February 6, 2018
There are many brilliant apps and digital devices out there that offer all kinds of features and possibilities. This can make it a bit overwhelming for customers looking to purchase something to help them with their operations. So, we’ve put together 5 key things to consider when purchasing a technology system.
- Know what you need: This is true for any shopping. If you go to buy groceries without a list, you can easily come back with some things you don’t need and have forgotten to buy other things you do need. This is the same with purchasing a technology system. There are so many great gadgets and ideas out there. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you can easily get drawn down a rabbit hole and end up with a system that doesn’t meet your requirements. So, make a list of what you want to be able to do once the system is in place (this can be functional requirements such as ‘I want all my data in the same format’) and during the buying process, keep referring to this list. Carrying out a pilot is also a useful way of ensuring a system really does meet your requirements.
- Interoperability: Interoperability is a term used for when technology platforms can ‘speak’ to one another and automatically exchange information. For example, social media management tools, such as Hootsuite and Buffer, interoperate with Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to publish pre-written posts. In the case of smallholder farmers, OPTEL’s GeoTraceability system can interoperate with others, allowing data captured using our system to be used by another. An example of this is our mining projects with the Better Sourcing Program (BSP). BSP use our systems to trace the movement of minerals and this data then feeds into a broader data set collected by BSP, which customers access using BSPs dashboard. Technology is evolving so rapidly that interoperability is key when purchasing a system so that you can bolt on future applications as required. It can also be hard to find one provider who meets all your requirements, and so interoperability allows you to piece together the system you need.
- Use-ability: This applies to the system and its output. When purchasing an IT system that will be used in the field, you need to think about how the user will be handling it, what the impact of the physical environment (such as glaring sunlight) will be, how easy it is for a technology novice, and what the risks are for data corruption and loss. But it is not only the use-ability of the tools to collect the data that must be considered. A key, and often forgotten aspect, is the use-ability of the output – the data. Being able to digitally see encroachment into forested land over maps, or the PH level of soil at different depths can be extremely useful for some projects – but is it useful in your case? With every data point collected, the question of how it will be used must be asked. Sometimes we see time and money spent on collecting data because the idea of having it sounds good, but there is no business need for the data, so it sits there unused. Working with organizations who have experience of helping customers decide their data-set, such as OPTEL, can be useful as a sounding board and to give advice based on lessons learned from other projects.
- The “How would I feel?” test: Imagine that you turn up to work and your boss announces a change to the way you are paid. Instead of a monthly automatic payment being made into your bank account, you will now receive money to your phone. In addition, the company will take scans of your iris and fingers to validate that work you submit is definitely from you before you enter the building. Oh, and that data is going to be held by a company the other side of the world. How would you feel? Technology has the power to do amazing things, but it can also be scary and daunting. When thinking about a system and what features to implement, it is always worth considering the people who will suddenly have the system imposed on them and whether you would feel comfortable if the system was being implemented on you.
- Affordability: Companies set their fees in many ways for technology systems. Often the pricing approach is influenced by whether the system is an ‘off-the-shelf’ model or a ‘software as a service’. It is important to be clear on how the pricing for the system works and that there are no hidden costs. In our case, we charge a one-off set-up fee and then an annual fee. This is because we offer a software service, rather than an off‑the‑shelf package. In our case, we do not charge based on the number of users, but other companies do. Sometimes implementing a new system can be a significant expense, so it is also good to be aware of all the different funding sources that might be available to you. These range from donor organizations, through to universities. At OPTEL, we help clients to consider different funding opportunities and work with them to make sure the system is affordable and workable for their needs.