Most small businesses don’t start with a technology strategy – they pick one up along the way.
This is called an ad hoc approach. It happens if a business uses any old combination of technologies that happens to work at the moment. Whenever somebody notices a hole that needs to be plugged by more capabilities, a new piece of software or hardware gets thrown in the mix.
This works okay … right up until it doesn’t.
The problem with ad hoc is that sooner or later, technology tools you chose that do one job well don’t work well together. They can’t share data, affect each other in unexpected ways, or leave glaring holes in your data security hackers can use against you.
With a technology strategy, you have alignment between your long-term organizational goals, your short-term tactics, and the technology that bridges the two. Instead of feeling like you’re using your technology just to put out fires, you’ll get closer to where you want to go.
That might seem like a tall order. But it’s all about changing your thought process.
Let’s look at how you can do it:
1. Put It Down on Paper
If you’re a small business owner with no IT department, technology strategy and IT strategy are likely one and the same. The process of formalizing it begins with documentation – and that documentation should start by recognizing the challenges and opportunities technology can help with.
To do so, drill down from a general issue to specifics.
One example of a challenge is data security. If you have a hybrid workforce where some people are on-site and others are remote, then you have a much more specific concern: Ensuring every device on the network meets security standards, no matter where it is or who owns it.
What about opportunities? Automation – the ability to do certain tasks with little or no human oversight – is a major technology opportunity that applies to everyone. Before you can take advantage, however, you’ll need to understand your current workflows and which elements can potentially be automated.
This is just one reason why knowing the data you generate is crucial to your technology strategy.
2. Identify Your Most Important Data
All businesses generate data. The larger a company becomes, the more data you have. By understanding what types of data you generate, where it comes from, and how it’s used, you can make more informed decisions about which technology investments serve your strategy.
For instance, you no doubt collect data about your customers. Some of this data is transactional – it is probably structured to be read by accounting software. You may also get data from sources like phone conversations or a customer care survey. This data may be unstructured, so software can’t process it.
Many technology solutions depend on certain data to operate. If you don’t currently collect required data, you may need to look at ways to do so. If you already collect the data, it is important to verify it comes in a format your selected technology solution can process without much overhead.
Examine your current interactions with customers, vendors, and the market to figure out where your data comes from and where it goes. The flow of data lets you start to see where solutions are needed.
3. Design the Technology Architecture
Architecture refers to the big pieces of your technology strategy. If you’re a manufacturer, for example, your architecture might include the networked devices that fabricate components. It might also include Enterprise Resource Planning software that keeps tabs on supply chain and logistics. The ERP software uses data directly from the manufacturing devices as part of doing its job.
In our previous example, the company that wants to secure its hybrid workforce needs something called Unified Endpoint Management (UEM). This is a platform that scans every device as it logs in, verifying it has antivirus software. That reduces the risk of data loss and corruption.
The ERP software, the UEM platform, and even the manufacturing devices are part of the technology architecture. Different capabilities work together in different ways to realize value. If any part of the chain is missing, or if the relevant data doesn’t translate between systems, the strategy fails.
4. Develop a Process for Selecting Solutions
Once you know what your architecture looks like, it’s time to gather information from vendors. Don’t go it alone: Ensure you have a technology committee including leaders whose functions will be affected by new technologies. The committee should also get feedback from “end user” employees, who may have a valuable perspective when it comes to day-to-day issues technology could solve.
If technology strategy feels overwhelming, there’s an alternative. A managed IT services provider can empower you with world-class technology backed by the know-how of a remote IT team. Is a managed IT services provider right for your business? Find out with our e-book below.