IT, Business Operations, and the Bottom-Line
Information Technology is NOT self-justifying. IT investment is only tenable when strategically implemented to:
Essentially, any IT investment should realize a commensurate savings in a reasonable amount of time. Great care must be taken to balance the equation on both sides, with all costs and savings being included. Frequently, the more difficult to measure or nebulous items can have a large impact on whether the investment is warranted: e.g. long term maintenance considerations, and the cost of staff time saved, just to name two.
The bottom line? Well the bottom line is the metric by which IT investment should be measured. The key to all of this is that more work gets done in the same amount of time or at a lower cost.
IT, COTS (Commercial Off-The-Shelf), and
Saas (Software as a Service)
In all cases the first choice of an organization should be to purchase commercially available products or services, henceforth referred to collectively as products. Products that should be considered are those that the marketplace has shown to be "best of breed". These products will have both a larger user and support base. This is important when attempting to find service providers to assist with related functions, hiring knowledgeable staff, training, and problem resolution. Additionally, such products will be more robust and feature-rich.
The smaller a business is, the more they should rely on commercially available products for their business operations. Too often, small businesses believe that they can save money by having someone write software for them because they feel their needs are special. Maybe they do not want to buy a product that has features they will not use because they feel they are wasting money. Both arguments are erroneous. Today, even larger companies look to purchase and integrate commercially available, scalable products as a means of saving money.
Another mistake the small business owner can make is pursuing the "freebie". There is a lot of free software available on the internet, but most of it has a negligible user base or support options. This is your business, do you want to take risks to save a few dollars? Do it right, the first time.
IT and Integration
Another advantage to purchasing widely available software, concerns integration. The major players that develop business applications know that an important value-added benefit for their customers is the ability of their products to be integrated with other generally available business applications, even if they are written by competitors. Integration allows a smaller business to develop custom features that it may want or need, to improve the efficiency of their business operations.
Again, the first step should be to look for commercially available products, or, for specific tasks, add-ins. Most mainstream applications are followed by an entourage of smaller developers whose products make up the add-in or macro market. Many times, the integration piece can be found here.
Integration issues do not end here. Software requires hardware. Hardware requires space, power, cooling, connectivity, and possibly noise-abatement. All of these impact cost; any of these can cripple a project.
IT, Requirements, and the End-User
Before buying or developing software, requirements must be developed and the end-user consulted. Organizations at the higher end of the small business spectrum should already understand this step. Too often development teams ignore the end-user, the individuals who will actually use the system and who have the best understanding of day-to-day operations.
For small businesses looking to purchase or integrate basic, broad based packages, this is a relatively straightforward but important step. The end-user should be the driving force behind the effort. If not, it is imperative that the end-user be on board for the effort to be successful.
Secondly, any vendor that provides outsourced services related to the effort should be consulted and encouraged to voice their opinion. Other businesses should also be consulted. A great resource for this would be the local chamber of commerce or similar business group. Care should be taken to ensure that outside sources are restricted to an advisory, not a decision making capacity.
IT and the Post-Implementation World
Other considerations also come into play prior to the final rollout.
Testing and Training
Even though processes have been automated, they are replaced by new and more efficient procedures. Additionally, different, though hopefully fewer problems can occur with the new implementation. Regardless, end-user training is imperative.
And who better to test the new process? That's right, the end-user. There is no one in the organization better suited to trying to "break" the new system. Problems are best found before the final rollout. However, for extremely complex systems, or systems that contain procedures implemented quarterly, biannually or annually, consider running both new and old systems in parallel until you have made it through a full generation or cycle.
IT and Security
Notice that this does not say "IT Security", but "IT and Security". IT security cannot be implemented in a vacuum. The news is full of companies that tried it that way and failed miserably.
Most security procedures are neither difficult nor expensive for the small business to implement. There are basic components: physical, power, firewall, anti-virus/anti-spam, back-up, passwords and education.
This may sound like a lot, but it costs so little compared to what it costs to replace damaged and/or stolen systems. We are not referring to PCs and printers, though they obviously have cost associated with them. We are referring to your data: client contact information, orders, accounts, balances, preferences, marketing options, and the companies books. The cost of replacing a stolen PC is negligible compared to reconstituting lost or stolen data.
Please see the Information section for more on these topics.
|copyright Natelli Systems, Inc. 2015|