Technology is everywhere. Just look around at your local café – chances are you’ll see people checking emails on their smartphones, displaying presentations on iPads and diligently working away on laptops while wired into the office network.
The changing face of technology is the defining social trend of the early 21st century, which is why it’s essential that businesses have some kind of information systems strategy in place, especially if you have plans to expand. But how can you do this when the sands are constantly shifting beneath you?
Like any other aspect of business strategy, IT strategy must be firmly linked back to your goals and targets within your core strategy and your operational needs.
What will you need in order to be able to fulfil your goals? So, if you want to make more of your existing customer base and follow up leads more effectively, do you need a better customer relationship management system? If you’re looking to free up time currently being absorbed by keeping up with new compliance rules, do you need a better tracking and document retention system? If you’re aiming to open a shopfront, do you need to procure computers for new employees and associated software?
Barrie Gaubert from Iden Group recommends thinking a few years ahead before splashing around any cash.
“Think about a two- to three-year timeframe of what you’re looking to deliver,” he says. “So, for example, when we bought a server it was with a three-year horizon in mind. But we also ensured it was updatable, expandable, relocatable and could be linked to another server. You need to have positive forethought as to what your needs could be – particularly if growth occurs faster than you expect.”
Before parting with your hard-earned cash, it may also be worth carrying out a post-mortem on your existing systems. Are you sure you’re making the most of what you’ve already got? Deakin university information systems lecturer Marie-Louise Van Der Klooster says the likelihood is that many people aren’t.
“It’s quite often the case that professionals pay for a package of software, but don’t use it to their full benefit – whether that’s because they’re using them inefficiently or it hasn’t been set up properly.”
A further consideration is the saleability of your business – a potential purchaser will want to see customer data with appropriate business processes and systems in place.
Your brand new IT strategy says that you need to upgrade your systems – but how do you go about finding the right solutions and/or providers? Macartney says there are a number of factors that should be considered – not least of which is cost.
“Risk, compliance, flexibility and scalability are all factors to consider,” he says. “There’s a growing trend to consider the ‘total cost of ownership’ including the implementation, integration and ongoing costs. Do not underestimate the overhead of vendor management – choose a solution from a supplier who you feel you can work with in the longer term – and consider the impact of ‘vendor lock-in’ – being unable to switch to another product due to high switching costs.”
Macartney warns that you shouldn’t expect to find a “one-size-fits-all” solution – and that you shouldn’t expect a software or hardware solution to instantly transform your business.
“Software is not a magic bullet – your business success will not be based on a piece of software,” he says. “We see this continuously – one customer will leverage software as a business enabler, yet another customer will struggle to get value from it.”
Where IT will give you a competitive advantage, says Macartney, is if you use it to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of your business – and this means that you need to invest the time and effort in configuring it to do what you need it to do.
“Therefore, software should be flexible and configurable so that it fits your business requirements – you should not have to shoehorn your business into a proscriptive system,” he says. “You should also be able to tap into a vendor’s expertise and experience to make sure that you’re leveraging the inherent value of the software.”
Ultimately, Van Der Kloosters warns that you should be focused on what your needs are, however
– and don’t be dazzled by all the knobs, bells and whistles. Quite often, she says, business people are guilty of procuring a solution that’s far too advanced for their needs – as well as far too expensive.