A Fox Small Business article “Synchronizing IT Investment With Business Strategy” by Dan Briody last November 5 speaks to how a small business owner needs to effectively operate like a large company in order to leverage technology to grow their business. (READ ARTICLE)
Having been a CIO at one point in my career, as well as directing I.T. in a number of my positions, I too believe that there can be significant gains for entrepreneurs and their businesses if they more fully automate. I want to use the point’s from Dan Briody’s article to discuss these issues, Align, Outsource, Spend, Hire and Innovate.
Align: Aligning the technology infrastructure to the organizations business plan and objectives is the critical starting point of defining your Information Technology (I.T.) investment. Briody states it this way, “It means building an I.T. infrastructure that is in line with your business strategy.” Ask the question this way, If money was not an object, how would I change my I.T. infrastructure to better serve my business? I.T. is a servant not the master.
Outsource: Man has the landscape changed here over the past couple of years. Data centers were the order of the day until the 1980’s. With the advent of the PC came distributed infrastructure. The early 2000s ushered in thin client technologies, and now we hear about “THE CLOUD”. What is the cloud really? Using the internet to provide your I.T. infrastructure from a central location for ease of management and shared resources reducing costs………in many ways not all that different than, you guessed it, a data center! Additionally you can share software infrastructure or even operate from a SaaS (Software as a Solution) environment where the local PCs operate like a terminal on a system hosted elsewhere on the Internet. All of this is effectively outsourced. You can even outsource your desktops and maintenance so that you pay a monthly fee to cover all of your costs and the provider acquires and manages the hardware.
Spend: Here is where I may disagree a bit with Briody. I do not like throwing money at solutions without a clear direction. Accordingly, start this process with a clear spending plan by laying out the objectives and defining the steps to get there along with the associated costs! The key is clearly defining your requirements and the best of breed solutions to meet those requirements. The best solutions scale with organization growth, but frequently understanding alternatives can significantly reduce the immediate expense, yet allow for growth. Phased implementation can only be done with a comprehensive I.T strategy and tactical and spending plan to hold people accountable. An open check book usually spells disaster, because trust me on this, “Techies” love all the new toys, bells and whistles. I know because I am a “Techie” at heart too! The trailing edge is less expensive than the cutting edge and no one wants to be on the bleeding edge of technology.
As an example, I once identified the opportunity to set up a central server accessed from across the country which saved investing in the same software program at various locations throughout the compamy. The result was we could bring up each location on a state of the art software platform for about $50,000 per location less that the alternative. Yes it increased networking costs, but those costs have continued to decline. Further we were able to make sure we had redundancy, proper backups and significant guaranteed uptimes with central problem resolution al hosted on a central server. Being strategic does not have to increase costs!
Hire: You need to surround yourself with smart I.T. people. I have worked with a person nick named “The Wizard” and of course we all know true “GEEKS”. Learn from these folks. They maybe employees or consultants but find the best and rely on their expertise to make it happen. The return on hiring the best is worth any extra investment in higher costs. Make sure to hire the right person for the right job as there are many areas of specialty, but not all fit your strategic direction! Remember the plan!
Innovate: No one knows your business like you do! What keeps you awake at night knowing there must be a better way? This is where the smart people you have surrounded yourself with can really help; research development and systems integration; process automation; web enabled solutions; and yes even social media as a marketing tool. Dream, then put it in the context of your plan, fund R&D, develop your website and make technology carry the load in your business.
Finally, have some fun. I was at a client today that just installed new speakers on his PC, excuse me, Mac Book in his case. But does it rock!
Remember, I.T should always be the servant of the company, never the master. Plan and execute. Finally a Columbo moment “Oh, just one more thing”. Are you really the person that should be doing this? Probably not because it is the wrong time zone for the entrepreneur. So call me, I can help get this done and allow you time to focus on your customers!