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Is it time to upgrade your tools?

Your equipment still may do an adequate job, but you should see if newer tools are available that will help your business be more successful.

You don’t always need the latest test equipment and tools. But when you need them and don’t have them, that’s a problem. So how do you know if you need them?

Photo credit: ChesiireCat/iStock/Thinkstock

Consider the prospect of buying an industrial half-inch drive, corded electric drill in 1990. Your new 1990 drill is a big improvement over the one in your dad’s garage because your drill has a double-insulated case and variable speed drive. You would like him to upgrade, but he says his drill works just fine.

You know the double insulation greatly improves safety, and variable speed eliminates the need to drill pilot holes, so you can mount brackets in half the time it would take using your dad’s outdated drill.

But would you equip a crew with this 1990 drill in 2017? Your drill was the best on the market, but it does not have two important, productivity-improving features:

  • Keyless chuck. This saves time in multiple ways, not the least of which is finding that darn chuck.
  • High-capacity battery, spare battery, and charger system. No, you’ve got to run portable cords and plug it in.

Nor does your drill have that magnetic screwdriver bit holder, but of course in 1990 the practice of using drills to drive screws wasn’t all that widespread. Today, of course, manufacturers of premium brand drills also produce really nice bit kits to go with their drills.

If you did equip your crew with the older technology drill, how much time would they spend managing portable cords and dealing with chuck keys? If you were the new manager of a shop using such outdated drills, you’d be eager to upgrade.

It this example, dear old Dad didn’t see that he needed to upgrade. But the question isn’t whether something works just fine. Here are some questions to ask:

  • How well does it work compared with what your competition is using?
  • Do newer products improve work quality, productivity, or safety?
  • Does a newer product solve a problem that occurs with the older product?
  • Does a newer product have a useful feature that can expand your capabilities?
  • Is your existing equipment getting close to needing replacement anyhow?
  • Do any of your employees have better equipment at home than what they are expected to use at work? And if they do, why would they make that choice with their own money (really; ask why and try to understand the reasons)?

See if you can apply that drill example to other areas of your business such as:

  • Other types of power tools and hand tools.
  • Test equipment.
  • Tool organization and storage systems.
  • Safety gear, including personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • Wire labeling systems.
  • Company vehicles.
  • Communication gear.
  • Office equipment.
  • Software.
  • Hardware.
  • Mobile devices.
  • Office equipment.

Now let’s look at some upgrades you may not have considered:

  • Skill sets for technical employees, sales people, and office and administrative people. All of these are critical for your business. Many smaller shops understand the need for technical training, but not the other two. The folks in the field need the work the sales people generate, and they need the support of an efficient, competent office. An investment in skill upgrades for people in all three areas produces big returns.
  • Customers. Your customers pay your bills. But they also may drive you nuts. What you want are good accounts; they pay promptly and don’t make unreasonable demands. If you have one customer that causes an outsized drain on your resources, those resources aren’t going to your other customers or to your business. For example, XYZ always pays invoices several months late. Either upgrade the situation (charge them a finance fee upfront, refundable if they pay on time) or upgrade the customer (drop the account and replace them with a better customer).
  • Business practices. Many business practices are outdated. Consider, for example, the facsimile machine. Some businesses can’t get away from this, because their customer base insists on faxing. But it’s a paper-based process. You don’t look up printouts on your office server, they’re in a stack or drawer somewhere. Even if you scan those faxes, you have just an image so you can’t search by keyword to find the document. What other practices are outdated? Take a hard look at performance appraisals and time clocks for your employees, paper invoicing to your customers, and paper payments to your vendors.
  • Data security. In the old days, select managers had a key to the office, and somebody would arrive in the morning to “open shop.” Someone would “lock up” at night, and all of the company’s documents would be safe from espionage or theft. Today, your drawings are almost certainly on Internet-connected PCs. So are your personnel records, financial records, and other sensitive data. Did you know that among the most common passwords are the words “admin” and “password”? You need to set up a rigorous password policy and take other measures to secure your data. A proper upgrade here requires a professional with the right qualifications; it’s not a do-it-yourself (DIY) job.

What other areas of your business could benefit from an upgrade? If you’re not sure, focus first on tools and test equipment because those are vital for being competitive on the field end of things in your market. Then talk with people in various departments and get their thoughts about what they would like to upgrade and why.

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