This is the first in a series of articles outlining ways in which Small and Medium-sized Businesses (SMB’s) can ensure that technology serves their business well.

Businesses in Canada are under-investing in Information Technology, says a recent Issue in Focus report by CGA-Canada (Issue in Focus — Investment in Machinery and Equipment is Essential to Canada’s Future). Given that companies with fewer than 500 employees employ two-thirds of Canada’s private sector workforce and account for 50 per cent of net job creation, the SMB sector is a big part of this problem.

For the average SMB owner, deciding on where to invest in IT and how much can be a challenge. The typical SMB has no IT leadership and a limited IT department. The IT skills they do possess are charged mainly with keeping the existing systems running. In the absence of someone on staff to guide the IT strategy, here’s a way to structure thinking about IT such that it will best serve the business. It applies big company thinking to the SMB world –  so let’s call it Enterprise IT for SMB. It divides the thinking into three areas: Managing Growth, Leveraging New Technology and Mitigating Risk. In Part 1 and 2 we will look at Managing Growth.

IT and Managing Growth

As your business grows in size and complexity, it is critical that your technology serves to support that growth. Managing growth for an SMB means ensuring you have the technology capabilities in place to enable your long term success. It means answering questions such as:

  • Are your IT investments aligned to areas of greatest business value?
  • Are your processes and systems sufficiently integrated to maximize efficient operations?
  • Have you outgrown your core applications? Do you need to accommodate more capacity or greater complexity?
  • Are you able to access the information you need to make decisions about business growth?

The following foundation practices will serve an SMB well along its growth path and help to answer these questions.

Align technology to your business objectives

It is easy to get distracted by technology, especially as the number of technical people on staff increases. A short but valuable exercise on Business/IT alignment will give you a clear indication if IT focus has gone off course relative to business objectives, and identify the steps needed to put things back on track. The outcomes could be such changes as helping managers with a better awareness of IT needs and realities, educating the IT staff and partners on the business’s value points or having technology representation in the business planning process.

Keep Your Technology Plan (aka IT Roadmap) Fresh

The “best laid plans …” are clear but flexible. Commonly referred to as “IT Roadmaps”, your technology plan should reflect the business priority areas in terms of expected growth, looking about 3 years out, maybe 5 tops. The roadmap should be refreshed regularly, in lock step with your business plans and identifies all of the projects which make up your IT budget for each year. Any deviations from the roadmap or changes in the IT budget should be closely monitored and reviewed to ensure that they relate directly to changing business priorities, or are driven by compelling technology needs.

In Conclusion

Growing an SMB is an exciting experience and effective technology can serve to ensure that it is the positive kind of excitement. With IT and business thinking aligned and a clear IT Roadmap in place, you can ensure that everyone understands your technology plan and the business drivers behind it.

Stay tuned for more IT practices which you can apply to your growth agenda – and you will soon have peace of mind knowing that “Enterprise IT for SMB” standards are being applied in your business.

Next time: Software selection and implementation