Business leaders lend a lot of lip service to importance of their employees, but technology is their real best friend.

That's the suggestion of a new survey from office product seller Brother International Corporation and small business mentoring consultancy SCORE.

The 500 owners of small businesses--defined in this instance as companies with 100 or less employees--to participate in the survey said new technology would carry a stronger return on investment for their organizations than new employees in 2014.

With a Grain of Salt...

It's important to note that the question was of the either-or variety. Companies can still feel that new employees will be a net positive to their companies while feeling technology is more important.

Also, 68.4 percent of respondents said their technology is in greater need of improvement than their employees this year. It stands to reason, then, that fixing a deficiency (technology) would result in a better return for those companies than continuing forward with something that is, by comparison, working pretty well (hiring practices).

And, finally, the survey doesn't acknowledge that it takes employees to create or deploy the new technologies in question. Nor does it acknowledge that new technology--at least the tech the companies use in the office--would likely serve to better help said employees do their work. In other words, the relationship between technology and talent is more nuanced than a survey question can adequately address.

Investing in What Matters

Still, the finding falls in line with another recent survey, wherein 85 percent of executives said talent was "very important. Yet only 44 percent planned to invest in developing talent that year, while two-thirds said they would invest in technology this year.

And its overtones mirror wider and more existential questions about the future of jobs. The Economist reported in January that 47 percent of today's jobs could be automated within two decades. Tech research firm Gartner has even suggested that the increasing automation of jobs could ultimately lead displaced human workers to revolution by 2020.

That image, which sounds more at home in a sci-fi dystopia movie than a few years down the road, is too much to infer from a survey showing that business owners think tech will lead to better returns than new employees in 2014. But the Brother/SCORE survey might at least give employers reason to think about the way they value their people; the way they value tech; and whether and how those values overlap.