Martin Atherton, Silicon

Because business functions depend on IT systems, in this downturn IT budgets are unlikely to shoulder a disproportionate burden compared to the rest of the organisation when it comes to spending adjustments. Freeform Dynamics’s recent research into IT spending backs this up.

However, as the reliance on IT has risen, so too have expectations from the business.

The IT department has an opportunity to rise to these expectations by helping switch the focus from cost cutting towards promoting more effective exploitation of IT to help the business drive its top line.

It is a somewhat obvious statement that without revenue generation, no business stands a chance of survival at any time, let alone today. Furthermore, at a time where solidarity is critical, shifting the thinking towards optimising sales and marketing activities is a topic close to senior managers’ hearts. This is one area where the IT department can take a lead and should find an open door.

With that in mind, what could proactive IT departments do to help the business exploit more value from the capabilities it (ideally) already has, without needing major new investment? I’ve provided a graph below that outlines the process.

If we consider the fundamental characteristics of sales and marketing activities, they are primarily information- and communication-intensive, time-sensitive and often repetitive and formula-driven. However, while most businesses have already made IT investments to support these activities it is in the detail and the seemingly mundane where organisations may find ways of improving things they currently take for granted.

We need to consider how business objectives translate to practical activities. To provide some examples: in the sales cycle, time to market, time to competitive response, lead generation efficiency, sales conversion rates and so on all demand that people work together as effectively as possible to present the best possible image to the market.

If we drill into daily operations, we may find opportunities to improve how IT supports these sales activities without major upheaval. For example, is content used as effectively as possible instead of reinventing the wheel each time? And is an appropriate image conveyed externally via the use of consistent templates and formatting?

Our research has shown that the tools people use in their daily routines are usually under exploited, so some end-user training, combined with support from IT to introduce new capabilities such as basic collaboration to drive document sharing, team intranet sites, simple workflow and search capabilities could provide some easy wins.

Now, these examples are clearly at a ’micro’ level, so what about the bigger picture?

For IT to step up and help the business drive revenue, it needs to help capture, deliver, share and frame information more effectively. In the sales and marketing realm, the focal point is the CRM system. Depending on the size of your business, this could mean a single instance of packaged software, and/or a variety of disparate applications, some bought, some developed in-house and perhaps tied together with some automated and manual processes.

Either way, multiple requirements need to be fed with consistent information to enable the right actions and drive positive external perceptions.

From this perspective, the goal that underpins IT’s opportunity to help the business exploit IT more effectively is the pulling together of disparate threads of CRM-related activities into a cohesive whole, rather than a bunch of disparate applications and activities. This could involve improving on basic activities like utilising desktop office software to its fullest potential as discussed above, to more complex undertakings such as driving technical consistency by joining up processes and systems where it makes sense to do so.

Raising IT’s sights beyond knee-jerk cost-cutting measures will throw up opportunities to improve the way that technology is used across the business – and allow for a solid foundation for an organisation’s future growth.

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