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We are all in this together

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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