Traditionally, IT has been seen as a cost center. An area that companies dump money into and receive no measurable results. What if I told you it doesn’t have to be this way? What if IT could be strategic? That’s what we’re going to talk about today – IT Strategy.
The first thing to understand is that, like any team or discipline, there is a maturity model to IT. It goes something like this:
- Ad-Hoc – IT disrupts business
- Utility – IT works as a utility, meeting technical needs
- Value Creator – IT improves business productivity
- Driver – IT enhances strategic growth
- Innovator – IT innovates to create value for the business
In the early stages of maturity, IT isn’t capable of being strategic, as the focus is on keeping things running. There is regular downtime, and systems often detract from the business. It’s easy to get caught in this phase and decide there is no value in making further investment.
But with the right drivers and skills, investment can reap great rewards.
Many outsourced IT service providers (MSPs) do a great job of standardizing IT process and can quickly bring a company out of the disruption phase and into the Utility phase. It’s one of the major reasons for going with an established, reputable provider – everything simply works.
For IT to become a value creator, and eventually an innovator, we have to build on this stable platform and actually become strategic.
Many of the service providers I just mentioned offer “strategic reviews”. They talk about the number of service calls, how your backups are doing, and that you have to replace a few workstations this year. That’s great, and a very important part of managing IT, but it’s IT Management, not IT Strategy.
Instead of looking at how to maintain the same level of utility or make minor improvements, IT strategy should take the company’s strategic goals under consideration and discover ways to use technology to achieve them. If there aren’t clear goals, then IT’s strategic goal would often simply be: To create a platform that helps the business make money while reducing its costs.
Simple as that. Make more money and save money.
Implementation is less simple. It requires a deep understanding of the business, its challenges, and its strategic goals.
This is the real role of a CIO or CTO – not just to be the top techie, but to be part of the business leadership and involved at a strategic level. It’s their job to take the company’s vision and strategies and identify how technology can make it happen.
The first step is to move from a Utility to a Value Creator. This is done by increasing productivity. Two easy areas to focus on this are process improvement and getting “the right tools” for people.
Examples of IT Strategy Quick Wins
Reduce Manual Spreadsheets and Data Entry
Anywhere manual spreadsheets are used, manual processes can often be automated with macros easily, creating a “quick win”.
We did this with a client recently, and by sitting with their payroll team and watching their process, we were able to identify and implement simple automation that saved about 8 hours a week and reduced data entry errors to almost zero. The entire project took us less than 4 hours and saved 20% of an FTE.
The second phase of that project involved integrating their payroll and ERP system, eliminating most their duplicated data entry – another 30% of an FTE in savings.
Implement Task/Project Management Tools
There are 1,000 things to do every day in every business. Keeping track of these tasks, their statuses, and the communications surrounding them can be a logistical nightmare.
Enter project/task management software. Tools like Microsoft Planner (part of Office 365), Asana, and SmartSheets can transform the way a company works together.
Yes, it takes some administration and a cultural change, but in time, these systems will dramatically increase project success and accountability.
What Does This Mean to You?
Every business should start by deciding what they want out of their IT investment. Are you happy with IT simply being a utility (the minimum, in my opinion), or do you want to leverage technology to drive your business forward?
If the answer is the latter, then IT can no longer be the geeks in the back room; they have to get involved in the business and actively find ways to create value. It takes a different set of skills and mindset than the “IT support person”, but it can be incredibly valuable in the long run.
Mike is a Technology Strategist, Project Superhero, and Cyber-Security Simplifier. He is a partner at Incrementa Consulting, a boutique consulting firm dedicated to helping businesses be more successful. You can connect with Mike on Twitter, LinkedIn or the Incrementa website.