Technology has become a central component of effective business administration in the modern office. From sales teams equipped with smartphones, tablets and a large portfolio of enterprise software to the infrastructure that supports transactions and information exchange, it's difficult to argue against the growing connection between IT strategy and the rest of the organization. However, the extent of the importance placed on technological investments may have a correlation to market performance, according to a recent study of small and medium-sized businesses.
Leading SMBs: IT is a competitive differentiator
Symantec's Global SMB IT Confidence Index identified several interesting trends, though one of the prominent issues analysts highlighted was how stakeholders viewed technology. For the majority of top-tier SMBs (83 percent), IT acts as a strategic business enabler, while this number drops to 44 percent among lower performing companies. The former perspective lends itself to more effective investments as well as greater optimization:
- Top-tier businesses are more likely to purchase advanced infrastructure to support operations
- High performing businesses more readily adopt cloud and mobile technology
- These SMBs believe the risk of innovation is worth the risk
"We work hard to make investment choices that provide the highest value over time, scaling efficiently as our business grows," said Larry Green, president of LAGLAW. "We also try to stay a step ahead in our technology adoption. We implemented cloud computing and mobility early on and they have enabled us to be more efficient and productive."
Creating strategic disruption
One of the risks of adopting any new technology is the potential to disrupt business, but disruption is not necessarily a negative thing. While it may take some time before full productivity is realized, large scale shifts in technology have the potential to eliminate inefficient business processes. The cloud serves as an example of a positive disruption. By placing more focus on self service, the barriers between business units and the IT resources they need have been lowered. However, this does not mean that SMBs or any other business should make investments based solely on the fact that certain solutions are tagged as innovative.
While Symantec's data showed that top SMBs were more apt to adopt new technology, it also revealed that top performers were also able to connect potential IT solutions to business objectives. Analysts used the example of adopting online collaboration tools for the specific purpose of reducing travel costs. Such a case illustrates the importance of taking a value-based approach to investment and minimizing the risks that stem from disruption.
One of the core challenges in forming an IT strategy surrounding innovation is that it becomes more difficult to see how the many interconnected parts may relate to each other and how best to optimize in each case. For example, the mobile technology is often seen from its impact on IT processes. However, smartphones and tablets have also affected the way that business units access IT services. At the same time, trends in the mobile arena can influence demand in other areas of technology. As an IHS iSupply report from earlier this year illustrated, the amount of built-in memory shipped with smartphones and tablets is shrinking, leading to a parallel growth in demand for cloud storage. While only a single case, this demonstrates the effect that seemingly separate IT trends may have on the industry as whole. Especially with more businesses shifting their assets to the cloud, it is likely that new opportunities will soon emerge from growing demand.
There are several elements that must come together to reduce the risk generated by new IT adoption. In addition to the technological expertise required to implement solutions to the greatest business benefit, a wide breadth of industry knowledge is essential for seeing how different technologies may relate to one another and how they can be optimized within a business environment. While it is important to craft a clear IT strategy to guide investments as well as deployments, the overall plan must be flexible enough to adapt to trends and to changes within the organization's own environment.
Mobile actually presents a good example of this challenge because it involves rapidly changing technology and is a significant area for IT investment among SMBs. The decision to support bring your own device is likely to emerge in enterprise mobility discussions, and BYOD policies must include mechanisms to support a wide range of IT changes. There are numerous security and privacy concerns: How can the business protect data that is stored on personal devices? How much control should IT have over employees' smartphones? However, companies must also tackle BYOD from a productivity standpoint. For example, a business investing in mobile application development services would not only need to make sure its software functions on current platforms, but plan to adjust to new mobile operating systems (and different versions of each OS) as these platforms are developed.
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