For almost any type of business startup these days, technology plays an important role from day one. As your business grows and changes, your technology needs will also evolve, and the role of information technology decision-makers (ITDMs) within your organization will take on added importance. Making your technology decisions with these things in mind from the very beginning can be a real difference maker for your business later on.

“When choosing technologies in the early stages of a business, mobility and security should be your primary focus,” says Ian Pitt, Chief Information Officer at LogMeIn, a provider of SaaS business solutions. At the same time, you should consider “baking in” substantial artificial intelligence (A.I.) and/or machine learning (ML) capabilities to the technology you deploy. Doing that now will make it easier to increase levels of automation across your organization as opportunities arise.

Some of your technology needs will be dictated by the industry in which you compete, the customers you target, the size of your current and projected workforce, and other specific parameters. But, almost all businesses will need technology solutions in four key areas, says Ben Loria, Chief Data Scientist at O’Reilly Media, a provider of training and learning resources on computer technology topics: cloud computing; data technologies (including ML/A.I.); mobile computing and platforms; and marketing, adtech, and social media technologies.

Tech advances are coming fast

Cloud computing has matured enough that many businesses are now able to move core systems and applications onto these platforms, Loria says. The availability of specialized hardware that can accelerate computational tasks, such as ML model-building and analytics, is increasing rapidly. Data collection capabilities are getting a big boost from the introduction of cost-effective yet highly accurate sensors. And IT infrastructure is evolving to keep pace with all these developments.

Early adoption of a forward-looking approach to technology can pay off in unexpected ways. For example, startups typically follow a consistent pattern of headcount growth with reasonably predictable metrics, Pitt says. Strategic use of A.I. and ML technologies might allow you to delay or eliminate some hires in non-mission-critical positions (administration, for example). This would free up resources for more mission-critical positions, such as sales, that can help your business reach profitability far more quickly.

And A.I.-powered travel tools can learn preferences, eliminating the need to have an employee work on complex travel schedules for executives. A.I.-powered personal assistants have the ability to organize and maintain information, including the management of emails, calendar events, files, and to-do lists. These kinds of capabilities reduce a business’s reliance on human admins, Pitt says.

ITDMs are critical to business success

It’s not unusual for the founder to function as the ITDM in the early stages and to then hand off that responsibility as the business matures. But regardless of who is filling it, the ITDM plays a critical role that will make a difference in the overall success of your business. The position should be fully integrated and respected within the organization, and the person or persons filling it should always be involved in broader business discussions so they can make the right technological decisions--the ones that will make a difference in the company’s long-term health.

“By educating their colleagues on the true capabilities and limitations of current technologies, ITDMs can help surface use cases that are amenable to technological solutions,” Loria says. In many cases, that means explaining to colleagues that the right course of action would be to evolve gradually--for example, by targeting partial automation as opposed to full A.I. automation that isn’t quite ready yet, he adds.

“Practical applications leveraging A.I. and ML are advancing rapidly, and integrating them into businesses is going to become much easier over the next year,” Pitt predicts. ITDMs will have to move beyond conducting simple transactions and fixing things. They must become business strategists who understand the difference technology can make in helping the company achieve its most important goals. “With this shift,” Pitt says, “ITDMs will be considered trusted advisers who take the lead in certain areas and begin fostering closer relationships with C-suite executives.”

As that evolution continues, ITDMs have an opportunity to become critical difference makers like never before.


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