It sounds obvious, but how many times have you headed to Officeworks or rung an IT provider thinking about brands and prices, instead of what your business needs? We asked Dave Stevens, managing director of Brennan IT, to explain a better approach for tackling any IT question you come across.
With so many IT products and solutions on the market, deciding which is right for your business can be tough.
How can you choose wisely?
The key is to have the right approach. Here are five useful things to consider when thinking about purchasing anything IT:
1. Putting strategy first
Technology products are a means to an end, not an end in themselves.
When thinking about your IT needs, always begin by thinking about your strategy and business goals.
Ask: how can I improve my business? Where can I get the jump on competitors? What are my biggest costs and where would I benefit most from efficiency gains?
Remember that IT can be a powerful source of competitive advantage. Do with IT what your competitors can't, and customers will take note.
Only once you’ve decided exactly what it is that your businesses wants to achieve with technology, should you start looking for the solutions themselves.
2. Getting the basics right
Infrastructure is where it starts. Whether it’s in the cloud or on premise, putting the right infrastructure in place is vital if your business is to make the most of its IT spend.
Here’s what to aim for:
One of the advantages that small businesses hold over bigger competitors is the ability to adapt.
Make sure that your infrastructure reflects this. Choose systems and solutions that can change with need. Platforms like Microsoft SharePoint, for example, are easy to adapt and build upon.
Choose services that scale both up and down. This will allow you to fit the size of your systems to the size of your business. It means that you won’t have to think so much about what capacity you’ll need a year from now – whatever you need, your systems will deliver it.
Your infrastructure should allow you take your business systems everywhere from the airport to a client's premises. Make sure that your infrastructure has national reach.
For most small businesses, mobility is an important area to invest in – if only because many larger competitors are struggling to "go mobile" using legacy IT systems.
3. Focusing on Operational Expenditure
For most businesses, capital is a precious resource.
Rather than invest too much of it in IT projects, it’s often smarter to invest it in business-specific equipment.
The good news is that, today, almost all things IT are available through pricing models that emphasise on-going, operational costs – usually with month-by-month fees.
This not only reduces the risk of making a large but misguided investment in IT, it also all but eliminates up-front costs.
Whether it’s Microsoft Exchange, a CRM, ERP or disaster recovery solution - or even a complete infrastructure - make sure that you’re considering solutions that are paid for with operating funds. These will often be cloud based, and they usually have the added advantage of usage-based pricing, meaning that they scale alongside need.
4. Finding a provider you trust
For a long time in Australia, small businesses had to rely on sole-operators and small IT shops to deliver their IT services. The result was near-constant IT woes and high rates of failure.
That just isn’t (or shouldn't be) the case anymore. Providers have brought enterprise-grade services to the mid-market, and your business should now be thinking of IT as something that can be relied on.
Part of the battle, however, is making sure that you team up with the right IT provider.
Yours should meet these criteria:
> You value their judgement
The ideal provider is a long-term partner that understands your business and offers strategic advice, as well as keeping your systems running day-to-day.
> They deliver a complete range of services
For accountability’s sake, many businesses prefer to deal with one IT provider for all their needs.
This has its advantages, but it only works if your provider delivers the full gamut of IT services. They should be vendor agnostic – meaning they can supply the software and services that best fit your needs, rather than their own vendor relationships.
> Your business matters
Small businesses often struggle to have their IT problems addressed if they are small customers of big IT companies. Not only do the big companies rarely understand them, they’re also not big enough on the balance sheet to matter.
If you want good service, you’re more likely to find it with a provider where your business counts. They’ll have more motivation to deliver on their promises, and they’ll have more insight into your needs.
5. Return on investment
After ensuring that any particular IT project is the right strategic fit for your businesses – either giving you new capabilities, reducing your costs or improving your efficiency – you should also take time to carefully consider its cost.
Return on investment (or ROI) is an important consideration. There’s no exact definition of ROI but, generally, the question is: What return am I going to see on this investment, and how long will it be before the benefits outweigh the costs?
For most IT projects, an ROI of between 12 and 18 months is considered reasonable.
Underestimating indirect costs is a common mistake, so factor in any project costs, maintenance costs, the costs of any management or service contracts.
The best time to achieve good ROI is usually at the end of a refresh cycle, at which time your current equipment can be depreciated.
IT provides enormous scope for business improvement, and business and IT are increasingly becoming indistinguishable.
Before considering any kind of IT purchase however - whether it’s software, hardware or a service - strategic thinking must come first. Only by aligning business strategy with IT strategy will your IT purchases deliver the maximum dividend.
Dave Stevens is managing director of managed IT services business, Brennan IT.