of costs including slimmer documentation, bugs, and a smaller support network (the latter being the most important for open source).

  2. Teague August 30, 2012 at 2:41 pm #

    That’s a good point — the higher costs of new technology are not always monetary.

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    […] There’s a simple experiment you can run in a single afternoon that will give you all the information you need to improve the website for your restaurant or bar. Most bar and restaurant websites are terrible. This is almost a mantra in the web design community. Running a great restaurant doesn’t require having the skills to create a great website, but a good website also doesn’t require hiring an expensive firm to design and build your site. Visual designs are time-consuming and often need some technical knowledge to carry out but you can create a perfectly acceptable visual design based on a customizable template. A great website might take expertise, but it only takes a little to take a bad website and make it good enough. […]

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