How do we improve our technology intelligence?

So, you’ve built a successful business, you’ve hired some good staff, and you’ve survived the GFC. Now you need to ramp up your business capabilities to deliver without ramping up your costs. You want your business to run to a winning formula, and you have a hunch that your IT systems are – or soon will be – impeding your growth.

IT systems typically grow organically as businesses grow, but there comes a time when this approach becomes expensive. If you have 20 staff and 20 different computers, and a pile of servers in the server room of various ages, you probably have enough work to keep a full-time IT person very busy. You will have 20 unique problems across the 20 unique machines, and probably have a mix of operating systems and applications as well.

What I have learned over 16 years of looking at business systems, is that the system you get will reflect your thinking.

On a scale of one to 10 (where one is ‘untrue’, and 10 is ‘true’) how do you rate yourself on the following?

  • We have an up-to-date IT plan as part of our business plan.
  • Our IT plan has a realistic or costed budget assigned.
  • We have the right resources assigned to resolving each of the parts of the IT puzzle, including: web strategy, finance system, line of business applications, infrastructure, help desk, etc.
  • We have the right infrastructure now and for the next three years.
  • We know who is accountable for each aspect of our plan and our support.

So, how did you score?

If you are serious about growth and committed to doing it profitably, you will have scored each of the above statements at seven or above, so a score of 35+ is encouraging.

Unfortunately, most businesses do not have an approach to IT that sees them building the platforms required to support their growth. Often this will lead to high delivery cost of goods and services, and frequent disruptions to business. Ongoing IT problems also lead to unmotivated staff, especially the sub-40 year old set who do everything via computers.

So, how do you – as a business leader – upgrade your thinking?

The first point I would make here is that you need to tap into a pool of specialists. IT is forever becoming more specialised, and so you need to find the right specialists for each aspect of IT; from strategic overview to project delivery to day-to-day maintenance.

It is now highly unlikely that an SME business will find an all-rounder who really knows where all the future benefits in IT will be found. In my business, we have a team of people assigned to exploring new technologies to find the ones that actually add value to a business quickly and effectively. Many technologies we look at seem impressive but turn out to be distractions or disasters for one reason or another.

In the last six months, we’ve assessed a dozen off-site backup solutions. So, when you ask our team about this technology they have both a broad and deep knowledge of this emerging technology area. This knowledge is held in a team – not in an individual – and the cost of accumulating this knowledge is high, so it should not be borne by a single SME company. In our case, the benefit to over 100 clients justifies the expense. And, we do this for many areas of technology, from spam filtering to security to server performance, and beyond.

My next suggestion is to remove yourself from the low level aspects of device technology, and start thinking strategically about what systems your business will need for the management of resources and communication going forward. Then, leave the bits and bytes to the technical team. There’s no point having a great network with terrific PCs and servers, if you lack the tool to build your communication systems, such as a document management solution, a services management database, or a production management system.

Now, add in a suitable budget with informed requirements and pricing so you can afford to implement without spending a day on cost cutting to save $50 on a purchase. Better still – form a relationship with a supplier who will always give you a fair price and build on the trust to reduce your involvement. Do check up on them intermittently to ensure they’re keeping your best interests at heart. It is always better for a supplier to make a regular small margin than an occasional large one, but not all suppliers think long-term – find one that does.

These are some good first steps to get you out of the daily grind of high-stress IT in a small business. Of course, there is always more you can do, but it boils down to finding a trusted advisor and building lasting relationships that allow you to focus on your business – not the IT problems within your business. This will give you capacity to handle growth without ramping up costs.

Click here to read more IT Systems expert advice.

David Markus is the founder of Combo – the IT services company that ensures IT is never an impediment to growth.

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