The introduction of new information technology has progressed rapidly in just the past two years. The proliferation of smartphones and other mobile devices; the normalization of cloud computing, and the potential of the Internet of Things present opportunities and challenges for businesses of all sizes.
New ecommerce marketplaces such as China’s Alibaba and the ever-present Amazon, together with mobile payment capabilities, are transforming customer processes, and the line-of-business systems software needed to manage them like ERP and CRM. The adoption and implementation of these technologies requires the definition and laser-focus of a clear, detailed IT strategy.
So your small business needs an IT strategy, but what does that look like? A start might be as easy as asking these five questions about your business.
Should we expand on-premises IT or start moving to the Cloud?
The starting point for any IT strategy is the availability of computing infrastructure and resources. SMBs who plan on expanding existing IT infrastructure are faced with a costly investment and the use of limited capital. Cloud-based Infrastructure-as-a Service (IaaS) and/or Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) arrangements can provide new computing resources like Cloud ERP Software in a subscription or use-based payment model, saving capital, IT time, and other resources for other key investments and activities.
Do we need 24/7 access to systems and data?
If you don’t need it now, you will! Even if your employees don’t need 24/7 software and data access for managing business operations, customers today expect to be able to shop, manage their accounts, or retrieve order/shipment status at any time. Adding the infrastructure and staff required to provide 24/7 access to systems can be prohibitively expensive for SMBs. Application software hosted in the Cloud can be constantly and consistently available for a fraction of the cost of on-premise IT hardware and software.
Can we support BYOD?
When employees provide their own hardware in the form of laptops, tablets, and smartphones, hardware acquisition costs are reduced, although information security may become more complex. But millennials will soon make up the majority of the workforce (and, incidentally, your customers.) The word is out; business leaders need to get up to speed with BYOD support and compatibility.
What do I need to know about the Internet of Things?
The IoT may be the buzzword—or buzz acronym—of the past two years, but it’s more than just hype. If you make or distribute products, use or sell field services or maintenance, or, really, interact with any technology systems outside your office walls, you will need to be thinking about IoT-enabled devices, which means that your customer-facing applications systems will also will need to process inquiries and transactions initiated or presented by smart devices. Very soon , the IoT will not be optional, it will be as much “Business as Usual” as wifi, smartphones, or social media.
Where do I start?
For one thing, developing a concise IT strategy needs to involve a senior executive even if you do have an IT Manager. The strategy your team needs will involve the adoption of emerging technologies, but it’s important to start with the goals of the business in mind in order to prevent an arbitrary “technology for technology’s sake” result.
You may want to consider the perspective of outside expert consultants, but its important to run the strategy as a project with defined start and end dates, specific objectives, and a dedicated team. You also need to assess your current application systems, as part of the “current state” analysis. Can your current systems support the new technologies you will need? If not, let your business priorities determine new solutions that will support not only current systems, but be flexible enough to adopt and support new technologies.
The pace of technology change is only moving faster. No matter what size your company is now, a comprehensive IT strategy can increase your effectiveness, rule out the myriad of options that aren’t part of your focus, and help your team set goals and focus on the future success and profitability of your company.