WHat is an IT Strategy?
An IT Strategy is a plan of action designed to outline how Information Technology is used to support long-term business outcomes.
A well defined, planned and executed IT strategy will serve your business and it can mean the difference between just surviving a time of uncertainty and thriving through it.
Every business uses or relies on technology in today's modern economy. If you have never had an IT strategy or if you haven’t given it much thought over the last few years, now is definitely the time to get started on aligning technology with your business goals.
There is often a misconception that an IT strategy is only for large organisations, however, in today's world, even the smallest of businesses relies on technology to support their core functions.
Why is an IT Strategy Important?
The biggest change we have seen in the past decade is the necessity to ingrain technology in every aspect of your business rather than viewing IT as a productivity tool. The idea of having a separate and isolated “IT department” is no longer relevant to modern business. Therefore your IT strategy should be part of your business plan, embedded in the very core of the business, detailing the ways your technology will accelerate progress towards your goals and objectives. It should take into account both short and long term targets, and leave room for change where necessary.
We have seen first-hand the impact of a transformational event (the pandemic) and just how fast plans may need to be updated. If there is no baseline strategy to work from, your ability to adapt and take positive action to protect the business and potentially thrive during times of significant change will be limited.
What are the 5 key points of a strategic IT Plan?
An IT strategy can be intimidating. Simply the word “IT” puts many business owners off pencilling in time to research, let alone start the process. However, you’ll be glad to know that an IT Strategy is not actually about technology, it’s about your business. Sure, you’ll have plans for the technology (software) and devices that you use and those that you aspire to use in future but when we look at a strategy, it’s about how your technology can help your business to achieve all the things you’d like it to, in the easiest way possible.
A great starting point is to take a step out of the day to day and look at your desired business outcomes, financial outcomes, challenges and objectives.
Secondly, review your current IT eco-system, which includes the software you use, the IT infrastructure, cyber security, data protection etc.
Thirdly, review how the technology is being used by your staff and clients, taking into consideration how efficient is it for key stakeholders to access the core systems, provide and or consume services. What technology blockers or legacy systems are potentially holding the business back and evaluating what your main competitors are doing, ultimately identifying what would you like to improve? Consider that when your business grows, will your technology grow with you, or will you need to look at new software, networks, unified communications, cloud infrastructure to support growth?
Next you define the key actions required to achieve or close the gap from where you are today to where the Technology needs to be to support the core business objectives. This involves both Human and financial investment and should be appropriately budgeted to align with realistic expectations. This is where your IT Partner can really assist you in gaining clarity and ensuring unrealistic plans are not set.
Finally, you must have a process to benchmark and measure progress of the plan.
How is the plan going?
what blockers have been identified and what measures are being taken to overcome them?
Are you on or off track with key milestones?
Tie the metrics to the business goals and outcomes so you can clearly see the impact of the IT Strategy, Identify the Key performance Indicators (KPI's), some of these will be financial, others will be related to operational efficiencies, improved productivity and business growth. They will be unique to your business but a good starting point is reviewing the first step you took which was identifying the desired business outcomes. whatever you do, keep it simple, don't overload on metrics as this will simply cause confusion and lost momentum.
Getting started Tips
- A great place to start is by speaking to the people working in your business.
What do they think works well?
What would they change if they could?
Are there elements of your IT ecosystem actually hindering what you’re doing?
Could you save time if you migrated to different software, or improved remote access?
What if you considered transitioning to the cloud to unlock efficiencies, or if one app could communicate with another one, could you remove a list of manual error-prone tasks?
Could artificial intelligence provide insights to your business?
How your IT partner can help with your IT Strategy
When you’re working with the right IT services partner, they will be able to help you identify the appropriate technology path to take that will support the business' long and short-term goals and prevent the business being held back by the wrong technology choices.
Your IT eco-system should be ingrained in every aspect of your business creating a symbiotic relationship between the business function and IT that propels business growth and brings greater efficiency gives you the competitive edge.
Recommendations are based on the way you work, and potentially changing ways of working. For example:
How do you support staff who are working remotely?
Was remote access properly designed to be effective, efficient and secure for your staff, or was it simply a sticky plaster, a short-term deployment when the pandemic hit?
Would cloud computing improve the remote work experience and remove the need to house on-promise servers and the management of same?
A fresh pair of eyes can help spot potential issues that you hadn’t noticed and suggest a more productive way of doing things to give you the competitive edge.
Developing your IT Strategy
Your IT Services partner will help you to develop a technology roadmap as part of your strategy. This will include a multi-year budget to help you incorporate IT into your financial plans. There is nothing more frustrating for business owners than having to deal with unexpected or inaccurate expenditure that falls outside the planned budget.
A business’ pricing is based on the market value of their products and services, with a keen eye on expenditure. Having unexpected surprises that upend the budget causes significant frustration and potentially derails the planned outcomes. It’s always preferable to know what’s going to be new, and when.
Now, more than ever, every Euro spent must be justified. The investment, both monetary and time needs to work hard for your business.
How do you measure the impact of your IT Strategy?
Once the plan is created, the next step is to agree on the Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) to help you track how well your IT investment is working and what impact they are having on the business, for example, have you been able to reduce manual overhead and unnecessary staff costs by increased automation?
Ongoing Support your IT Partner should be providing.
Your IT partner should continually work with you in supporting the day to day while having a pulse on the strategic outcomes. The IT Support function assists the partner in being able to identify where issues may be recurring and impacting efficiencies.
The IT Support team will have valuable data on potential inefficiencies, For example:
Is there daily support being provided to repair or handhold remote access connections via VPN (Virtual Private Network)?
Or are there continual problems with staff accessing business information causing delays in serving the business' clients?
Are there connectivity problems impacting the speed of both on-site and remote working that are frustrating staff?
Did you know, one of the most searched terms for recruitment is flexible and remote working? How is your business aligned to support the modern workplace?
Your IT support partner should also get involved with regular strategic reviews. For larger and medium-sized businesses, these could be monthly or quarterly and for smaller businesses 6 monthly might be sufficient. This meeting will look at what’s going well and what’s taking longer than you’d like it to. A few adjustments may be all that is required to get you back on track towards hitting your goals but it’s far better to know early than knowing too late.
This is why an IT support partner is required, not an IT support company! So, when you're searching, include the terms, Managed Service Provider or Managed IT Support Provider.
How to spot the difference between an IT Support company and a Partner?
When you take your car to the garage, you may have a list of niggles that you want to be investigated. The mechanic works on and completes the list you provided. Then you take your car for a National Car Test (NCT) or a DOE only to fail on low thread on the tyres or a worn suspension part. Frustrating right? Why did the mechanic not proactively check these items?
That’s how lots of IT support companies work. They just work reactively to what is asked by the client rather than providing a Fully Managed Service.
A Managed IT Support partner takes a proactive approach. Doing as much as possible in the background to stop things from going wrong in the first place and monitoring your technology 24/7. Things can still go wrong, unfortunately. That’s inevitable when it comes to technology, however, having a fully integrated IT support partner will reduce potential downtime as they will be aware as soon as something happens and have a plan to resolve the issue.
Issues that do crop up tend to be minor as the core systems and ICT are all managed and continually monitored to run efficiently and reliably. But, if a major issue was to occur an IT partner will be there for you. Read how we responded to a client that experienced a major fire in their business and due to a well-executed strategy it didn’t impact their business