What Are the Problems With Businesses Being "Bleeding Edge"?

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Technology develops at an astonishingly rapid pace. Just 15 years ago we had to choose between using our landline or using the Internet. Now, you could be reading this article on your tablet while talking on your phone using a Bluetooth headset while also putting together a complex spreadsheet on your laptop while also streaming Netflix on your smart TV while also getting real-time sports updates on your smart watch.
 
This trend is fascinating it its own right, but it also raises an interesting question when it comes to technology adoption in the business sphere: should your business work to match the overall pace of technology, and adopt new solutions as they are released? Or would a slower, more reserved approach be best?
 
In other words, should your business commit to being “bleeding edge”? And, if so, what risks would you be taking if you do?
 
We’ve heard this sort of question time and time again over our 24 years in business, and it’s an important question to ask. To help you get a sense of what might be most appropriate for your business, we’ll spend some time walking through what exactly “bleeding edge” means, and what sort of challenges you are most likely to face should you adhere to this sort of philosophy.
 

What does “bleeding edge” mean?

In the context of business, bleeding edge is the philosophy that the organization is going to be on the front-lines of any new product release (hardware or software) that appears to fit their needs. As soon as they can implement it, they will. Testing is minimal, and they certainly aren’t waiting to see how other companies like theirs have fared with this new solution over an extended period of time.
 
On the consumer level, this would refer to the hordes of people who line up to get the newest iPhone; it’s not that these people don’t already have a functioning phone – they just want to be in the minority of people who own this new technology. If there are bugs or kinks, that’s all fine. They will still have it first, and are willing to work through whatever issues arise as the result.
 

What are the problems with businesses being bleeding edge?

This philosophy will not work for just anyone. Here’s why:

  • Culture. The people in your organization have to be extremely tech-savvy and accepting of new technology in order for this approach to work. Will they be able to remain productive? Will they be comfortable with the ambiguity of new solutions? Your organization cannot successfully be bleeding edge unless your employees are unanimously on board.
  • Compatibility. It is widely held in the tech industry that you hold off on implementing even new Microsoft offerings until the first service pack comes out. Why? So that compatibility issues can be addressed. We saw early-adopters of Windows 10 have compatibility issues with their anti-virus solutions, their line-of-business applications, and so forth. If you’re using a number of applications that need to communicate with one another, you could be in a tough spot if your new software doesn’t want to talk for the first several months.
  • Support. New technology will require up-front training. Some large organizations will have the testing environment and the support infrastructure in place to effectively deal with any issues that come up post-installation (compatibility, usability, or otherwise). But most small- to mid-sized organizations will not, and the support burden will then fall on the individual user. Do you have the available time and funds to train your team properly? Or, alternately, are you comfortable with them fumbling their own way through the new technology to start?

Ultimately, you need to ask yourself: Will the benefit outweigh the risks you take by being bleeding edge?
 
To go back to a Microsoft analogy (since that is about as standard as you can get), Windows 7 was released when Windows XP was an ultra-stable platform. What did Windows 7 offer that XP didn’t? Was it worth the level of disruption (read: lost productivity, training costs, opportunity costs) to make the switch immediately and before the kinks were all worked out? For most companies the answer was an unequivocal “no,” so they didn’t upgrade until XP neared its end-of-life.
 
This “wait and see” approach is far more consistent with our own approach to technology adoption; we do not recommend that our clients adopt a bleeding edge philosophy. While we are always examining new hardware and software, you won’t see us rolling it out to anyone (our own people included) until it is tested and it makes prudent business sense.
 
So, if you don’t have a compelling reason as to why all of the risks involved with being bleeding edge are worth it (and no, being new and hip is not a compelling reason), stick to a more conservative approach. You won’t regret it.
 

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Topics: SMBs