01 Mar 2012

How should your business be thinking about IT?

Even over the last three years, the IT landscape has changed dramatically. New models of service delivery, a greater array of products, and an emphasis on mobility and services-based approaches have brought big changes. It’s been a boon for small and mid-sized businesses, which now have access to an increasing number of solutions targeted specifically at them. It’s a far cry from when I first started in the industry, when, for SMEs, reliable and high-quality ICT solutions were so scarce that they virtually did not exist. But amid all the fanfare around new services and solutions, it’s useful to pause and remind ourselves about what, as businesses, we’re seeking when we use information technology. How should we think about IT?

An integral part of business

You don’t need to be an oracle to realise the central role that IT now plays in almost all aspects of not only business, but also life more broadly. Consumers, customers and clients want the businesses they deal with to engage and interact with them effectively and efficiently. Increasingly, what that boils down to is technology – not only customer-facing technology but also the behind-the-scenes systems and services that drive business results. Today, business and technology should rarely be considered in isolation. Make sure that you’re always thinking of them as part of the same thought bubble.

A source of competitive advantage

Do with IT what your competitors can’t, and the marketplace will have good reason to deal with your business. IT remains a powerful source of competitive advantage. Think about the opportunities that exist to provide better, faster or more responsive services, then question how IT can solve them.

Something that works

It used to be that SMEs had to rely on sole-operators and small IT shops to deliver their IT services. As a result, they endured constant IT headaches and high rates of failure. Thankfully, that’s not the case anymore. Innovations such as service-level agreements (SLAs), as well as the growing number of cloud-based software and infrastructure services mean that your business should now be thinking of IT as something that can be relied on. If you currently don’t, consider finding a new provider.

A way to be more flexible

Predictions of GFC Mark II understandably make businesses nervous about new investments. One of the important progressions in information technology, however, has been its commercial (as opposed to technological) flexibility. With so many IT solutions and services available via pay-as-you-go pricing, the capital expenditure stresses of new projects are much less. In addition to the chance to scale up as you grow, such services also provide the flexibility to scale down in a slowing economy. Make sure that the majority of your IT spend is Opex (operating expenditure), not Capex (capital expenditure).

A way to be more efficient

From streamlined processes to higher levels of automation and mobility, IT can turbo-charge your business. Exactly how depends on what you need, but you might consider faster communications via intranet or unified comms systems, better integration between your point-of-sale and backend systems, or mobile solutions for anywhere/anytime access to your applications. As I wrote last month, return-on-investment can be a useful tool in deciding which way to head.

Summing up

The number and quality of IT solutions for SMEs continues to grow. What’s important, however, is how businesses use them. To make the most of what they can do, take the time to think carefully about where and how technology features on your business agenda. Dave Stevens is MD, Brennan IT (This blog post was first published on the SmartCompany website on March 01 2012).