You understand the need for a solid IT plan. You know the security risks and how they apply to your company. You want your employees to have the best tools available so they can do their jobs as productively as possible. But you don’t have an unlimited budget. How does a conscientious manager balance these two things?
Since we work exclusively with small businesses, we are asked this in both direct and indirect ways every day. The truth is that there is no special recipe. But in our many years of business, we’ve identified the handful of key strategies that can help any owner or IT manager remain confident that they are doing everything in their power while still keeping the big picture in mind.
Make sure your (limited) budget is accurate
You don’t have to redefine what “limited” means, but you do have to know exactly what number it shakes out to be. Budgeting can be both the bane and savior of small business operations. And companies that don’t put priority on accurately setting it, logically managing it, and reliably updating it will suffer the financial consequences. (This obviously goes for any area of business, not just IT.) Make sure you understand the overall picture and where IT fits in.
Your industry is the single most important deciding factor as you work to define the IT percentage of the overall business budget. For instance, historically banking and securities spend the most on IT, while the more industrial industries spend less. And other industries that are starting to wake up to the possible security risks and customer satisfaction benefits are up-and-comers, like professional services and retail. Wherever you fit, do some research to make sure that your IT budget doesn’t take too big or too small of a bite out of the overall.
Take out the trash
A natural part of any budgeting exercise should be identifying and rooting out waste. This is where spotting inefficient processes and optimizing them (hopefully with technology you already own) can really increase the return on investment (ROI) for IT systems.
It may take a little time to really home in on the opportunities, but investing in a resource to manage and govern these processes as you move forward can ensure that you don’t wind up back where you started. And it will keep your RIO from sliding backwards as well. At this point, the investment you put into managing optimizations will pay for itself (dare we hope, turn IT into a profit center?).
By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail
Benjamin Franklin said it best and he said it for us all. But how do you prepare for an ever-evolving set of technology needs, wants, and issues? The simple answer: align it to your overall company mission and objectives.
With a limited budget, owners and managers are forced to choose between valid needs, innovations, and potential revenue generators, especially while balancing the fundamental and repetitious tasks that just “keep the lights on.” To make the most effective choice without spending hours of deliberation, understand if the choice before you serves the overall goals of your company. Is the strategic goal for the next quarter to decrease your company’s security risks and safeguard your data? Then a new email marketing tool should be tabled for a while, even if your newsletters are less than appealing.
If you align IT choices to the company’s objectives, then the choices are not only easier, but they are also more impactful to the success of the business. And since they help the company achieve strategic goals on time, there is more room to revisit proposed projects sooner in the schedule.
Create allies and treat them as such
IT may be a unique world, but it doesn’t exist in a bubble; all departments work best in synchronicity with each other. That means that building internal support for larger IT projects is crucial to get them done as painlessly (and yes, cheaply) as possible.
For any technology project to succeed, it’s vital that IT invites other departments into the requirements and planning phases. Something as seemingly straightforward as an online signature tool for sales proposals might fail if IT doesn’t allow Marketing (who needs to see who did not sign) and Customer Service (who need to see the resulting official document) are not able to make sure it covers their needs as well. Even if all they respond with is a simple “looks good to me,” you’ve protected yourself against future issues that arise when combative requirements are discovered after an installation.
It’s also important to remember that a team can accomplish more than a single person. This goes for departments as well. Bringing your peer department heads into your plans and allowing them to help you weigh the pro’s and con’s will help keep their support as the project proceeds. And this combined with the above helps keep your overall costs down.
On the flip side of that coin, keep your departments informed of why you are turning down this requested project or that pressing need. Allowing them to understand the reasoning behind your selection process will help them feel less marginalized and build support for your processes later.
You knew we’d get to this point, right? It may seem obvious for an IT firm to counsel outsourcing to small businesses, but both the advice itself and the choice to outsource are becoming more prevalent for a reason. Most small businesses accomplish a lot with limited resources (budget aside). Expecting them to suddenly become experts in a field that has nothing to do with why they started their business in the first place adds expense, increases risk, and most certainly doubles stress.
Outsourcing this department puts your company in the lead instead of always scrambling to catch up. The IT partner provides guidance, best practices, and preventative services in a proactive manner which helps you avoid wasting time learning it yourself. After all, when it’s time to bring aboard that new online signature system, you go in search of a new tool that you can license, you don’t develop it yourself. The same can be very true for a small business IT department.
Hopefully, these strategies help you not only define how to cope with a limited budget, but also how to create more wiggle room for improvements. If you’d like to take a look at how much outsourcing your IT processes and system management can save you time and money, just contact us. You’ll be surprised how much adding a strategic partner can save you overall.