The recent shift in the IT industry to almost everything being about “cloud” can be quite confusing for some business decision makers.
Because of this it is quite common for the research and decision making to be delegated out to the IT manager. In larger organisations the IT manager is usual someone who looks at the strategic implications of technology and how it can be implemented in the business. However at the small business level the IT manager is usually someone who falls into one of three categories:
- An employee with a primary role that is technology-savvy and now bears the responsibility of IT management for the business
- An external IT company or consultant
- A technical person employed to administer the business IT systems (aka systems administrator)
The challenge with all of the above scenarios is that unless the person is also the owner of the company (or at least senior management) – they are not necessarily aligned with the strategic goals of the business.
In my day job as owner of Paradyne I speak with small businesses every day about their IT challenges and discuss how cloud solutions can help. Unfortunately sometimes these discussions are either hijacked or simply delegated to the IT person for the organisation which quite often becomes a dead end. This can happen for numerous reasons however the issue behind them all is that the conversation is no longer about the business requirements – it is now a technical discussion.
Having spent the majority of my career working with both IT people and small businesses I can quite confidently say that most of technical people I’ve come across in the SMB sector are not strategic in mind and as such can’t look past the actual technicalities of any solution.
They can identify compatibility challenges or limitations that need to be addressed, and are a great resource to get things done. Rarely however are they the person who can look at a technology and envision how it can improve save costs, streamline operations and improve profitability.
To give you a practical example let’s have a look at a solution such as Microsoft Office 365 and the decision making process from both technical and business management viewpoints.
- What are the minimum requirements we need our software to meet?
- Will I have the same level of control over the systems that I do currently?
- Is this something I can implement and manage myself or will we have to pay for a specialist company to do it for us?
- If moving to the cloud means I have less systems to manage, how will I fill in the gap in my time and justify my ongoing employment?
- Let’s compare the predictable costs of the Office 365 service against all my current costs to install, maintain and support the same systems for my own company (factoring required 3rd party solutions and support organisations, as well as upgrade lifecycle). How much will I be saving and where can I invest those savings into the growth of my business?
- How can I use SharePoint Online to simply and at the same time improve the administrative aspects of my business?
- How much additional time could my sales team spend on the road because they can now access business information from anywhere?
- How much could I save on office space and business costs by allowing staff to work from home and conference with other staff using Lync Online?
- How else can I use cloud systems like Office 365 to improve my competitive advantage?
As you can see there is a stark contrast between the questions asked by technical and business management people.
This is not to say that there aren’t IT people out there who don’t have strategic business visions, however in the SMB sector it is usually an operational view that is more about keeping the lights on rather than improving organisational efficiency and profitability.
In SMB the technical part of the evaluation and decision making process is simply there to ensure that the chosen solution will meet all systems requirements and can be achieved without impacting the business.
Making the choice to take up cloud services needs to be driven by business requirements and goals because at the end of the day cloud is as strategic a decision as any other that the business might make.