The fast pace of change in technology means any delay in making choices related to a particular technology can put you behind. Avoiding a decision is not a good tactic, but waiting can be part of a strategic business decision.

How can we have it both ways? After all, isn’t waiting the same thing as avoiding making a decision? In fact, it isn’t.  Avoiding a decision is a passive act. You are allowing things to happen around you without an active response.  Waiting can and should be the result of care and consideration.

I like to think in terms of “active waiting.” We’ve heard the term active listening. When someone is talking, we give them a little feedback to show interest. Active waiting should be a process where we check in from time to time to see how things are progressing along our decision timeline. That’s what makes waiting a strategic choice.

Here’s how it can work in a business context. There is a new or evolving technology which can offer some capabilities that would enhance our business or improve productivity. The cost of entry is still a little high, and that means the return on investment (ROI) can be drawn out. We don’t need an instant ROI, but it isn’t clear how long it might take to break even.

There are also some questions related to the technology and its compatibility with current systems. Can it be integrated easily (backward compatibility), and what implications are there for some of the older components that need to interface with the new technology? Think Windows XP. You have tools that worked well under Windows XP, but will not be supported by Windows 10. If you have to replace those tools, it puts more pressure on your bottom line, and it is really part of the ROI calculation for the new technology.

How do we actively wait?  There are three issues raised in this example.  

Price – It’s easy to watch the pricing on a new tool or technology. At the same time, we should be looking at our operations and the basic assumptions that made up the ROI calculation. There can be movement on either or both ends of this equation that yield a different result and signal it’s time to make the move to the new technology. Declining productivity or escalating maintenance costs resulting from the use of the older tools are just as important to the calculation as a 10 percent price drop.

Integration – What is the experience of early adopters? Did they have a smooth transition, and if so, what was needed to ensure that outcome? If there have been documented issues, what patches or workarounds are being employed? Is the technology supplier releasing updates that address the problems or improve the integration process?

Compatibility – Similar to the integration scenario, are the issues of compatibility with other tools being addressed?  If those tools won’t be seeing upgrades, what are the alternatives? It may be time to consider expanding the capital investment plans to include replacement tools for those that are becoming obsolete. This might be a factor regardless of whether the new technology is being acquired first or if it will follow the tool upgrades.

This is obviously an over-simplified discussion, but it points to how active waiting can be beneficial. The “active” part is what is important. That’s how you know when the factors that led to the decision to wait have shifted and you’ve reached the optimal time to act. Remember, it isn’t just the technology you are considering that is moving and changing, the environment around it and your own business are also shifting and changing. So, keep an eye on your decisions and know when it is the right time to change or modify them.