Martin Atherton, Computing

Can we please everyone when it comes to IT? Most businesses, regardless of their size, will have an opinion on that question. Where IT is seen as a partner or business enabler, the answer is “yes” or “probably”, with caveats. It’s “no” or “never” where IT is seen as a cost to be controlled and does not have opportunities to support the business in the right places.

However, when seeking the right balance between business performance and financial harmony in relation to IT, the size of the business concerned is a critical factor. This is not because of requirements or degrees of sophistication ­ the latest IT developments are removing the link between IT strategy and size of business ­ but because individual decisions count for relatively so much more in smaller businesses. There is also less insulation between individual departments and business leaders, and financial controllers are in much closer proximity to one another.

Before we address how these relationships might impact the way IT is harnessed today, let us briefly review the opportunities that businesses have to exploit it more effectively.

Organisations seeking to improve IT’s contribution to the business will likely find their own opportunities in each of the imperatives highlighted. Here are a few examples:

Three ways of optimising IT:

Server virtualisation

Desktop management
Systems management

Three ways of optimising the way IT is used:

Application training
Power and waste management
Implementing basic IT governance

Three ways of enabling business efficiency:

Get people better connected

Make smarter use of the web

Unlock the value in your information assets

The items above need no further explanation to IT managers, but driving the top line is another matter, perhaps. When cost reduction becomes a major focal point, there is the danger of losing sight of what really matters. Businesses can cut costs and make efficiency savings, but without effective sales and marketing activity they cannot flourish.

Fortunately, this side of business is a prime candidate for improvement through more effective use of IT. It is communication- and time-sensitive, repetitive and formulaic. It can benefit from improvements in all the areas outlined above as well as being a target area in its own right.

For example, IT could drive better operational consistency through user training or exploring unified communications. Driving efficiencies here could involve revamping the company web site, implementing basic business intelligence performance metrics, or “closing the loop” around customer relationship management by building a single view of the customer across product development, marketing and sales.

Most businesses will already have a pretty good idea where they could make some IT-supported improvements to their business. The question is, can they, and does the economic climate and the close-knit environment of small businesses lend itself to making the most from IT?

The first thing to acknowledge is that the right balance between all these elements will not be achieved by accident. During planning, disproportionate representation of one area ­ leadership or ownership, operations, finance or IT ­ over another is likely to create a skew in how IT is perceived and used by the business. The chances are that this dynamic is already established in your organisation. The important question is: can improvements be made for the good of the business instead of being beholden to a particular influencer in the business?

Again, the answer could be “yes, with a few caveats”. The caveats are not technical, but they do involve each stakeholder acknowledging the others’ priorities and goals. The finance director wants to control costs, the operations director wants a slick and efficient business, the owner wants to turn a profit.

As we have already discussed, there are opportunities for IT to make a positive impact across all these domains. Hence, the common goal ­ the good health of the business ­ is the focal point to bring different stakeholders together to prioritise what’s best for the business, instead of taking a course of action that only suits one particular stakeholder’s view.

In the current economic climate – a phrase you must be heartily sick of by now ­ no business can afford to avoid this critical, and possibly difficult, conversation.



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