For many businesses, IT systems are either an unknown entity, something else to “go wrong” or even worse – something that gets in the way of doing the day job.
IT systems are all around us – internal finance systems such as Sage or Xero, Electronic Point Of Sale systems (EPOS), Production control systems to maximise quality of delivery and Customer Relationship Management systems (CRM) being just a few.
Whereas effective IT can provide real advantages to businesses and provide genuine efficiency gains and improvements to the profitability of a business, often businesses fail to realise these benefits.
The question is – in an age of ever increasing IT capability and IT usage, why do some businesses fail to realise the benefits where others succeed?
There are several questions about the use of IT in a business of any size – especially true of a Small/Medium business:
- Is the IT helping drive the business forward?
- Is the business fully aware of what IT can provide to the business?
- Can they make use of the IT that has been provided?
- Is their IT provision suitable not only for the current level of activity, but also for the growth of the business?
To understand these questions we need to look at the relationship between the business owners and their IT.
Businesses tend not to be run by IT professionals, but by business leaders. They know all about their particular business area, however quite often have had no need (or desire) to be fully skilled in IT. In addition many business owners feel that recommended IT solutions “miss the point”, are very expensive, replace systems that look fine as they are, or are just simply far too complex to understand.
In addition, in an age when computing power is ever growing and new players are constantly entering the market – how can you choose a better solution that is in itself likely to be superseded a very short time after implementation?
As a result many business owners feel intimidated by IT – as something both outside their comfort zone and their control. This fear of the unknown can lead to businesses missing out on the advantages that can be realised by the effective use of IT.
So how are you going to ensure that this opportunity is not missed?
Effective use of IT requires not only a good understanding of IT systems, but also a real understanding of the business needs and future requirements. When planning any implementation of IT systems there are real business questions that need to be addressed:
- What does the business need in order to survive and thrive?
- What Key Performance Indicators measure the success of a business?
- What information does the business need to thrive – financially and operationally?
- How does it need / Who needs to access this information?
- How can the business create a competitive difference in order to succeed?
- What direction is the business taking in the future?
When all of these are known – at a Business and not IT level, then the “Output Specification” of any proposed IT solution can be defined. The Output Specification defines everything the IT systems need to provide both now and in the future, and also what the “nice to have” elements of any solution are. Then and only then is a suitable IT solution looked for.
There will be “it would be nice to have” elements that can be included in the IT solution – the number of these to be added will add to the cost, complexity and supportability of the solution. It is in the interests of the business therefore to be pragmatic about the number of these optional extras, and not to attempt to find the perfect solution (which may be so complex as to be unusable, and probably does not exist anyway)
This IT solution may not be technologically the latest and greatest, or the most expensive solution – but it will however be the best solution for the business and this solution will be suitable for a reasonable length of time for a sensible level of investment.
As a result this solution will provide the required benefit for the business, be as simple as possible, be quickly accepted by the business and more importantly – will actually be used, rather than ignored and replaced by other workarounds that may hinder business growth.
Business owners need to prioritise their efforts into what is important for the growth of the business, and it is all too easy to place the IT systems at the bottom of the list. However this method of focussing NOT on the IT system directly, but rather on the business need (and how the IT systems link to it), can give a much better understanding of the systems to be used, and elevate the importance of this decision making and how this can enhance business growth.
This may still mean the business owner needs to take expert advice – but this advice must NOT be driven by the IT specifications – this comes last.
When this is done correctly, the IT solution is put in place is properly aligned to the business needs and the business growth requirement – it will no longer be seen as a hindrance, and can instead start to be used effectively by all parties.
Lastly, having real-time information at your fingertips will only help improve the quality of your decision making, and may even give you a competitive edge. If your competitors are getting to grips with their IT strategy, it may be time for you to do the same, otherwise your business may lose out.