In the Zweig Letter, Mark Zweig recently wrote: "Stop viewing [information technology] as a cost and start viewing it as an investment, and you will reap the rewards many times over in the years to come!" I think this is good advice, as I’ve seen the benefits that technologically advanced firms experience, such as recruiting and retaining highquality staff, winning great projects, and growing their businesses.
But even if you regard your information technology (IT) as investments, there still are challenges.
Making the best decisions about which products, systems, programs, and equipment to invest in can be dizzying, especially considering the rapid rate at which IT evolves. What was cutting edge six months ago may be commonplace today. Likewise, what was extremely expensive last year may be affordable now. Additionally, the decision to invest in a technology must transcend the initial purchase; maintenance, training, upgrades, and support are all required elements of successful IT programs. The human factor is also a major challenge since buy-in from staff is essential to "reap the rewards" you are hoping for. I don’t envy those of you who have just made major IT investments and are waiting to see if you’ll get the return you anticipated.
For those of you who are faced with making IT investment decisions, two articles in this month’s issue might be helpful. In the article, "Investing in innovation: Balancing the costs and value of changing technology" authors Bill Amadon, CPA, and King Nelson consider IT investments from various perspectives and offer some valuable advice for making those tough decisions. They’ve even boiled down their key points into "best practice tips." If product information is what you need, check out this month’s Product Guide. It showcases various ruggedized notebooks and tablet PCs, which are becoming increasingly popular for conducting efficient field work.
In the future, CE News would like to offer some advice about technology investments of another kind: open-source software. I’ve heard about firms using freely available applications, such as MediaWiki, for their intranet, for online discussions about projects or business issues, and for sharing technical information. I’d like to learn how civil engineers are making use of such technology and how they built their application. I suspect there are many creative applications out there, but also many people struggling to get started. CE News can bring the two parties together and advance the use of this novel enterprise in our field. In the spirit of the open-source culture, please share your bright ideas and help some "newbies" get started! Write to me at email@example.com and explain how you are leveraging open-source software, how you developed your program, and tips for firms just getting started.