"How about a server?" the sales person asked.

Tad Troilo "I don't want a server, I want a cell phone," I replied, though I thought it was obvious since, in fact, she was a cell phone salesperson, and we were in her cell phone store. "I want that very cool cell phone right there," I said, pointing to The Very Cool Cell Phone.

"But you don't have a server?"

"I don't think so."


"Can I have that cell phone?"

"Of course," she answered.


"It's just that if you had a server?"

"What's with the server?!"

We had recently decided to change cell phone companies at our kitchen design and installation firm to improve coverage and lower our costs. A fringe benefit to this move would be the opportunity to get a new phone, which I hadn't done in five years. The Very Cool Cell Phone I wanted was about a third of the size of my current phone, and it was olive green with titanium trim, which I admit is silly to care about, but it looked very, very cool.

What I thought would be a relatively easy improvement to our cost of doing business snowballed into a technological overhaul of our small company.

I'm sure you are aware that cell phones are no longer cell phones. You can still use them to call people, but that seems almost an afterthought. Now phones are calendars, cameras, mp3 players, e-mailers (Is that even a word?) and GPS devices. That meant we had to upgrade the calendar programs on our office computers to be compatible with the new phones. Then we had to import everyone's contact databases into the new calendar program. Then we realized we may as well network our computers so everyone could share the calendars and contacts. These were all good ideas, and we were very glad to do them. But somehow it made my selection of my new cell phone that much harder.

"This phone would work great if you had a server," the salesperson told me, holding up the cool phone.

"As you know, we do not have a server."

"You mentioned that."

"So what phone would be good for me?"

"Why don't you have a server again?"

While banging my head against the counter, I remembered a similar technology snowball that rolled over our lumberyards years ago. What started as a major investment in a point-of-sale computer system turned into a insanely large, super investment. We had to get dedicated phone lines installed between our yards, rebuild our counters to accommodate the registers, and change accounting software in our home office to mesh with the new reporting systems. We even bought new peg-board hooks to accommodate the POS system-generated back tags.

Then, like now, our company was not big enough to justify a dedicated IT employee. So these technology-based decisions were made collectively after as much research as we could squeeze in between our other responsibilities.

Somehow, our current research overlooked the very obvious fact that to use The Very Cool Cell Phone to its fullest capacity, you need a server running your office network. Somehow, with the server and a little more software, we could all synch our calendars via wireless links in the office.

I think.

"We didn't know about the server," I pleaded to the salesperson. "Please, just tell me what phone I can have. Please... please?"

She handed me a phone–a very nice phone. It just wasn't olive green, and it didn't have titanium trim. And while it wasn't The Very Cool Cell Phone, it surely met my needs, and then some.

And that, of course, is one of the hardest parts about these technology upgrades: knowing when to stop the snowball.

–Tad Troilo is a manager for Cranmer's Kitchens by Design in Yardley, Pa.
E-mail: tadtroilo@mac.com