It sounds like the dramatic build-up from a late-night infomercial: Has your business grown substantially? Is your IT lagging and giving you a constant headache? Do you sit at work and wonder why things never run smoothly?
Many companies today find that business is flourishing but IT is lagging behind. This is likely because your business has reached a point in its growth where technology must evolve from a utility to a strategic business driver. If you think about it, you may find that technology can create a competitive edge that helps fuel growth, rather than constrain operations.
Skeptical? Consider the impact of wireless technology on the role of the sales representative. In this case, technology vastly accelerated the pace of communication during the sales process. Early adopters had a competitive edge because they were more responsive to customers. The company who viewed wireless as an expense rather than an investment (and decided against the upgrade) didn’t see the impact until they began losing deals.
As you begin to think about the best ways to transform your IT to give your business a boost, here are some key questions you should ask:
How could technology provide us with a competitive advantage? Technology is constantly evolving and new products and solutions are being introduced daily. As in the example of wireless, there may be emerging technology that would revolutionize one of your processes. And don’t just think of sales. Improvements to back-end processes like inventory management can have an immediate measurable impact on your profits and even affect customer satisfaction.
Will your IT architecture support your growth strategy? Many small companies reach a crisis when the sales goals are achieved, only to find the manual processes required to deliver on customer promises break down completely because they aren’t scalable. The sales team then stops selling to focus on salvaging unhappy customers. Having systems that are up to speed with your business plan is critical.
Do you have the right IT leadership to meet your operational needs and strategic goals? A start-up business may only need someone to keep computers and phones running. This can be a relatively inexpensive and inexperienced person. When the business grows substantially, the needs of the business are well beyond what he or she can handle.
If this is your current situation, you’ve got a rookie pitcher desperately trying to play all of the bases and the outfield when the company has reached the World Series. Without expanding the team to include more experienced resources, you will find technology is restricting future growth and putting the business at risk. Investing in the right people will bring just as much return as investing in the right products.
How well is your intellectual property protected? For many rapid-growth companies, growth is spurred by intellectual property. Losing this uniqueness would be a disaster. The more employees with access to your intellectual property, the greater your risk. While hackers still pose a risk to businesses today, the vast majority of data breaches happen because of employee behavior such as losing laptops or USB drives that contain confidential information. Implementing systemized protection is an important insurance policy.
Do you have business continuity and disaster recovery plans? Disasters come in many forms. While horrific disasters like Hurricane Katrina affect companies of all sizes, many small businesses feel tremendous pain over everyday issues that we may not hear about. How would your profits survive if you had a flood in the server room or lost Internet connection for a week? Having a disaster plan ready to implement is critical to most businesses, especially as they grow in employee and customer numbers.
What is your change management process and how is it documented? Being able to make changes efficiently is another hurdle on the growth curve. As the volume of activity becomes larger and more clients are impacted, you must know without a doubt that you can implement changes without accidentally “going live” with something that creates more problems than it solves. Learning that your system “enhancement” is not working from a flood of angry customer calls is not the ideal way to discover that your technology needs better change management.
In today’s increasingly complex and competitive business environment technology is integral to competitiveness and profitability. Take the time to evaluate your business needs, problems, and areas of opportunity. Ask the “what if” questions to look beyond current limitations. Finally, keep in mind that the right investments could help you leap-frog your competitors, truly transforming your results.
Lisa Metcalfe is a Technology Regional Practice Leader for Tatum LLC. Tatum is the largest executive services firm in the United States, providing strategic and operating leadership in finance and technology nationwide.