Martin Atherton, Computing
When it comes to generic requirements from IT, there isn’t really much to separate large enterprises from their smaller brethren. Generally speaking, what we all want from IT is to move bytes over atoms and to optimise the processes that support our businesses.
In a sense, there is no value in talking about “SME IT” any more – at least from a strategic point of view – because IT is evolving towards being constructed and consumed as flexible services made possible by componentisation and superior management technologies. The size of the firm using it is fast becoming irrelevant. All that matters is the outcome it seeks to achieve.
Today, as we are mired in an economic climate with all the charm of an angry elephant, outcomes mean more than ever. The only way to ensure that IT is driving the most effective outcomes for the business is to tune the strategy guiding its procurement, deployment and use into the needs of the business.
When it comes to deploying and using IT, being a smaller business can have some advantages. SMEs tend to have fewer layers and the person responsible for IT is closer to the person responsible for the business. Furthermore, there are fewer systems, which in turn are connected to fewer systems. Changes can be made without necessarily needing complex integration or change management projects.
There are certain disadvantages too. Because of multitasking, there can be relatively less time spent on IT planning so certain areas are perhaps not scrutinised for improvement as often as they could be. Opportunities to exploit advances in anything from communications technologies to software and service sourcing and deployment could be going begging.
Individual systems can be over-relied upon, or used inappropriately to support processes or activities for which they were not designed.
A successful IT strategy in a smaller business will enhance the advantages and seek to reduce or remove the disadvantages. The best way of achieving this is to keep things as simple as possible so that capabilities can be as aligned as closely as possible to the changing needs of the business.
Any organisation seeking to fine tune or improve the contribution that IT makes to the business should find no shortage of opportunities. One major trend at the moment is the optimisation of IT itself, which may be possible to achieve through the introduction of server virtualisation, desktop management and systems management.
Others are looking at improving the way IT is used internally, through the introduction of application training, power management, or implementing basic IT governance.
IT may also be the focus of enabling greater business efficiency. This might be achieved through improving communications, making smarter use of the web, or through unlocking the value of information assets.
Business efficiency is the most important imperative, but the one most easily ignored in a difficult economic climate, where the big focus is on cost reduction. Generating income is the fundamental requirement of any business. We can cut costs and make efficiency savings as much as we like, but without effective sales and marketing activity, the business is doomed.
Fortunately, companies that can raise their sights to this level will see that the sales and marketing side of the business is ripe for improvement through the use of IT due to its reliance on information and communication. The activities that drive this end of the business are also often repetitive and formulaic.
Opportunities for IT to make a difference could stem from a basic drive for consistency such as user training or exploring unified communications. Presenting a more accessible face to the market could involve revisiting the company web site, or checking out social media for use in marketing or customer research campaigns. More complex undertakings could include improving the business’s understanding of itself through basic business intelligence performance metrics, or seeking to close the loop around customer relationship management initiatives by building a single view of the customer across product development, marketing and sales activities.
Indeed, if we think about exploiting IT today in broader terms than basic cost cutting, all sorts of opportunities can present themselves to the smaller business. There is much more chance of this actually happening if the IT strategy in place is driven by business goals and not by the size of the company implementing it.