Technology Strategy as a Competitive Advantage
Many entrepreneurs rarely think of the possibilities of aligning the IT strategy with the organizations main objectives. Information technology is changing the way companies operate. Many CEO’s think the “IT guy/vendors” role is to keep the lights on and simply make it work. However, one of the best ways to strengthen organizational strategy and thereby create a measurable competitive edge is to consider how technology permeates each aspect of the business and how best to utilize it.
Start from the Top… Bring IT to the Table
All strategy must start from the Board and CEO and cascade on down. This means bringing IT to the table (the board or the executive table) as part of those strategic sessions and tactical decisions. As changes occur in a company’s strategic direction, so should the technology impact be considered by bringing senior IT personnel or vendors into the discussion.
Understandably, in today’s market with outsourced Managed Service Providers (MSP), most small businesses don’t have an “IT Department”, but they have vendors that provide or manage the technology book of business. For the small and medium sized businesses with a constrained budget, hiring a Virtual CIO (Chief Information Officer) can offer that senior level strategic mindset.
Yearly, or as the strategic landscape changes, start by requesting a meeting with your senior most IT vendor or personnel. Discuss your company’s strategy and work to help them understand how the plans for the next 6 to 18 months will affect the organization. Their goal will be to help you understand how technologies, processes, or personnel/products/vendors can help achieve those goals in a cost effective and efficient manner.
Keep IT Simple – Protect, Enhance, and Innovate!
No matter the industry or business size, technology can benefit and strengthen an organization in three areas; protecting the organization, enhancing the organizations capabilities, and facilitating innovation. Each areas projects come with priorities that need to be addressed, funded, and enabled to propel the organization. Splitting them out into these categories will help CEO’s measure where time is spent and efforts for return on investment can be realized.
Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery
In recent years, there is one fact that has been realized fortunately for many and unfortunately for others: The strength of an organization can be crippled by a single event, whether a cyber-attack or natural disaster.
Focusing the IT department solely on protecting the organization will not suffice in elevating your competitive advantage. However, this is the primary focus of over 70% of the IT personnel and vendors. Developing a Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery (BCDR) plan is paramount to sustaining business in a crisis. The outcome from the exercise should be revised and tested at least once a year. In the middle of a crisis, having this plan can mean the continuation of your business and beating out the competition when they are struggling to come out of the crisis.
Security Awareness Training
Even small to midsized organizations need to address security. Every employee and vendor needs to understand the impact, importance of security to the enterprise, and their own role in helping to protect the employees, owners and board, and customers. CEO’s should seek out effective Cyber Security firms or a Virtual CISCO (Chief Information Security Officer) to deploy Security Awareness Training at least bi-annually and during the onboarding process. Setting the priority of security in the organization from the CEO on down will keep it at the forefront of vendor conversations and employees day to day operations thereby protecting the organization.
Training, Cost, and Efficiency Gains – Enhance The Organization
One constant remains in all companies. Employees will find a way to complete their duties with whatever tools they have at their disposal… even if the tools are inadequate or outdated.
Letting IT personnel/vendors bridge the gap with modern solutions and training can provide multiple efficiency gains and a return on investment for each employee and cost center. First, the IT personnel/vendor will gain in-depth understanding of your businesses processes at a whole new level. Second, there will be an increase in communication between those who need the efficiency and training gains with those that can provide multiple alternatives in areas that may not have been considered previously using technology. And finally, conversely business people will understand the use of information technology to gain a competitive advantage as they become aware of tools, processes, and products to address business problems.
Some of the best organizations have leapt forward by providing “innovation time”. Small and medium sized business find it hard to carve out this time yet, the importance can be seen in some of the most innovative companies in a wide array of industries. With technology advances coming into the market, the overwhelming challenge of keeping up to date can cripple an organization into doing nothing to upgrade or enhance their products, processes, or training thereby losing any competitive advantage that started the company.
Defining specific innovation time periods (Weekly, Monthly, or Quarterly), coupled with partnering the business with your technology personnel or vendors during these times, will yield a competitive edge that may be realized from within the organization or an outside resource. Without this focused time, the organization can start lagging behind the competition in lieu of doing what small businesses do…. Lead the competition.
Understand the Integration
The rapid change in technology innovation provides multiple avenues for protecting the organization, achieving efficiency gains, and providing the organization with a competitive edge. However, alone Information Technology does not provide the competitive advantage; it’s the way the organization utilizes technologies throughout the organization that makes the difference.
Donovan Foster is CIO, Principal Consultant, at Brinex an Information Technology and CIO Services company in St. Louis, Missouri. He serves as the Member At Large on the Board of Director for the Veterans Business Resource Center. He can be reached at Donovan.firstname.lastname@example.org