When does it make sense to be an early adopter of technology?  It depends on your endgame. As an individual, if you buy a new smartphone or tablet computer and figure out that your shiny new gadget isn’t exactly what you needed, the worst that can happen is you’re out a few hundred dollars and feel frustrated or disappointed.  For a business, the stakes are much higher: jump on the right technology bandwagon and you may be commended for having the vision to lead the company to the next level; choose the wrong technology and you could put the company’s entire data, technology, and communication infrastructure in jeopardy.

So how does a business person determine when it makes sense to be an early adopter of technology, and when it’s more prudent to wait? Here are the 5 signs that it makes sense to take a chance on a new technology:

1.       When the technology provider has a good reputation: Products and technologies that are new to the market often have bugs of “undocumented features” that haven’t been fully worked out, so you should always expect a few surprises.  That said, being an early adopter of a new technology offered by a larger or more established company is a much safer bet than adopting a new technology developed by a smaller, lesser known company that has fewer users and fewer resources.
2.       When there’s good support in place: When considering whether to be early to the party for a particular technology, one thing you’ll want to know in advance is what your options are when it comes to getting help and support when you need it.  And support can come in many forms-from a company’s toll-free number that connects you to tech support advisors, to community-led forums where users help each other to uncover issues and solve problems. Before you invest your time or money into a new technology, check out the support resources available and determine if they meet your needs and the way you like to work.
3.       When there’s a lot to be gained: Jumping into a technology early can be a huge competitive advantage, if it’s done in a careful way.  First, identify areas where technology could have a huge impact on your business-for example, would a new cloud-based security option radically lower your cost and the strain on your IT department?  Would a new lead management system increase employee productivity and revenue generation activities? After you’ve identified the areas where new technology has the potential to make the biggest difference on your bottom line, research your choices. Should you identify a technology that appears to fit the bill, map out a parallel approach to implementing the new technology, with one plan for the implementation process, and a backup plan that will protect what you already have until the new technology has proven itself.
4.       When it’s a good time for change: Half of the pain involved in adopting any new technology is in getting “buy in” from the people who will be using it every day.  If you’re starting a new division, are going to be adding new members to your team, or are simply tackling a new project, this is a better time to adopt new software or technology than when you’re in the midst of a huge project or struggling to finish work prior to a deadline. Take a look at where your business is today, and determine if now is a good time to introduce something new, or if there’s something happening in a few months that would make this transition easier.
5.       When it’s easy to try and use: Any new technology you adopt will have a better chance of being accepted and adopted if it enhances or encourages small changes to something you are already doing, rather than asking you to completely alter your processes. Your business should consider being an early adopter of technology in situations where you are able to make incremental changes and gauge results along the way.  If you have any question as to whether the technology is exactly what you need, look for opportunities to negotiate some sort of trial use. The goal here is to see how this new technology works in your day-to-day business situation before you’ve made a huge commitment of time, resources, or budget.

When it comes to adopting a new technology, there will always be internal and external factors to think about, and making a decision can be a challenging process. However, by evaluating early adoption opportunities from the perspective of choosing the right provider, ensuring proper support resources are in place, identifying areas where the technology would radically improve your competitive advantage, planning for good timing, and insisting on incremental implementation that works for your business, you’ll be well on your way toward making informed and successful decisions about which new technologies deserve your early consideration.

Brian Woodrick is the Director of Product Management at Ungerboeck Software International, a leading provider of event management software.