Many small to medium businesses invest in IT systems in the belief that it will bestow upon them some form of competitive advantage. Be it reduced costs, increased capability or a combination of both. Over the years these IT systems are added to in an organic fashion in an attempt to eke out more gains and to keep pace with the ever increasing need for more capacity, performance and capability.
This approach may be fine for a number of years, but feeding the IT system in this manner can make it bloated, lethargic and unable to flex with the changing needs of the business. The transition towards ever more digital, electronic and online transactions makes your business more dependent up this IT system and before you know it, it holds your business to ransom.
You pay more to keep this aging system online with rising support costs, retaining the knowledge to keep the system going and to cater for the continuing increase in demand from this lethargic system.
The question here is “What would happen if your IT system failed for a day, a week or worse case, if it was destroyed by fire?”
Now ask yourself if the business owns the IT system or the IT system owns your business?
I can guess the answer for many small to medium sized businesses, and the answer isn’t particularly palatable. I suspect that if you are in to Star Wars, you will see your business as Princess Leah in chains and your IT system as Jabba the Hut.
So now that you have an understanding of the relationship between the IT system and your business, what can you do about it?
There are many models, tools, processes and practices that you could apply within your business to provide answers which are more balanced in your favour. However, the aim is to find ways for your business to regain a lean IT system which is much more athletic in its ability and which can support your business. The start point is a blank piece of paper and your business plan or strategy.
Every business wants to be agile; agile is a good buzzword in business and IT. You want to be able to change with the market, to grow and shrink when needed and be able to take advantage of opportunities as they arise. You want to lower operating costs and increase both turnover and profit. Right?
But there is more to consider, for example business continuity, information security, law compliance. However, the most important thing to know here is want expenditure are you able to make.
Of all the IT models that I have read over the years, there are two factors which stand out: standardisation and simplicity. By keeping these two factors in mind when designing your new IT system, you will be on the right track.
Next, your new IT system needs to be dependable and flexible. To be reliable and provide a strong base on which your business can rely while being able to flex with the changing needs of the business as it responds to market forces.
Back to the question of what finances you have at your disposal and where is to be sourced from. You can obviously fund your IT system from capital; you can obtain it under finance or look towards leasing it and transferring the capital expenditure to operating expenditure. You may want to address this question with your finance officer or accountant to see which method is more advantageous to your business.
Finally we come on to where is best to apply the money in order to get that utopian IT system you desire. You may be on a transformational journey which will be done within 3 months or you may need a slower strategic journey which lays down the ground work and then you add to it over the coming months.
In no particular order, the key areas to consider are:
- Wide Area Networks
- Local Area Networks
- End User Computing
- Data Storage
- Backup and Restore
- Mobile Devices
- Disaster Recovery
Obviously, I am not going to pretend that I can write a short article and give you all of the answers but I can give you the following design guidelines:
- Look to Cloud based technologies; Microsoft Office 365, Google Apps for Business and Amazon Web Services.
- Identify and isolate any bespoke areas of your IT and address them separately.
- Unify your communications tools; consider what each of the cloud solutions has to offer in terms of instant messaging, video calling and conferencing
- Make sure that your internet connection is up to the job to support the cloud solution and your communications methods.
- Consider whether your data can be stored in the cloud, is there anything classified about it and if so what security precautions do you need to ensure are in place?
- Consider belt and braces when it comes to critical data storage and where it is possible to design in backup and restore capability at a reasonable cost, then do so.
- Design in flexible working capability, enable people to work from the office, home or a coffee shop if need be.
- Design out complexity, keeping it simple will make it understandable and easy to support.
- Design in standardisation, this will make it repeatable and easy to support.
Having followed the above design guidelines, you should have a built in level of business continuity and reduced, if not removed the impact of possible disaster.
I recognise that for many people, the above information is nothing new but there are many business owners who have been in a stagnant IT situation for a number of years and these businesses need help to move forward. If you recognise your business within this article then it’s time to get rid of the IT shackles.