How will IT change your business in the next five years?
Trends such as the cloud and mobile computing have allowed many businesses to become more productive and offer better services.
With many still working to bring these technologies to their business, it's worth asking what the near future will look like.
So how will IT change your business in the next five years?
The arrival of the cloud has been great news for SMEs who want simplicity and anywhere-anytime access to business information.
In the next five years, expect cloud services to become the norm for just about everything – from your accounting software to your server and network infrastructure.
As a result, internal IT teams are likely to shrink in size. Indeed, if you can find an IT shop you trust, you may not need one at all.
Mobility – everything, everywhere
If you can't get your business information to where it's needed quickly and securely (whether on a PC, smartphone or tablet) then at some point in the near future your business will be left behind.
With its productivity and efficiency benefits, mobility is one of the most important areas SMEs can be investing in right now.
Of course, it will depend on the nature of your business, but fairly soon (if not today) if you can't close a deal or lodge an order from the palm of your hand, someone else is likely to beat you to it.
Vendor relationships – or will you only have one?
SMEs have grown weary of the finger pointing and blame shifting that occurs when multiple companies deliver their IT services.
In the age of the cloud, SMEs will be dealing with fewer IT vendors at a time.
This means that your choice of vendor will become increasingly important.
As I've said before, Service Level Agreements (SLAs) are your best weapon here. Make sure that yours are stringent and contain real-world penalties that will motivate your vendor to keep their service delivering.
The IT Manager – out of a job?
Will SMEs soon be able to live without an IT manager? I don't think so. But the role played by the IT manger will certainly evolve, becoming even more business focused, and even more strategic.
At the moment, most IT managers understand this and are looking to support and deliver fewer services themselves. They're also turning their attention to the businesses as a whole – looking to deliver not only for staff, but for customers as well.
At the same time, they're acting as conduits between IT vendors and their internal sales or finance teams, looking to make sure the latter are getting the solutions they need.
The best IT managers are involving themselves in decisions around the business's strategic direction – from acquisitions to expansions and operations.
The next five years will be a time for adoption and consolidation as cloud and mobile technologies continue to mature.
SMEs have a lot to gain, and if they can get their IT systems right, they'll have the same tools, services and advantages at their disposal as will the big end of town.
Dave Stevens is managing director of managed IT services business, Brennan IT.