As an IT manager at a midsized business, you probably wish there were more hours in the day. Time is especially tight when you're in the market for a new technology solution. Very likely you don't have the bandwidth, the staff resources or the expertise to fully evaluate new technologies, choose and size the right solution, and deploy and test it while performing your everyday work.

If you're in this boat, there is a lifeline that can make your job easier. Technology vendors provide a wide range of planning guides to support companies like yours. Often prepared by independent analyst firms, these how-to documents can help you make the right decisions when acquiring technology to solve the problems of midsized businesses.

Guides provide a head start

"The IT executive at a midmarket company doesn't have the staff or the expertise to be a master of every new development," says Steve Duplessie, founder and senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG), which is known for its series of ESG Lab Validation reports. "If someone can supply a reference architecture or validated solution that supports certain fundamental requirements, that can save a lot of time." There's still the need to compare one architecture or solution to another, but the buyer has a head start.

As an example of what's available, Dell offers Reference Architectures, Business-Ready Configurations (BRCs) and Implementation Guides that cover solution installation, optimization and tuning. These go beyond technology and product comparisons, often guiding users through the screens and keystrokes to deploy complex applications and systems.

Guides for many needs

"People use our documents for different purposes," says Bill Catchings, chief technology officer of Principled Technologies, a firm that has written numerous tutorials, including three Collaboration Deployment Guides for Dell. These guides are specifically tailored depending on the size of the customer’s business. "Prospective buyers will find them helpful as decision-making resources, while those charged with hands-on implementation will glean valuable data from our own hands-on work." Even if a vendor or solution provider will implement your solution, such resources will help you manage the project.

The key takeaway is that it pays to be informed. Vendor-sponsored intellectual capital provides background that can help you accelerate the selection and acquisition of solution platforms, get them installed competently, and improve time-to-value and return on investment. In today's hectic IT environment, that's a good thing.

Scout out the best tech resources

To gain the most value from vendor-supplied intellectual capital, follow these guidelines:

Search far and wide: The Web is rich in technology resources, including the sites of vendors, analyst firms and technology portals. Some examples include:

Look beneath the surface: Anyone can make a claim, but the best reports are backed by independent testing and open documentation. Be wary of documents that are unclear about content sources and the methodology behind conclusions.

Ask and you shall receive: Vendors offer a wealth of resources to help you become a satisfied customer. When you see your vendor rep or solution provider, don't forget to ask.

--Tom Farre, a freelance journalist and the former editor of VARBusiness, has been covering information technology for more than 20 years.