The following is taken from the May/June 2000 newsletter, "The Distribution Team Advisor.")

How is it that too many distributors are only getting a 30-40% return on their technology investments? Well it often comes down to a lack of understanding how the system was designed to work. The solution for that comes in making the investment up front and on-going to get your "power users" and "critical path" users of the systems to understand how the system was designed to function.

Yes, I am asking you to make a further investment of time and money, but I can pretty much guarantee this investment will yield higher returns. Some of the training investments are very accessible in terms of annual user conferences and regional user conferences. Some can be obtained by joining small local groups of like businesses (other users of products), or by technology-oriented groups. Much of the training is available in technical and operational classes taught by developers of products or their resellers' network. Last, but not least, if you bought a good software package, there are always manuals sitting on the shelf collecting dust. You will be amazed at what you might find, if you crack the binding on those books!

Then add in all the peripheral technology options available in today's high-tech world. How about bar-coding systems, Electronic Data Interchange systems, warehouse automation packages, shipping software, scheduling software, data mining software, Executive Business Information Systems, data warehousing features, report writers up the wazoo, hand-held this and hand-held that, sales automation software and high-tech phone systems. These should all be able to work with your operational software in a seamless manner, such that you are spending your time/energy getting useful managerial information from them, instead of trying to figure out how you can work around them after you bought them.

Finally, take a close look at all the hardware and software investments you've made in the last three to five years, and ask just how those dollars are being used today. Are people designing external systems, reports and functions completely outside of the main operational system just to do their job? Are people continuously swamping your internal Information Technology department with requests for this and that, eventually requiring you to add more IT professionals just to keep up? Remember - all these technologies are designed to help you run your business more efficiently than when you used pads and pencils. They are intended to give you useful and powerful information at your fingertips. They allow you to process more orders, more information, and make better-informed decisions faster than ever before.

However, if you are not using them properly, or do not understand how to use them, or are cheating the system by not following its intended design, or are just not using them for certain functions, you will be a slave to your technology limitations. You will make decisions based on what your technology will allow you to do. You will be making continual investments to fix that or enhance this, while not scratching the surface of the potential return on the initial investment. In time, you will be sitting in another demo looking at the next new hot technology that will free you from your technology slavery, and be sweating about the dollars, the agony of another conversation and worrying about the setback of putting something entirely new in your current operations.

So, before you take the sharp end of the letter opener to your main artery, take a hard look at all the technology investments you've made so far and try to learn about the inherent return on your investment sitting in front of you. Work up an action plan and timetable to make this already-existing function or that inherent feature work for you. Many times you will find the magic tools you've been looking for, you already own. But (you) just have not understood how to turn them on or how to run them.