Assuming that you have an IT strategy, is it technology-centric or business-centric? In other words, what is driving your IT strategy? Do you have an IT plan that contributes to, automates or furthers your business plan? Are your IT systems well aligned with your business strategy and goals? Or, do you simply have a series of IT systems, each in their own silo, without an understanding of how they are integrated to align with your core business processes?
The irony is, business-centric IT plans are easier to comprehend and usually less expensive. It’s not easy to evolve to a business-centric IT model, but here are three reasons it’s worth the effort.
- Your IT systems should be able to move at the speed of business
IT is often been seen as the bottleneck to rapid change and adaptation. Phrases like, “We would adopt this new business model, but the new software system we just bought won’t handle that, and we can’t afford to change now,” are all too common in today’s organizations.In order to survive and thrive in a dynamic and extremely competitive business landscape—where everything is subject to commoditization and flexibility is often the key to success—businesses need to be nimble and must be able to adapt quickly to the changing needs of their clients and the industry.That may mean something very different to each business owner depending on their industry or growth stage, but few businesses can afford to ignore how their company must evolve to stay relevant. Law firms are reassessing how they bill clients in the wake of competition from online firms and services. Distributors are looking at innovative ways to get product to their customers faster and cheaper, given competition from global firms such as Amazon. Retailers are looking for ways to trim expenses in order to maintain margins as big box competitors erode market share.So how does IT play into all of this? Your IT systems and IT staff need to move at the speed of your business. They need to enable flexibility and innovation, not inhibit it. Are your software systems, network systems and communication systems flexible to the changing needs of your business? Or are your core software systems so full of custom code that you can’t afford to make changes or upgrades that could allow you to take advantage of new business opportunities?
Recommendation: Develop an IT strategy that involves your entire business and gives you the flexibility to change and adjust. Don’t lock yourself in to expensive infrastructure and costly enterprise software that won’t change with your evolving business needs.
- Your approach to technology should not be tool-centric
Technology automation can be an expensive endeavor for small and mid-sized businesses. It’s even more expensive when technology systems aren’t selected or implemented correctly the first time. The number one factor behind poorly selected or implemented technology is not accounting for the specific needs of the business as part of the process.Rather than the more effective ‘business-centric’ approach to technology decisions, in which business requirements are clearly articulated, current and desired state business processes are understood and documented, and internal and external customer/constituent needs are considered, a ‘tool-centric’ approach tends to look like this:
- I read about this cool new technology on the plane yesterday. We need to buy it.
- My friend’s company uses XYZ software and they love it. We should install it.
- We need a better sales process. Let’s buy CRM software.
- We’ve always done it this way, and it’s worked. Why do we need process improvement?
- It’s an IT system. Why does the business need to be so involved in the decision?
For many businesses, the concept of IT starts and stops with email, data storage and network systems. We see many small and mid-sized businesses spend so much of their technology budget on servers, systems, firewalls and in-house infrastructure, that when it comes to considering technologies or processes that can actually impact their business and their customers, they don’t have the budget or appetite for it. Today’s IT leaders need to look more broadly at the mix of ‘keeping the lights on’ versus business value spending as they align IT with the needs of the business.
Recommendation: Start with an analysis of what core business process improvements would have the most dramatic impact on your business. Evaluate which software, data and workflow systems will impact those business processes, then plan a network infrastructure that supports those systems. In other words, start with the business need and finish with the systems that best meet that need, not the other way around.
- A business-centric approach puts your customers at the top of the food chain
Rather than a tool-centric approach that puts the needs of the IT group, or the technology itself, at the center of the decision making process, a business-centric approach puts the needs of your business and your customers at the center of the equation.Technology shouldn’t be about tools or systems, it should be about business processes and business workflows that drive more efficient delivery of products, services and outcomes. Ask ‘why?’ and ‘what?’ before asking ‘how?’The irony is that IT is one of the few business departments that supports every other part of your business–from outside sales and the customer, to back-office processes. Yet, many IT managers and technicians don’t take the time to really understand the business.Recommendation: Encourage your IT team to get out and learn your business. Have them meet customers and drive around with sales people. When it comes to making critical IT decisions, don’t allow your IT team to do so in a vacuum. Involve the business early and often.While technology will never be inexpensive, the best way to show positive return on value for your IT spend is by ensuring that your IT group is business savvy, that their decisions are based on the needs of your business and not tool-centric, and that you have an IT strategy that is well aligned with the needs of your organization.